On Shaving

The razor rises and kisses the skin above your lips. You look in the mirror and see that the spot the razor landed on isn’t quite where you want it to be. You move it a little to the left so it covers that tiny groove below your nose, the middle of the in-between, surely part of an ongoing affair with symmetry now a little over two decades old.

Then a scrape. That first downward scrape is a promise to finish what you’ve begun, to leave less of a mess than there had been before the beginning. The first few strands of hair willingly leave your skin and cling to the blade. The first fall of water feeds them down the drain, and you neither know nor care if they end up clogging the way.

The razor rises again, scrapes again, falls again, and you settle into a rhythm. Instinct takes over, the rise-scrape-fall becoming almost involuntary, and your mind is free enough to tell you that the hair has grown too long, that it’s been too long since the last blade-kiss. Regret rears its head—the taste is there on the tip of your tongue—but before it fully surfaces, you nick yourself on the chin as you are wont to. The pain comes and leaves, comes and leaves, as you repeatedly splash water onto the stripe of red until the wound clots.

You look in the mirror but don’t bother to find the pink scar. You know better than to try erasing it by looking at it. There are things better left to time, and you breathe a silent laugh when you realize anew that scraping long hair off is infinitely more satisfying than scraping off stubble.

Rise, scrape, fall. Rise, scrape, fall.

Instinct stops when only a few strands remain. You go over every inch a second time, chasing stragglers, making sure your sideburns stop at the same point beside either earlobe. You turn your head multiple times only to find that you’ve forgotten the sparse patch between your eyebrows, the one you refuse to have threaded since it has never quite mustered up the resolve to completely bridge the two sides.

A scrape, another, yet another, and you’re done.

As you look in the mirror to admire your handiwork, you wonder how shaving has turned from necessity to indulgence. This time, like the few previous ones, came after a spell of too much activity and too little respite. Your hair grows long as the past lengthens, but it isn’t until you shave that you know the past is ready to become memory.

You look down and see bits of hair clinging to the surface of the sink. You turn the tap on and lead them down the drain, not caring, as before, if they end up clogging the way.

Gone

A few hours ago, traffic on our normally placid street got obstructed by a sick dog that couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything but pant. My dad poked it with a stick, but it didn’t respond, so he just moved our van a few meters off to let the stopped car drive around it.

We talked about where to bury it when it died. Bury them. A plural pronoun for a singular being whose sex I failed to ascertain. That was a life. A life I couldn’t disgrace with an impersonal “it.”

The most pressing concern then was getting the dog off the road. I held a grab hoe and a spade as my dad knocked on Tito Jun’s door, a few houses over. While he and my dad talked, a pedicab drove toward us, its driver and sole passenger joining in on the speculation about the dog’s owner. It wasn’t Ma—whoever Tito Jun suggested it was. It wasn’t the pedicab driver as well. He owned a dog carrying the same shades but a different face. I hoped his claim was true, that it wasn’t a simple case of a man shirking responsibility.

The passenger, bolder than the rest of us, took the dog by the scruff of their neck and moved them to the curb in front of Lola Pilar’s house. She wouldn’t have it, we all knew, and my dad said as much. The dog was then moved to the vacant lot beside the house, close to the narrow dirt path people—the herder and his cows, the construction workers who always had something to build—passed through.

Instead of lying prone on the sparse patch of grass on a mound beside a bush that promised concealment if not protection (its shade had no sun to protect anything from), the dog sat. They sat and looked at us and panted. Always, they panted.

When Tito Jun and the pedicab driver and his passenger left, my dad and I went back to talking about the logistics of burying the dog when they died. But I had stopped thinking of their death as an inevitability. The continued panting and the sitting made me want to wrap the dog in a blanket and take them to the vet.

My dad, voice dripping with frustrated commiseration and practicality, said no.

Tito Jun had ordered the pedicab driver to take charge of the burial in the morning. He would need tools, so I left the grab hoe and the spade leaning on the wall closest to our gate.

I went back out of our house two times after that to check on the dog, all the while thinking about putting them in the small cage I knew we owned—it had only ever housed a German Shepherd pup, and even then the space had been just enough, but I thought the adult dog’s sickness would allow them to curl up and fit in a space they shouldn’t—then walking to the highway and riding a jeepney to Hayop Kalinga, which was open twenty-four hours and arguably the best veterinary clinic in our area.

More than ever I wished I had learned to drive.

The first time back out, I saw the dog lying on the dirt, head pillowed on the mound with the smattering of grass. Still panting, but not sitting. That was it, I thought. They had given up and death would catch on and the spade I had prepared would be put to good use.

The second time, the dog was sitting again. I went over to them, shining my flashlight on their hunched form. I wanted to pet them, to give them a moment of kindness and peace. Three feet off. Two feet off. One and a half… My resolve shattered. For all the dog’s weakness, their eyes conveyed threat. One last bite of flesh before the dust.

A look back toward our house’s dogs that were watching my every move. A look at the sitting dog, still panting. I turned around, shut the flashlight off, and went through our gate without a glance over my shoulder. If the dog was still there in the morning, I’d find a way to get them to the vet.

Unable to get into bed yet, I went out of my room, through my mom’s, and out onto her balcony which offered a good view of the vacant lot beside Lola Pilar’s house. I tiptoed near the edge to cast the best look I could at the spot I remembered. The dog was gone.

I blamed the darkness, so I waited for cars and their headlights to take it away. A car from my right, a car from my left. Nothing.

I went down and out of our house to the spot on the lot, flashlight in tow. I walked farther down the path and shone my light under bushes and beyond them. Just dirt and leaves and tall grass and a log the size of a dog, of a dog’s corpse. A log that didn’t sit. A log that didn’t pant.

The dog was gone. Gone and not sitting, but perhaps gone and panting.

A Stargazer’s Final Words

Have you ever noticed that stars never relinquish their light mid-twinkle? They fade out and fade back in, but you always know they’re there because of the light they were made to hold fast.

Funny, then, that a lover’s eyes are many a time a poet’s stars. Eyes blink and in so doing surrender to a millisecond’s total darkness. Eyes can remain open after a person’s passing, whereas upon a star’s death its light has no choice but to be extinguished.

Eyes aren’t stars. Only stars are. Don’t look so befuddled, child, when I tell you that you are your eyes as I was, am, mine. Next time you look at the sky, don’t wonder if I’m there. I’ll be right beside you, gazing.

Halik ng Buwan

Hindi ko pa nababasa ang liham mo.
 
Ang araw: Pilit binubuhat ang mga talukap ng batugang
Nakapikit, pilit pinababangon ang mga katawang
Nakalimutang hindi pa panahon para sila’y isilid sa
Karong tagahatid sa kwarto ng limot at pag-alala—
Sa kailaliman ng lupa.
 
Hindi ko pa binabasa ang liham mo.
 
Sigurado ang tapak ng madla tuwing umaga, madlang
Sabik sa katotohanang hindi maitatago sa mga
Sulok na araw-araw sumusuko sa hampas at
Kumpas ng liwanag na lumulusot sa mga kulay-abong ulap
Na bitbit ang pinakamabigat na ulan.
 
Ang araw ay tapat
Dapat.
 
Ngunit hindi marunong magmasid ang araw kung
Kaya’t patuloy ang pagsubok nitong bigyang-liwanag ang mga
Makalupang tagapagmasid. Nakaligtaang ang komportableng
Pagsilay—pagtitig—ay tunay lamang na nagagawa habang
Nakayakap sa dilim.
 
Ginawang bahay ng liham mo ang bulsa ko.
 
Ang tawag marahil ng buwan sa himpapawid ay
Sangkaulapan. ‘Di ito tulad ng araw na walang respeto sa
Mga ulap; tinatanggap ng buwan ang minsanang pagharang
Sa sinag nito’t ipinauubaya sa hangin ang muli niyang
Paglitaw.
 
Ang mga gabi ko’y itim na itim, walang buwan.
 
Ang buhay mo, ang buhay ko, ay tulad ng liwanag
Ng buwan: hiram, nakaw, minsa’y nakukubli o
Nakalilimutan. Ilang beses ko nang nalasap ang halik ng
Buwan—halik na mariin subalit hindi nakasusunog, halik
Na walang pagtatangkang puksain ang kadiliman.
 
Babasahin ko ang liham mo ‘pag nahanap ko nang muli
Ang buwan.

Sa Gabing Akin ang Isip Ko

Puntang concert para magtaas ng telepono’t kumuha ng video. Para ano? Maipakita sa mundong nakapunta ka roon? E nandoon ka nga ba? Ano talagang dinanas mo?

Pasok ng silid-aralan para mag-abang hanggang matapos ang lecture at kuhanan ng retrato ang pisara. Para saan ang mga ehersisyong inihanda ng guro para sa klase? Nag-antay ka lang ng sagot? May natutuhan ka ba talaga? Bakit hindi ka na lang manood ng videos sa YouTube at magpaskil sa Facebook na natapos mo silang panoorin?

Tingin sa timeline ng kaibigang namatayan para sa mensaheng maemosyon at sa detalye ng burol. Tinapat ang cursor sa “Like” at nag-antay hanggang lumabas ‘yong emoticon na umiiyak. Pinag-isipan mo bang bumisita? O sapat nang pagpapakita ng simpatya ang pagpindot noong dambuhalang mukha?

Kapag nagpo-post ka, sinusulat mo ba ang iniisip mo o ang iniisip ng ibang tao? Ano ang hanap mo? Ang pagbahagi sa at pagsali ng mga tao sa karanasan mo o ang panandaliang kasiyahan at lukso ng dugong alay ng lampas isandaang like ng mga kaibigan mo sa Internet?

Para bang tuwing may kakaiba kang danas o bagong lugar na pinupuntahan, nagkakatinga ka sa bawat puwang ng mga ngipin at gilagid, nagkakakulangot na makapigil-hininga, at ang tanging paraan para makutkot mo sila palabas ay ang pag-post ng retrato o pagsabi sa mundong, “Hoy, nandito ako” o “Hoy, nagawa ko ito.”

Masyado na akong naiingayan sa mundo. Andami na masyadong eksperto, andami na masyadong tumatae’t sumusuka ng salita, andami na masyadong #blessed kung kaya’t napapaisip ka kung kinukumbinsi lang nila ang mga sarili nilang #blessed sila.

Pero nandito ako, nagpo-post at tumitingin sa post ng iba. Ipokrito.

One Day Like This

There are days when roads seem lined with nothing but endless toil and worthless meandering. On the way we see signs that we eventually decide we should have just been blind to, signs that were created to deceive or signs that have no idea what they are saying.

But there are days when all the roads converge, when all the signs point in one direction. The path is lit, the wind slows down to a whisper of a breeze, and your feet step on this amalgam of dirt and grass and asphalt without apprehension.

There are days the universe finds it in itself to be generous.

Unos

(Just got back from a fact-finding mission centered on a public-private partnership project itching to quite literally bulldoze its way through the lives of thousands of families. Was moved to write in my native language.)

Dumating ang unos:
Umulan ng upos ng sigarilyo, umihip ang mga guwardiya at
Pinalakas ang kaluskos.
Isa-isa,
Isa-isa,
Isa-isang humiwalay nang kusa ang mga piling ng saging sa
Kani-kaniyang bungkos.

Sinubukang hintayin ng mga saging ang
Mauugat at magagaspang na kamay na
Kumupkop, nagdilig, nagpataba—
Kumupkop mula binhi hanggang pagtanda,
Humaplos, nagdilig sa punla—
Humaplos at walang-sawang nag-aruga.

Ngunit nang itinutok ang baril sa sikmura ng nagmamay-ari ng
mauugat at magagaspang na kamay,
Tumalon ang mga saging sa yakap ng mga guwardiya bilang alay.
Mayroon bang mas sasahol pa
Sa pagsipsip ng dugong dumaloy, dumanak
Sa mauugat at magagaspang na kamay
Na kumupkop, humaplos, nag-aruga?

Humingi ng awa,
Ng unawa,
Ng pakikipagkapwa,
Pero tama ang hinala:
Pinakamahirap gisingin ang mga gising na*

‘Pag hindi maibigay ang awa,
Ang unawa,
Ang pakikipagkapwa,
Kailangan ng bagong simula:
Gisingin ang tulog at patulugin ang gising na.

*Narinig ko ang linyang ito kay Ka Redo, isa sa mga magsasakang nakasalamuha namin sa misyon.

Walang sinundang prompt. Galing ako sa fact-finding mission sa San Jose del Monte kontra sa MRT-7. Kung matuloy ang proyekto batay sa mga kasalukuyang nakalatag na plano, tiyak na hindi lang pananim ang masasagasaan.

Development para kanino?

Zebra

A bull closes doors, entertains fiery gallows, hasty in jackhammering knights lest multiple nefarious orbs precipitate quarrels revealing, spoiling the underwhelming victory which xeroxes your zebra.

Prompt: “Abecedarian Poem”

I may have lost all reverence for sense.