Kutabatu

By Rita Gadi

(This poem won the third prize in the 1977 Palanca Awards.)

I.

Nuri,
finely feathered falcon
swiftest scaler of the sky,
azure lash of wind across the valleys,
Qudarat’s carrier of messages,
forecaster, skin of kings, majestic linnet:
between the warrior and the gods,
flying being, soul of the clouds,
behold, today,
the utter ruin, the funeral choir,
the breathing, bandaged vastness:

Kutabatu.

Tierra Miserable,
landscape of corpses, humid moisture of blood,
tombless, dark, footless.

O, witness the twilight unsettling
sounds of throats, echoes of cemeteries,
color of hate and hateful
tongues lashing guns, and
swords without valor.

Yesterday,
how many more died?
Their numbers increase from zero to zero,
like a processional hurriedly dispersing
an entire race to the damning
hands of wreckage and war.
Unhappy land, adrift,
innards unleashed to the beastly
bullets tattooed upon the tendon’s
succulent earth.

Kutabatu, terrestrial paradise,
child of gold,
basin of Islam, fort of the southern island,
queen of the warrior,
goddess of dreams and royalty;
I stand back to see in your face
the chains that crown a diadem of fears
upon your brow.

The trembling metal thrust upon your throat;
your quivering waist
and curdled milk upon the nipples
of your breasts.

II.

My only territory of the substance of stone
south to south
through angry regions,
how I bleed in every ancient tree,
and hear the calling sadness of your mouth.
With blood, I know not when to leave
your moaning dawn, in grief, alone,
while the shadows of your bloodstained foliage
fume, strange enemies
that vanquished much of you
in me.

The greater pain,
dear province of the heart,
is the shape of crackling nights,
the conspiracy of infernal musings,
the devious patch on the eye of murder
and the slaughter upon the altar stone.
Surely, the gods refuse
a perforated sacrifice!

And the children, why is there
no one to spare from their lives
the interminable visions of a nameless crime?
See how they stand there
eyes as naked as their skins
searching for some location of silence
in the endless midnight of their days.
They drown in terror
and their breathing is as deep as death;
a season spilled the sticky smell of gunpowder
and froze all their tears.

III.

Today I pick you up from the river
to write this secret in your heart
and leave the ugly country
for the monsters of the mind.
It is better to love the mornings
and the valleys, and the hills,
the way they spread into the memory
of the home Bantugan built.
And safest citadel this shall be
firm as the sphinx and unmatched,
the flight of rainbows from the shadows
of the suns upon your head.
I come with fire from the river,
I give you the sea to drink,
I say to you my race remembers
the rhythm of the flower
the fingers of the moon.
I render you the colors of courage
the healing wine of life,
and dance for you, the savannah,
flesh for flesh, brother to man.

(The jungle continues its silence
the dying flowers fade
and the birds migrate with the sun;
the elemental astronomy moves on
despite the artificial season of man
and the beasts are safe from almost
everything.)

But through the cosmic circulation
of stars and suns and birds,
beneath the sterile system
that shrouds the jungle’s sleep,
a thousand eyes are roaming
like the hunter’s game for the kill,
and the passions of the animals
devour the limits of the land.

These are the spirits
whose evil incantations must disperse;
who wander in the mortuary offices
that schedule people’s wars. They plague
all types of habitation
but more aptly suit the kind
that navigates his power
by the power of the guns.

IV.

Let me call the sorcerers
to chant the evils that burn your villages
away. Kutabatu,
lift your brows against your destiny
and from the ashes of your bones
threaten the cowering madness,
beat the drums
and let the totems fall.

You cannot stop
the migration of alien tribes.
They shall dry the rivers, and unclothe the hills,
shall upset the volcanic bowels to erupt.
Leave them be and quicken to make peace.
Build no walls intended to divide,
but let their cultures honor
the territory
of your gods.
For they, too, search
a world they never had
wherefrom they came; they, too, are
fragments of your kind
and though their sounds disturb
listen with your eyes:
they have the wrinkles of your skin.

But from your nightmare into mine
I turn my back on myself.
Memory defeats the visions of my world
and all the rivers of your soul
swell into the slopes of my heart.
The handful of flesh upon my palm
hardens into steel: a thunder leaps
from finger to finger. I learn a strength:
the fury to defy the hammering nerve,
the instinct to survive, or kill.

Kutabatu,
this is the leap of the beast:
the freedom to run, or, to attack.

In every world a jungle lurks
and survival shapes
my wandering sorrow.

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