December 2017 (Issue 16)

Introduction

ESSAY
Aden Bon Besen Uyag-Uyag by Mubarak Tahir

FICTION
Heneral by Estrella Taño Golingay
Tagu-taguan by Blesselle Fiel

POETRY
San Gerardo and the Exocoetidae by Gerald Galindez
Cotabato by Allen Samsuya
Sometimes on the Road to Kidapawan by Paul Randy Gumanao

PLAY
Pagda-dwaya by Norman Ralph Isla

Editors and Contributors

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Introduction

As the year ends, we reaffirm our commitment to be a venue of the best literary works in the region. The works that we have in this issue—one essay, two short stories, three poems, and one play—are finely crafted and satisfying in both substance and form. Some of them are from writers who have carved out a name for themselves, and the rest are from new voices discovered in local literary undertakings. No particular theme holds the works together, but each of them gives you a glimpse of, and even immerses you fully in, the complexities of life in this part of the country.

In the Filipino essay “Aden Bon Besen Uyag-Uyag” (May Buhay Pa Pala), Mubarak Tahir looks back on his childhood in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, and how the fighting between insurgents and government troops affected his community and shaped the way he views the world. Tahir is a much-needed voice in our literature. Our narrative on the armed conflict in Mindanao have been dominated by voices from one side. Here is an opportunity to hear “the other side,” and then perhaps see that there are no sides to the story, that we all have the same story. The essay won the third prize at the 2017 Palanca Awards, and it is an honor for Cotabato Literary Journal to be its first venue of publication.

“Heneral” by Estrella Taño Golingay is a coming-of-age story set in Surallah, South Cotabato, the writer’s hometown. It tells of a boy who eagerly takes care of the family’s hog so that once it is sold, his parents might be persuaded to buy him a basketball and a secondhand cellphone—sources of great joy for an ordinary lad like him. Golingay, an award-winning poet, rarely writes fiction, so we are delighted to bring you something new from her.

“Tagu-taguan,” a Filipino flash fiction by Blesselle Fiel, is the winner of the 2017 South Cotabato Fiction Contest. The young writer has created a simple and well-structured story to remind us of the dark times that we are living in. The bodies on the streets are piling up, and the voices against the carnage are getting stronger by the day, but most Filipinos choose not to see and listen. Stories like Fiel’s must be told over and again. Always, people must ask, Who is the criminal, and who is the victim?

“San Gerardo and the Exocoetidae” by Gerald Galindez is the winner of the 2017 Cotabato Province Poetry Contest. An ode to the flying fish, the poem is the breather that we need from the barrage of saccharine rhymes that our young writers seem so fond of today. Similar somewhat to Saint Francis of Assissi, the speaker exalts animals for the inspiration that they can give human beings: “You hid your pains inside your scales so I could live / You let me swim, you let me breathe.” We hope to gather more pieces like this, for local and even Philippine literature have a dearth of works about the sea, even if our region has a shoreline that stretches for hundreds of kilometers and our country is made up of more than seven thousand islands.

Both “Cotabato” by Allen Samsuya and “Sometimes on the Road to Kidapawan” by Paul Randy Gumanao have appeared before in Dagmay: The Literary Journal of the Davao Writers Guild. We are republishing the poems here because they were born of deep longing for Cotabato Region. They were written when Samsuya and Gumanao were studying in Davao City and home was something they would only go back to occasionally. In Samsuya’s poem, the speaker seems dismissive at first of Cotabato City, describing it as a place where “we have nothing better to do,” but we learn eventually that the humdrum of the city may be a redeeming quality. The poem won the first place at the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Awards given to the fellows of the 2011 Iligan National Writers Workshop. In Gumanao’s poem, the speaker yearns for home and for someone to go home to. In lean, fluid language, the young master shows us yet again how love poetry should be.

In “Pagda-dwaya,” a Filipino one-act play by Norman Ralph Isla, a Muslim woman finds herself in a frustrating situation—her husband, the man who promised her that she would be the only woman in his life, is taking a second wife. The first wife feels that she has so much to lose in the arrangement and nothing to gain, and naturally we commiserate with her. But as the story unfolds, as we learn more about the Islamic practice, and as we know the characters better, our view gradually changes.

With these seven literary works, we bid 2017 goodbye. It has been an abundant year for the region’s literature; nearly a hundred poems, stories, essays, and plays appeared in this journal. In those works, through imagination and re-imagination, our local writers have shown readers how the people here view our own region and the rest of the world. We thank all the supporters, readers, contributors, and former editors. With the harvest that we’ve had this year, we feel confident that 2018 will be another great year.

 

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat

Aden Bon Besen Uyag-uyag

By Mubarak M. Tahir
Essay

(This essay won the third prize at the 2017 Palanca Awards.)

Kilala ang bayan ng Maguindanao bilang isa sa mga tampulan ng gulo, tulad ng Maguindanao Massacre. Ito ang pagkakakilala at naging tatak ng hindi man lahat ngunit ng karamihang tao, lalo na ang mga hindi naman bahagi ng kuwento ng bawat may buhay sa Maguindanao. Mga kuwentong maaari sanang maunawaan ngunit marami ang hindi nakakaunawa dahil sa kawalan ng kamalayan at kaalaman. Hindi maiintindihan dahil sa hindi pagkakapantay-pantay ng kinalalagyan sa lipunan. Hindi mauunawaan dahil sa hindi magkaparehong pananaw sa pananampalataya.

Isa sa mga barangay ng Maguindanao ang ang Kitango, Datu Piang. Ito ang bayang kinamulatan ko. Ang bayang humulma sa aking pagkatao. Ang bayang humubog sa aking prinsipyo, pananaw, at paniniwala sa buhay. Ang bayang nagbuklod sa aking kinalakhang pamilya. Ang bayang namuhay sa katotohanang sa kabila ng lahat, maaari akong mamuhay at magpatuloy sa buhay.

Pitong taong gulang ako nang magsimulang mahubog ang aking pananaw at pagmamahal sa bayang kinalakhan. Wala mang kamuwang-muwang sa tunay na imahen ng buhay, patuloy namang naglalayag ang aking kamalayan sa aking kapaligiran, sa aking bayan.

Malaking bahagi ng populasyong bumubuo sa Maguindanao ay mga Muslim na Maguindanaoan. Kaya naman, ang kultura, tradisyon, at paniniwala ng lahat ay nakabatay sa Islam. Isa sa mga pinakamahalagang araw sa buhay ng bawat nananampalatayang Muslim ang pag-aayuno na tinatawag na Saw’m, dahil kabilang ito sa limang haligi ng Islam. Hindi ganap ang pagka-Muslim ng sinumang nag-aangking Muslim kung hindi isasagawa ito. Ang dakilang buwang isinasagawa ito ay tinatawag na Ramadhan — buwan ng pag-aayuno, buwan ng pagsasakripisyo, buwan ng paghingi ng kapatawaran, at buwan ng paggunita sa Allah. Ang lahat ng mamamayan sa Kitango, Maguindanao, bata at matanda, ay naghahanda at sabik sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Inaasahang mag-aayuno ang lahat, maliban sa mga batang hindi pa umabot ang edad sa pitong taong gulang, matatandang wala ng kakayahan o mahina na ang pangangatawan, mga nagdadalantao at nagpapasuso ng sanggol, mga babaeng may regla, mga nagbibiyahe ng malayo, at siyempre ang mga hindi naman Muslim.

Dahil bata pa noong nangyari ang karanasang aking ibabahagi, hindi ako obligadong mag-ayuno, ngunit bilang paghahanda ay sinanay na ako nina A’ma at I’na kahit hindi ko man maisagawa sa buong araw. Dahil sa pagkasabik ko sa unang araw, isinama ako ni A’ma sa padiyan upang mamili ng kakailanganin sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Habang sakay ng bisikleta si A’ma at nasa kaniyang likuran ako, masaya kong pinagmasdan ang kabuuan ng aking bayang sinilangan. Napalibutan na ng makukulay na bandila o pandi ang bawat kalye na tila kumakaway ang matitingkad nitong kulay na pula, dilaw, at berde habang hinahampas ng hangin. Hindi rin nakatakas sa aking munting pandinig ang tugtog ng kulintang at agong na mas lalong nagpapasigla sa lahat. Paminsan-minsan ko lang din marinig ang mga instrumentong ito dahil pinapatugtog lamang ito kapag may mahahalagang pagdiriwang, gaya ng kasal. Kasabay ng bawat ritmo ng tugtog ay ang kagalakan ng bawat isa sa bayan. Kapansin-pansin na halos lahat ay abala, ngunit mas nangingibabaw ang ngiti o tawa ng bawat isa. Ngiti ng kapayapaang namumutawi sa puso ng bawat Maguindanaoan.

Nang makarating kami ni A’ma sa padiyan, abalang-abala ang halos lahat ng may paninda sa pagsasaayos, pagpapanday, at pagpapatayo ng barong-barong na paglalagyan ng paninda. Habang hawak-hawak ni A’ma ang aking kanang kamay, hindi maalis sa aking paningin ang ilang batang kasing-edad ko na tumutulong sa kanilang magulang sa paghahanda. Lalo akong nabuhayan dahil ramdam ko ang katiwasayan ng pamumuhay naming lahat.

Magdadapithapon na nang makauwi kami ni A’ma mula sa pamamalengke. Hindi pa man nakaakyat sa hagdan ng bahay, dumating ang panawagan sa pagdarasal na tinatawag na bang o adzan. Nang mailagay sa hapag ang mga pinamili, agad naming tinungo ni A’ma ang balon na pagkukunan ng tubig na panghugas ng katawan bago magdasal. Habang nagdarasal, abala naman si I’na sa paghahanda ng hapunan. Ginisang sariwang kangkong na nangingibabaw ang amoy ng tanglad at pritong galunggong ang inihanda ni I’na. Tanging ilaw ng lampara ang nagpapaliwanag sa aming hapag habang kumakain. Habang ninanamnam ang pagkain, hindi ko naiwasang titigan ang mga mukha ng aking mga magulang. Bakas ang katandaan sa kanilang mga noo. Ang mga mata nila ay tila kasasalaminan ng katiwasayan ngunit nangingibabaw ang pagkabahala at takot. Hindi ko man lubos maunawaan ang mga ito, naniniwala akong may kapayapaan sa bawat ngiti nina A’ma at I’na. Pagkatapos maghapunan, muli kaming nagdasal para sa I’sa, ang dasal sa gabi. Nakaugalian na sa aming nayon na hindi pa man kalaliman ng gabi ay nasa loob na kami ng aming mga kulambo bilang paghahanda na rin sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Ako’y masaya sa ganitong mga oras dahil alam kong ako’y ligtas at panatag dahil napapagitnaan ako ng pagmamahal nina A’ma at I’na.

Nagising na lamang ako sa mainit na dampi ng kamay ni I’na bilang hudyat na ng pagkain. Kahit hirap at pilit na iminulat ang mga mata ay masigla akong bumangon. Agad kong tinungo ang bangang may tubig at naghilamos. Habang kumakain, pilit na hinihila ng antok ang aking gising na balintataw sa aking bawat mabilis na pagsubo. Kinakailangang bago pa man sumapit ang adzan sa pagdarasal sa Sub’h, dasal sa madaling araw, ay tapos na kaming kumain. Hindi na kami maaari pang kumain o uminom ng anuman hanggang hindi sumasapit ang adzan sa pagdarasal sa Maghrib, ang pagdarasal sa gabi. Pagkatapos kumain, hindi na muna kami natulog upang magdasal sa umaga. Muli kaming bumalik sa aming higaan at natulog.

Sa buong araw ng pag-aayuno, maliban sa pagdarasal sa Duh’r, ang dasal sa tanghali, at ang As’r, ang dasal sa hapon, ay kinakailangang lagi nang gunitain ang Allah gaya ng paulit-ulit na pagsambit sa Allahuakbar (dakila ang Allah), Subhanallah (sambahin ang Allah), Alhamdulillah (ang pasasalamat ay sa Allah), at La Ilaha Illa Allah (walang ibang Diyos na dapat sambahin maliban sa Allah). Hindi rin dapat kaligtaan ang pagbabasa ng banal na kasulatan ng Allah na ang Qur’an, dahil ang banal na kasulatang ito ay ibinaba sa pamamagitan ni Anghel Gabriel sa sugo na si Propeta Muhammad (sumakaniya nawa ang kapayapaan). Naniniwala kami na ang bawat titik na nababasa sa aklat ay katumbas ng sampung mabuting gantimpala. Maliban sa hindi maaaring pagkain at pag-inom ng anuman ay hindi rin ipinapahintulutang magtalik ang mag-asawa. Ang mga maliit na kasalanan gaya ng pagsisinungaling ay pinupuna rin.

Dinadalaw man ng pagkagutom at pagkauhaw, pilit ko itong nilalabanan. Minsan, hinahayaan ko na lamang ang aking sarili na dalawin ng antok upang hindi mabatid ang pagsasakripisyong dinaranas sa buong maghapon. Ramdam ko ang katahimikang bumabalot sa buong pamayanan dahil sa panatang ginagawa. Walang ingay. Tanging langitngit lamang ng kawayan at lagaslas ng tubig ang aking naririnig, senyales ng katahimikan at kapayapaang namumutawi sa aming bayan.

Pagkatapos magdasal ng As’r ay inanyaya ako ni A’ma na sumama sa padiyan. May kahinaan mang dinanas, sumama pa rin ako. Muli ko na namang naulinigan ang bawat ritmo ng kulintang at agong habang papunta sa padiyan. Nadatnan namin ni A’ma ang padiyan na hindi mahulugan ng karayom. Bata at matanda, babae at lalaki ay abala sa pamimili ng mga ihahanda para sa buka o iftar. Nakipagsiksikan si A’ma na bumili ng mga sariwang isda gaya ng tilapya, hito, at iba pang uri ng isda na karaniwang matatagpuan sa ilog ng Maguindanao. Hindi rin nakawala sa aking paningin ang pangkat ng matatandang lalaki na abala rin sa pamimili ng tabako. Nakita ko si A’ma na nakisali na rin at marahang itinaas ang isang hibla ng tabako. Mababakas sa mukha niya ang pagkasabik sa paghithit ng tabako. Pag-angat niya ng tabako ay akmang lalanghapin na sana niya ang halimuyak ng tabako ngunit agad rin niya itong nailayo sa kaniyang ilong dahil bawal ang kusang pag-amoy sa anumang bagay na makakapaghatid ng tintasyon na maaaring maging dahilan ng pagkawala ng bisa ng pag-aayuno. Binigyan naman ako ni A’ma ng limang piso upang bumili ng bloke ng yelo. Kung may mabenta man sa lahat sa padiyan, iyon ang yelo na halos pag-agawan ng lahat. Ilang minuto rin akong nakipagsiksikan makakuha lang ng yelo, pampawala ng tigang na lalamunan. Nang pauwi, huminto kami upang bumili ng mga kakanin. Hindi kompleto ang handaan kapag walang kakanin ng Maguindanoan gaya ng dudol (gawa sa katas ng niyog at pulang bigas), inti (gawa sa katas ng niyog at bigas na kulay dalandan), plil (hinulma galing sa dinurog na hinog na saging), at tinadtag (gawa sa harina na hinulma na parang bihon). Magdadapithapon na nang makauwi kami ni A’ma sa bahay.

Bang! Bang! Boooom! Bang! Ang mga tunog na nagpagising sa amin nang madaling araw bago pa man sumapit ang Saw’m. Mga tunog na kailanman ay hindi ko pa narinig. Mga tunog na gumimbal sa katahimikan ng buong bayan. Napatakbo si A’ma sa labas ng bahay at tinawag ang aming kapitbahay. Ilang beses ding tumawag si A’ma ngunit mga putok lamang ng nagsasalubungang bala ang bumalot sa aming pandinig. Mas lalo pang lumakas ang putukan. Napagapang na lamang si A’ma palapit sa amin ni I’na na nagyakapan sa isang sulok ng bahay, na niyuyugyog naman ng malakas na ingay ng putukan. Gumagapang kami nang biglang mabuwal ang haligi na aming kinalagyan. Natagpuan namin ang aming mga nagimbal na kaluluwa sa banggerahan. Nakita ko si I’na, namumutawi sa kaniyang mga mata ang pagkabahala at takot habang mahigpit akong yakap ng kaniyang mga bisig. Tanging Allahuakbar, Subhanallah, at Astaghfirullah ang mga katagang naibubulalas ni I’na. Niyugyog ng ingay ng malalaking sasakyan na may lulang mga sundalo ang kinatatayuan ng aming bahay. Balot na rin ng alikabok ang labas ng aming bahay. Bilang ko na rin ang mga butas sa bawat bubong at haligi ng bahay na gawa ng nagsisulputang mga bala. Sa mga butas ko na rin naaninag ang bawat silahis ng araw, ngunit mahapdi sa paningin. Umaga na pala…

La Ilaha Illa Allah! Alhamdulillah! Dalawang salita na nakapagpanatag sa aming kalooban nang sambitin ni A’ma. Narinig namin ang sigaw ng isang lalaki na, “Ceasefire!” Hudyat ito na panandaliang titigil ang putukan. Nagmadali kaming lumisan sa bahay sa takot na maabutan ng kasunod na bakbakan. Tinunton naming tatlo ang mabato at maalikabok na daan patungong bayan. Habang naglalakad, napagtanto ko ang malaking pagbabago sa kapaligiran. Kay tahimik. Wala na ang tugtog ng kulintang at agong. Tanging alingawngaw na lamang ng putukan sa may di kalayuan ang nakikisabay sa pagpintig ng aking puso. Doon ko rin lamang napagtanto, na ang tanging dala ko ay ang  sambayangan na karpet na ginagamit sa pagdarasal bukod sa suot kong luma at punit-punit na damit. Magkakahawak-kamay naming tinunton ang daan patungo sa padiyan.

Pagdating namin sa padiyan, akala ko ay araw ng pamamalengke. Doon pala nagtipon-tipon ang mga taong apektado ng bakbakan. Isa sa ipinagtataka ko ay tila walang naganap na kaguluhan sa bawat reaksiyon ng bawat isa.

Ilang oras lang mula nang lisanin namin ang bahay, muling sumiklab ang bakbakan sa pagitan ng mga Moro Islamic Liberation Front o MILF laban sa mga sundalo ng pamahalaan. Hindi ko man maintindihan ang dahilan ng hidwaan ng dalawang grupong iyon, alam kong marami ang apektadong mamamayan. Sa araw na iyon, hindi ako nakapag-ayuno ngunit isinagawa pa rin ito nina A’ma at I’na. Ipinagpatuloy nila ang pag-aayuno kahit hindi sila kumain sa madaling araw.

Pinagpahinga ako nina A’ma at I’na sa isang barong-barong sa padiyan. Ilang araw din ang aming pananatili sa padiyan. Minsan, natutulog kami sa mga paaralang nagsisilbing kanlungan namin. Kapag ceasefire naman, paisa-isang kinukuha ni A’ma ang gamit naming naiwan sa bahay. Minsan pa, naisipan kong maglakad-lakad sa padiyan. Pinagmasdan ko ang kapaligiran ng aking kinagisnang bayan. Tanging buntonghininga ko na lamang ang aking naririnig habang bumubulong ang mga putok sa kabilang bayan. Tanging alikabok na amoy pulbura ang aking nalalanghap at hindi na ang iba’t ibang amoy ng mga kakanin. Wala na rin ang mga nakikipagsiksikang mamimili. Tanging nakaharang na lamang na mga sasakyang pandigma ang nakatambay sa bawat kanto.  Tanging wasak na mga kawayan na lamang din ang kumakaway at hindi na ang makukulay na mga bandila. Mga anino at imahen na lamang ng kahapong matiwasay ang nanatili sa aking isipan. Ngunit mas takot ako sa kaisipang ang imaheng iyon ay mananatiling imahen na lamang at hindi na magiging realidad.

Kasabay nang putukang nagaganap sa may di kalayuan, naikintal sa aking murang isipan ang pangyayaring iyon. Isa lamang ang aking napagtanto sa pagkakataong iyon, maaari pala kaming mamuhay sa bayang binabalot ng gulo. Nabubuhay sa musika ng mga bala. Humihinga sa usok ng pulbura. Patuloy na mamamayagpag ang katiwasayan ng buhay sa kabila ng suliraning kinakaharap ng aming bayan. Patuloy sa paglalayag ang bawat mumunting pangarap ng mga Maguindanaoan sa kabila ng katotohanang kay hirap abutin, tulad ng paghahangad namin ng kapayapaan.

Wala mang kamuwang-muwang sa lahat ng nangyari, batid kong hindi ito tama, na hindi ito ang hinahangad ng bawat isa. Ang pangyayaring ito ang tunay na magpapatibay at huhubog ng aking pagkatao. Ang pangyayari sa aking bayang sinilangan ang huhulma sa aking kinabukasan. Ang bawat putok ng bala ang tutugtog habang tutuntunin ang daan tungo sa hinaharap. Ang simoy at hamog ng pulbura ang magbibigay ng anyo sa aking mga pangarap. Ang kislap at tilamsik ng bawat bala ang iilaw sa aking landas, sa aming bayan.

Simula pa lamang ang lahat ng masalimuot na pangyayari tungo sa pagbuo ng sampung titik ng salitang kapayapaan. Umaasang sa bawat titik ng salitang ito ay hindi tunog ng baril ang maririnig kundi ang ritmo ng kulintang at agong. Darating ang panahon na ang bawat mamamayan ng Maguindanao ay magtitipon-tipon sa padiyan hindi dahil kami ay nagsilikas kundi dahil ipagdiriwang namin ang salitang kapayapaan. Umaasa akong ang bawat bandila na nasa gilid ng daan ay patuloy na itataas, maiwawagayway, at kailanman ay hindi kukupas ang matitingkad nitong kulay.

Ang bayang aking kinalakhan at kinamulatan ay hindi naghihingalo. Ang bayan ko ay dinapuan lamang ng matinding sakit na hanggang ngayon ay hinahanapan ng lunas. Hanggang tumitibok ang puso ng mga mamamayan ng aking bayan, patuloy itong hihinga at hindi hahayaang tuluyang malason ng pulbura ng digmaan. Hanggang umuusbong ang mapa ng Maguindanao sa rehiyon ng ARMM, magpapatuloy na makikilala at tatatak ang pangalan nito dahil may buhay at mabubuhay kami sa kabila ng suliraning kinakaharap.

Heneral

By Estrella Taño Golingay
Fiction

The neighborhood would usually start to stir up to the insistent crowing of the roosters. As clumps of leaves gradually appeared against the sky, household sounds would signal the daily routine of chores. Then the lowing of herds would enliven the farm road, creating an urgency for those who had different deadlines to meet.

“Get up, Budz!” Nanay called from the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. “Gather taro or Tope would get them first!” I could almost see her puttering around, her voice rising above the early morning din as she requested Tatay to fetch some water. “After that, dry again the rice you just harvested, so you can have it milled after.” Tatay was feeding the fowls outside, and maybe he could hear my mother, but I didn’t hear him reply.

The noise in the kitchen and the fowls dominated the early morning scene. Those sounds had filled my mornings since I was a little boy, and I had grown accustomed to that kind of music. Outside the half-opened window, I could still make out the silhouettes of the durian and mango trees as the sun was about to come out of Roxas Mountains. Still I sat there on the mat, my back against the hardness of the kalakat wall, trying to ward off sleep. I stretched out and shifted my legs to stand up reluctantly, and the bamboo floor creaked as I wobbled on my feet. I headed slowly to the kitchen, fearing the chronic morning speeches.

Then I thought of Heneral and remembered clearly how he got that name. It had been four months since we had him, and being the only male and the eldest in a brood of three, I felt I was the instant owner. It was the same feeling when we got Pia as a birthday gift from a cousin last year.

“He’s mine, and I’ll call him Heneral!” I had proudly declared, to which no one had objected.

“We can’t afford hog feeds,” Nanay reminded me. “You know that. So as usual, we have to make do with wild veggies, kitchen leftovers, and refined chaff from the nearby rice mill.” That meant I’d look for taro leaves along the irrigation canals and swampy nooks, and then cook the leaves in a large vat so that the hog could be fed in the mornings and in the afternoons when I arrived home from school.

“Been doing that, Nay,” I jestingly added.

Abaw! hambog ba,” she jokingly said. “In exchange for what, may I know?”

“He-he-he, you know what I mean, Nay!” Then I remembered that for a month or two more, Heneral would have to go.

That morning was unusually arid, and the fields were dry and cracked like old skin with open sores. The feeder canal, too, had been almost empty for a month now. There were still clumps around, but the leaves had shrunk because of lack of rain. However, there was a large variety of taro grown domestically in backyards with large leaves and edible roots they called palawan, but those, too, had been reduced to stumps. Fortunately, with Pia to accompany me, I was able to gather some for Heneral’s fodder by taking the extra kilometer walk towards Kusan, sauntering along the irrigation canal with the hope of finding some of those much-coveted leaves.

But the best part of the hunt was to stand with my cousin on the highest hump by the canal. We’d squawk our hearts out at the feeding egrets, and they would scamper away to the sky and back while the sun slowly claimed the landscape. I had always loved the sight of those great white birds with their wide wings spread over the fields. That early morning ritual would usually end with a waft of breeze carrying the scents of young rice plants and loamy mud ready for planting. I recalled having done this with my cousins since I was little, as I used to accompany Nanay when she joined rice planters at the onset of rainy season. Just standing there, I felt the sky wasn’t so far then.

I found the chopping board hewn from an old kamatsili tree and started to cut the taro stems into two-inch or three-inch pieces and the leaves into shreds. The pieces fell unto an old sack that I had put under the chopping board. I was able to finish a sackful, which already filled the old lead vat my mother had received from my lola as an heirloom. That vat had been a constant fixture in the backyard as Mother never ran out of hogs to feed to make ends meet. Seeing it meant there was something to expect. In my mind, taking care of Heneral might give me what I’d been asking for: a new basketball to replace the lost one and a used cell phone maybe, which she had promised lately if I got better grades. But as usual Tatay wouldn’t budge.

He said, “We need a new scythe this weekend and a new bicycle tire to replace the broken one.” His words sounded final and curt, so I just sat there not saying anything, feeling the hardness of the bamboo bench secured under a guava tree. I always took Father’s words like they’re spoken by a chief, but in the end, he gave in a little as he quipped, “Join me in harvesting rice at your Uncle Umeng’s, and you’ll get what you’re asking for.”

His pacifying tone somehow made me relax.

“We have to join more harvests as those maybe our last.” Tatay’s voice quivered a little, and I saw him looking sad when I turned to look at him.

“Besides, there’s no more ulon-ulon to gather,” Nanay suddenly butted in as she folded our newly laundered clothing. “The huge harvesters have taken over the rice farms and everything goes in.”

Then I remembered the rice field my father had maintained in Dajay. He’d usually get several sacks from there, and that had been a great help for our consumption. But the previous July, it was infested by black bugs and rats, and there was the perennial maya bungol, always ready to swoop down on the yellowing fields and beat the farmers to the grains. I still laughed at why they were called such. Father had said that no matter how hard they were driven away, they would always come back.

Those mornings and weekends last July were the most memorable ones as we shooed the birds away with used cassette tapes tied at different directions of the field. The lines emitted blinding light when the sun rays struck the strips, and scared birds off. Sometimes, we would string empty tin cans across the field and shake the strings to create a resounding noise as I booed the loudest, driving them away. After that, I would let out a hearty laugh, but then, they’d come back, and I’d get tired doing that again and again, and it wasn’t fun anymore.

“I don’t think there’s much to expect from the coming harvest in Dajay, either,” Tatay said. “You saw what happened there.” He had a faraway look.

“Yes, Tatay,” I said softly, trying hard not to appear sad knowing it was something that happened to all rice planters as my mother said.

Hay, the Lord knows what we need,” Nanay said, sighing. “Let’s just be thankful for what we are given.” She would usually seal our fate with that mantra every time the harvest season failed.

But I got my red basketball nevertheless, after a day and a half of absence from school. The cell phone had to wait until next harvest time or when the hog was traded. So that day, I saw to it that fire was enough for the forage before I left, and with one last glimpse, I was off to school at the poblacion, almost four kilometers away from our village. But before I could even get out of the door, Father called my attention again and warned me earnestly. “Salvador, remember what we talked about.” Father’s index finger was pointing at me. “No late-night basketball games, especially with that cousin of yours!”

I could only nod in solemn reply while recalling the incident over a year ago. For two days, I was grounded for failing to be home after a basketball tournament at the poblacion. I never saw my father that angry before, and for the first time, I recoiled with fear at the fierceness of his eyes. I almost got a punch on my stomach had it not been for my mother coming between me and that fist of fury.

“That good-for-nothing son of yours,” Tatay said. “Look who was with him! You don’t even care whom he goes out with!”

Instantly, I felt brave for my mother, afraid he would hit her, and he wasn’t even tipsy, so I shielded her with my frail body, but he shoved me to the wall, so hard that I suffered some bruises. I didn’t see what happened next, but I heard her shouting, “Tama na!” which brought my two siblings to the scene, their cries adding to the commotion.

I learned my lesson the hard way. Looking back, I felt there was more shame than fear. But then eventually, Nanay knew about the online games and how I actually lost my money on betting. For that, I had to pay the price. But she didn’t know about the girl with curly hair and dimpled smile in the section next to ours and how I bought her stuffed toy at the ukay-ukay last fiesta.

That afternoon, after our dismissal at Libertad National High School, Tope came running to where I stood waiting for my siblings and whispered, “Come, it won’t take us long, just a game or two.”

“Computer shops are full by now,” I replied. “Besides, got no money.”

“It won’t take long, Budz,” Tope insisted. “I’ll pay for you. Just pay me back later.”

“How about Mira and Bebing?”

“You can just tell them you need a little time for your homework. And do you know that Odet now stays with her aunt?” Tope whispered something close to my ear and winked at me teasingly with a grin.

“Oh no, Topz. Not again. You’re always putting me in trouble.” I faked anger, shoving him off. I wasn’t sure, but I felt my whole body smiling on hearing that name.

“Hoy, Tope! Aren’t you coming home with us?” Mira shouted at Tope as she arrived with Bebing almost stooping with her backpack on. “Let’s go home, kuya. Stay away from that bum!”

“I’m hungry, kuya!” whined the little one as she darted to the nearest stall of native delicacies.

“Some other time maybe, Topz,” I finally decided. “Here comes the tricycle,” I said more to myself than to Tope as I assisted my siblings inside while I took the back ride.

Talawit!” Tope taunted me. “I’ll tell it all! Talawit! Talawit!” Tope sneered at me repeatedly at the top of his voice as we drove away. “Bring it on, Topz!” I laughingly shouted back, feeling braver this time to face any form of bullying. Soon the tricycle was struggling on the potholes towards home with twelve young passengers, four of which were enthroned on the rooftop.

Heneral stayed with us for two months more, and that meant same routine of gathering and preparing taro fodder. His squeaking may be earsplitting, but in time I had become accustomed to it and learned to like it being part of the usual sounds of home. Then I had that feeling my father liked me taking care of Heneral because I had something to do for the family.

My sisters and I enjoyed bathing Heneral when Nanay was too busy to do it. He liked being stroked at his underbelly and the gush of water on his back. Mira enjoyed the splash of water all over the pen, but one time, she tossed water nonchalantly upwards, and we got the share of the bath, so I complained loudly amidst her giggles and the snorting of the hog. “Mira, stop wasting water and help me clean the pen instead!” We had kept clean the hog’s pen, which was an open four-square-meter structure with four-foot buffer of split bamboo wall around. Any foul smell emanating from it would invite trouble from the neighboring households and a report to the barangay officials meant a warning. Keeping hogs for market somehow made us feel secure with the source of income just on hand.

“Next year, you’ll be in grade seven, and there’ll be more expenses to meet,” Nanay said seriously. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing school again, so I’d been trying to be good with my grades. I would also help my father as I promised especially during off-harvest season, which had usually been a lean season. Like these months, she had already spent the 4Ps allotment on food and other immediate needs. But one time, after claiming her share from Landbank, she surprised us with a fried chicken, and how we cheered her for that.

The impending sale of Heneral made us kids sad. My aunt was suddenly brought to the hospital the night before, and Nanay had to borrow money again for her. That meant she had another debt to pay, so she promised the hog as payment. But I thought that was better than betting the money again on number 88 that she had been maintaining. She said the number was given to her by a Chinese merchant, and it had always been a lucky number. But the last time she placed a bet and lost, my father was so mad, their argument ended with a broken window.

“We’ll get another one to replace him when he goes, don’t you worry,” she assured me, sensing my unusual silence. I remembered that it had happened before, so I just had to let go and wait.

“But how about the cell phone you promised, Nanay?” I asked softly. “Maybe we can get one from the store, just like Jopet’s.”

She didn’t answer.

“Go ask your auntie Rosie if she’s still selling her old one,” she said suddenly, surprising me a bit.

On second thought she quipped, “Oh, let me do that. It’s Sunday tomorrow, right? Rose usually reads at the Bible service.”

So one Saturday morning, the buyer arrived, riding an open motorbike-driven cart. In it were two helpers and an old weighing scale used for hogs.  Nong Domi, as they called him, had dark shades on, so I couldn’t make out what he really looked like. He entered the house premises towards the pig pen without the usual amenities. That surprised me because Nanay always told us never to enter people’s yards without greeting the owners first. The elders said that it’s like theft.

From the side window, I watched the old man instruct his helpers to tie the hog and snag it on the weighing scale, squinting as he arranged the lead weight. Soon after, he counted some money before giving it to my mother, who was quick to note the weight of her hog beforehand. Then quickly, he directed his helpers to load the shrieking animal on the cart. Seeing the squealing Heneral hogtied, I felt anger or sadness maybe, and I thought he must be asking for help. To my surprise, Nanay didn’t accept the money.

“Will you please count it on the table first before I take it?” she demanded, and this made the old man uncomfortable.

“What’s the point?” he asked. “Here’s the money in full. Don’t you want it?” He was resentful. Nevertheless, he counted the money again while my mother watched contemptuously.

“We agreed on ninety pesos per kilo before you came, and my hog weighs eighty-six!” she explained. “How come you counted five thousand less? Is there a mistake somewhere?” I almost forgot that my mother finished second year high school and was best in Mathematics in her class.

“But it’s already loaded!” Nong Domi defiantly declared as he tapped hard on the table in front of him, causing Pia to start barking. Soon, our street was a long blast of canine protest.

“Then put my hog back down!” Nanay suddenly raised her voice, stunning us all.

“I’m not selling it anymore, and there’s your money!” she added in a loud voice almost equal to his booming one. “I haven’t touched it!” she continued, her voice surprisingly clear and strong.

“It’s not good for business to take back a merchandise already loaded!” he yelled back, and the old man’s impatience started to attract attention from the neighbors. Anxiously then, I went out hurriedly on my mother’s side with my siblings tugging at my T-shirt.

“Kuya, kuya, wait!” Bebing fearfully pleaded as she and Mira held on to me.

“Stay away from him,” she murmured nervously while shaking my arm. But I just walked on, emboldened by a newly acquired courage thrust on eldest sons when placed on the spot, but stopped when I noticed something unusual. Nanay just stood there confidently commanding everyone’s attention. She looked calm but surprisingly fierce. That was a difficult spot for all of us, for I’d known my mother when she was sure and angry.

Suddenly, more people popped out of their doors, spilling into the street, and for the first time, I was extremely glad to have them as my neighbors. Then some male harvesters belonging to Father’s harvest group had come hoping for a glass of tuba. Times like those, they would usually talk about pressing  matters while waiting for their share, but at that time, Tatay hadn’t returned yet from Uncle Umeng’s store where he sold their harvested palay. Unexpectedly then, they became an audience to the farce thrust into them.

“I’m glad he isn’t here,” I whispered to myself, feeling relieved he wasn’t around to witness all those. Knowing Father, I was sure he wouldn’t take such an affront lightly. In that uneasy silence, everybody just gazed at the scene and waited for the next move of the old man as he fumbled for words to say. Finding none, he grudgingly completed the amount and threw the additional money on the table, cursing under his breath.

“There, you can have all of that and you can be rich!” He stomped out of the yard while my mother kept her composure with a glare she couldn’t hide. He then hurriedly mounted his motorbike, and off they went with a kick, a dark swirl of dust trailing behind as he dodged the street mongrels barking fiercely after them. Instinctively, everyone on the street just stood and insolently eyed the speeding vehicle. Then, as we were about to go back to the house, there was a heavy thud and the dust cleared.

Tagu-taguan

By Blesselle Fiel
Fiction

Tagu-taguan, maliwanag ang buwan.
Masarap maglaro sa dilim-diliman.
Pagkabilang ko ng tatlo nakatago na kayo.
Isa. Dalawa. Tatlo.

“Bang, Alvin! Bang, Dodong!”

Halong tawa at panghihinayang ang narinig sa magkalaro nang nahuli sila. Paano nga ba sila hindi mahuhuli e nakatayo lang sila sa likod ni Junjun?

“Sa susunod,” sambit ni Junjun habang umiikot sa paligid ng kalsada, “kung ayaw n’yong mahuli agad, magtago kayo nang maayos. Ang dami namang puwedeng mapagtataguan diyan.”

Nakita niyang nakatago sa likod ng isang paso si Princess. Ang itim na buhok nito ay di matakpan ng berdeng dahon ng tanim. “Bang, Princess!”

Dali-daling tumakbo si Junjun mula sa kaniyang puwesto kanina at hinampas ang pader. Tuwang-tuwa siya dahil sa unang pagkakataon nahuli niya silang lahat. Kung puwede nga lang i-celebrate, gagawin niya. Sa ngayon, nanamnamin na lang ni Junjun ang kaniyang maliit na tagumpay.

Pasado alas-singko na ng hapon. Kanina pa sila naglalaro sa kalsada sa harap ng kanilang mga tahanan. Kahit ilang oras na ang nakalipas, hindi nauubusan ng lakas ang mga pawis na pawis na paslit.

Babalik na sana sila sa kanilang paglalaro nang mapadaan ang tatay ni Junjun. Katulad ng ibang araw, umuwi na naman itong lasing at may hawak na pulang supot. Dinig na dinig nilang magkakaibigan ang sigawan mula sa loob. Nagliliparan mula sa dalawang bibig ang mga salitang nagnakaw, lasing, ayoko na, at kriminal.

Hay. Lagi na lang.

Nanlumo si Junjun. Lagi na lang ganito ang eksena sa loob ng kanilang bahay. Lahat ng kasiyahan na dulot ng kanilang paglilibang ay naglahong mistulang bula. Hindi naman lingid sa kaalaman niya ang pinaggagawa ng kaniyang itay. Ngunit sino nga ba siya upang baguhin ang pamamaraan nito, ang hanapbuhay nito?

Anak lang naman.

Anak na wala pang pinag-aralan. Anak na walang patutunguhan. Anak na walang kinabukasan.

Mas mabuti na lang na hayaan niya na lamang ito.

Tinapik ni Princess si Junjun sa balikat. “Halika, maglaro na lang tayo ulit. Si Dodong naman ang taya.”

Isang munting ngiti ang naipinta sa mukha ni Junjun. Isang tango at bumalik sa paglalaro ang mga bata. Nakatabon na ang mga kamay ni Dodong sa kaniyang mga mata, dinig na dinig ang mga padyak ng anim na maliliit na paa.

Tagu-taguan, maliwanag ang buwan.
Masarap maglaro sa dilim-diliman.
Pagkabilang ko ng tatlo nakatago na kayo.
Isa. Dalawa. Tatlo—

Bang!

Malalim na ang gabi. Pilit na ikinukubli ni Junjun ang kaniyang pautal-utal na paghinga. Sa isang maliit na eskinita, pilit na itinatago niya ang kaniyang sarili

Dapat hindi nila ako makita, ang sabi niya sa isip niya. Parang awa n’yo na, ayaw kong makulong.

Pinagsiksikan ni Junjun ang kaniyang katawan sa mga sako ng basura, nagdadasal na sila’y mapadaan lang at titigil rin sa paghahabol sa kaniya.

Lagi na lang kasi e.

Lagi na lang siyang wanted sa kanilang paningin. Lagi na lang dapat maliksi ang mga kamay kapag may kinukupit, mabilis ang mga paa kapag hinahabol. Lagi na lang siyang pinagagalitan ng kaniyang konsensiya at binabangungot sa gabi.

Hindi niya naman ito ginusto. Sadyang ito lang talaga ang buhay na ibinigay sa kaniya. Ang buhay na hinubog ng kaniyang itay para sa kaniya. Napakarami niyang pangarap sa buhay, ngunit tila lahat ng ito’y nilipad ng usok ng sigarilyo ng kaniyang ama.

Bakit ganito? Bakit siya pa?

Sabagay, kung tutuusin, hindi lang naman siya ang nalulong sa masamang bisyo. Si Alvin at Dodong ay nagtutulak na ng droga. Si Princess, ang unica hija ng kanilang pamilya, ay isa nang Magdalena.

At siya? Mula noon hanggang ngayon, nanatiling naglalaro, nagtatago sa dilim.

Kung puwede nga lang sana bumalik sa nakaraan, bumalik sa liwanag. Hindi naman siguro magkakaletse-letse ang buhay niya.

Siguro’y nakapag-aral siya—elementarya, hayskul, at kolehiyo, kung kakayanin.

Siguro kung nakapagtapos siya, isa na siyang doktor ngayon.

Siguro—

Bang!

Lagot.

Dali-daling tumakbo si Junjun. Nakabuntot sa kaniya ang mga lalaking naka-uniporme, may hawak na baril. Kaliwa, kanan, kaliwa, kanan. Kasing tulin ng kabayo sa kalsada. Kabisado niya na ang pasikot-sikot ng kalye. Siguro naman ay makakatakas siya ngayon, tulad ng dati.

Bang!

Hindi pala.

Bumagsak ang katawan ni Junjun paharap. Naging kulay pula ang kalsada. Unti-unti na siyang nawawalan ng malay, at hindi niya alam kung pinaglalaruan siya ng isip niya, pero naririnig niya ang kantang madalas niyang inaawit no’ng bata pa siya.

Tagu-taguan, maliwanag ang buwan.
Masarap maglaro sa dilim-diliman.
Pagkabilang kong tatlo nakatago na kayo.
Isa. Dalawa. Tatlo.

San Gerardo and the Exocoetidae

By Gerald Galindez
Poetry

Flying fish without a dying wish,
How you glimmer, shimmer.
Pearly scales set ablaze upon the sun,
Against the sunburnt skies,
Swooshing above the swelling waves
You caught my eyes to wander far and deep.
Flying fish,
you leave without a dying wish,
held my wonder of the sea,
the vast and deep eternal sea—
your eyes—
Flying fish.
Nimble fish.
You glide across the ocean wide
Brought me love, brought me joy
Ever since I was a boy
Of all the things I so enjoy,
Was your swift glide—
Your smooth and graceful dive,
He would point you in the sea line
I could barely track your flight.
He would let me see until I saw
Your crystal wings of awe

You held me in your silver fins
We dive the depths of trenches deep,
We reached the tides azure—
Where the sandy floors of powder white
Projects the dancing lights,

Flying fish,
My precious fish
My life, my friend,
Taught me how a life should end,
You hid your pains inside your scales so I could live
You let me swim, you let me breathe.

Your eyes—
Two keen orbs—
They reach the heart’s core
I’ve not spoken love to you—
Forever in debt to you—
Take your wings,
set sail
As I hear the ocean wail
her last ululating song—
golden coins for your journey long.

 

(Editors’ note: Indention for this poem cannot be reflected on our website due to our design template. Please contact us if you need the original format of this poem.)

Cotabato

By Allen Samsuya

(This poem first appeared in Dagmay: The Literary Journal of the Davao Writers Guild and won the first place in the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Awards at the 2011 Iligan National Writers Workshop.)

We might not come back home for awhile to Cotabato
because there are more things to do than catch a bus
and travel a tedious six to seven hours. Imagine the hassle
of having to stop by a terrible total of ten terminals
and all for what? Once there, we’ll probably waste our weeks
on good-for-nothing visits to former classmates’ houses,
old friends, and dozens more of other people we used to know
so well, but now find hard to even barely recognize—
as when we chance upon them whenever we buy
our fruit shakes and burgers at Manong’s, or when we shop
for overpriced stuff at South Seas, or at nights when we party
and waste ourselves at Pacific Heights.

Eventually, we’ll overstay for some ridiculous reason—
say, in waiting for yet another class reunion and, hence,
wasting more time and money; or hoarding pirated DVDs
at Barter Trade, or pigging out on litson manok at Kitok’s,
or worse, overspending on fares for unending jeepney
joyrides—because you know as well as I do, back there
we have nothing better to do.

When over here, work is pretty much cramming right in front
of our faces. At my boarding house, for instance,
classcards from previous semesters, marked with obvious
INCs and 4s procrastinate somewhere in my room, perhaps
still waiting to be unearthed, then removed, or completed.
Unfinished fictions, half-written poems, and countless fragments
without epiphanies, or even form, are still willfully waiting
to be worked on to their necessary conclusions, because all things
must be seen through their conclusions—if not, then at least be
properly thrown away, or abandoned.

The way we too had been abandoned in that Cotabato
in our past, where we had practically found each other
among ruins of bomb-blasted buildings and burnt skeletons
of buses, among blood-bathed corpses along bloodstained
highways and starving mobs of beggars at the streets
kept barely alive by pretty much nothing but promises
of better days, rugby, and some discarded bread. But we
had found each other anyway, and had loved each other,
and ourselves, and everyone else we knew.

And in that place perhaps we had loved the most
probably because back there in Cotabato we had
nothing better to do.