Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Case of an Unhappy Hen

Was it Calvin Trillin who wrote that the best tasting chicken are those raised and allowed to roam freely in the range? One can only taste the sadness of those broilers, who spend their lifetime caged in a chicken coop, deprived of the sun and the taste of freedom, as can be gleaned from the blandness of their soup. I have turned into a very sad, unhappy hen. I'm thinking of ways how to get out of my cage.

Slice of Night

I found myself alone among abandoned files, crumpled towels in a chair, half-opened chicherias, half-opened books, unread newspapers, my favorite coffee mug filled with water. They did not forget to turn off the air con, this time, like they did the other night. I tapped on the keyboard and listened to the whizzing of the electric fan. I could hear the rumblings of distant jeepneys, the scream of a street girl, a whistle of a balut seller. But the hoot of construction workers, the thrashing and grating of metals, the roar of heavy equipment around the skeletal building being built across the street seemed to have stopped. In their place is an engulfing silence. I scooped my pants pocket for coins and kicked off my shoes. I could play DonMcLean in his 30s singing the American Pie over and over until the lizards tilt their heads an inch off the wall, nodding to its rhythm. Or, I could play Gorillaz, over and over, until my eyes get so drowsy, I could hardly open them. I could open my new tarot deck I have kept locked in the drawers and discover ancient wisdom. I could read F. Sionil Jose's "Poon," translated into Tagalog by Lilia F. Antonio when she was in Osaka. But instead, I think of my Ma and how, I have never given her a single gift ever since I was born.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Magistrate

The grey beard is caked with blood. The lips are crushed and drawn back, the teeth are broken. One eye is rolled back, the other eye-socket is a bloody hole. “Close it up,” I say. The guard bunches the opening together. It falls open. “They say that he hit his head on the wall. What do you think?” He looks at me warily.

---from JM Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians,” of the magistrate looking at the corpse that bore the marks of torture

The Magistrate's Monologue

“You feel that it is unjust, I know, that you should be punished for having the feelings of a good son. You think you know what is just and what is not. I understand. We all think we know.”
I had no doubt, myself, then, that at each moment each one of us, man, woman, child, perhaps even the poor old horse turning the mill-wheel, knew what was just: all creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice.
“But we live in a world of laws,” I said to my poor prisoner, “a world of the second-best. There is nothing we can do about that. We are fallen creatures. All we can do is to uphold the laws, all of us, without allowing the memory of justice to fade.”
After lecturing him I sentenced him. He accepted the sentence without murmur and his escort marched him away. I remember the uneasy shame I felt on days like that. I would leave the courtroom and return to my apartment and sit in the rocking chair in the dark all evening, without appetite, until it was time to go to bed.
“When some men suffer unjustly,” I said to myself, “it is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it.”
But the specious consolation of this thought could not comfort me. I toyed more than once with the idea of resigning my post, retiring from public life, buying a small market garden. But then, I thought, someone else will be appointed to bear the shame of office, and nothing will have changed."
---from J.M. Coetzee, “Waiting for the Barbarians

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Glimpse of Tobias Mindernickel

I see Tobias Mindernickel roaming around the streets of Davao. His appearance is just as Thomas Mann had written, "eyecatching, quite odd, indeed ridiculous."
Out on a walk, he hauls his gaunt frame with the help of a cane, no longer up the hill, this time, but in an overpass reeking of urine and rotting garbage. He is no longer dressed in black from head to toe, in fact, he had changed into tattered rags that hang limply on his skeletal frame.
It must have been such a long and arduos journey for him from that small quayside town in Europe.
His mud-hardened hair covers half his face. He stares back at me with that gaunt look in his eyes as he hovers around the rows of stalls selling durian and pirated DVDs.
The sight of his sunken cheeks depresses me. I remember how Prof. Philip Van Peele back in Silliman U had pointed to us that Tobias Mindernickel is a perfect picture of Death.
He is lucky, no children come to tease him now. It's quite too far away from the street of Grauer Weg where he came from. Filipino children hardly know him at all.
Then, I begin to suspect that he is stalking me---or am I stalking him?
"Where is the dog?" I ask as soon as he is off the stairs of the smelly overpass, standing face to face with me on the ground. I am referring to that yellow dog, with one black ear and a black ring around one eye, that he bought from a man in Germany. A picture of sadness and remorse shows in his face. He had named that dog Esau.
"Where is the dog?" I ask again.
He began to sob. He did not reply.
"C'mon, tell me," I said, "What happened to Esau?"
His furious sobbing turn to a loud wail.
"What did you do to your dog?!" I said, loudly, this time, that passersby begin to notice.
Suddenly, he stops and squints a pair of bloodshot eyes at me. I could see sadness, but not guilt, in those eyes, before he scampers away and vanishes from my life forever.

In Search of the Lost Goddess

Some time in the previous months, I got the rare treat of finding my lost goddess in Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent." The whole novel exceeded my wildest expectation, a rewriting of the familiar account of the Bible in the point of view of a woman named Dinah, who--if you get down to it--was a mere footnote on the pages of Genesis. Diamant's book deserved to be talked about, if only because the God of Jakob, Isaac and Abraham, the only God I was borne to believe in and the only God I was made to believe existed, appeared strange and unfamiliar all throughout the book, while the household gods of Rachel, the rituals of the moon goddess and her daughter, the great mother Inanna, became increasingly familiar as I found myself getting drawn towards the lives of Jacob's daughter Dinah and her four mothers Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.
I would read the book again, if only to know the goddesses better; or get intrigued by the goddess ritual of Opening of the womb, as opposed to the display of virgin blood by the groom during the night of the wedding. Or, to rage against the clan of Jacob, against the brothers of Dinah, against patriarchy who regarded (and continue to regard) women as piece of properties to be exchanged or sold in marriage! The book is the Jewish equivalent of Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman," a story of how a woman's name was erased, the woman forced to live as an outcast, for crossing over to the borders of taboo. I first heard about the book on the Ms magazine's bookshelf, when the book hit the bestsellers' list in 2001 four years after it was published in 1997. The writer Patricia Holt recounted how the book was not really on a big sellers' list in big chain bookstores when it first appeared. It only started to hit the chart when independent booksellers started recommending it to customers. In Davao, you could hardly find a copy of it at the National Bookstore. I found mine somewhere else. Such a pity I only read it now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

On the Road to Monkayo

I feel so tired, body and soul.
Wednesday last week, I journeyed through the night with my boys from Butuan and thought I was perhaps the happiest mother in the whole world, making plans how to spend time with them, but even before I could get them settled in Davao the following morning, I had to leave them with JA to continue their trip to Bansalan while I embarked on a nightmare trip to the town of Monkayo. There, we rode the famous skylab (a motorcycle built with a contraption to allow the two-wheeled vehicle to carry more passengers), and made the daredevil journey to the sitio (subvillage) of Calinogan in barangay Casoon, where the Dibabawuns live.
The contraption was such a crazy structure that sometimes during the trip, passengers seated on it look down to realize they're already sitting on top of a cliff while the motorcycle negotiates a narrow road up the mountain.
It was not just the whole trip that made me so depressed but the nagging feeling that I was trapped. Back in Davao city, we received two PJR Report's copies, where the article on Life as Correspondent appeared and somebody, it was Gra, who said the story was--uhhggh-"inspiring." I felt even more depressed. It was not even half the picture of the life I had seen!