Category Archives: poetics

Fools Together

Aside from “Kubot”, the other film I watched in the just-concluded MMFF was “English Only, Please”. I was very selective in watching movies this time because I had a huge feeling the other blockbuster-hit movies would just prove to be a complete waste of my time and money. I’m very glad to say that these two movies delighted me immensely, for varying reasons of course.

poster English Only Please

I was raring to write a glowing review of “English Only, Please” because it was a perfect little piece of film. It wasn’t trailblazing as a romantic comedy but it made use of the conventional elements of the genre in such a refreshing way and even managed to turn on its head the portrayals of men and women in similar movies. I can even forgive the somewhat clumsy placement of Dunkin Donuts because everything else was a delight. The characters were relatable, the situations plausible, and the performances just so adorable. For the first time, I looked at Derek Ramsay without thinking of his abs and the rest of his muscular body. This was the first time I saw Jennylyn Mercado and it made me wonder why she isn’t a bigger star. Also, plus points for not insulting the intelligence of the audience.

I cannot say anything more. I enjoyed the movie so much it inspired me to write a love-themed poem for the first time in years! Well, the movie was a clear and obvious inspiration, as you will find out if you read it. It’s a poem in two voices, and here it is.


So it ends, so it begins

The last weeks of 2014 have been particularly busy for me as I tried to juggle many responsibilities–to my work, to the NGO that I co-founded, to my family, and to my friends, among others. I felt like I was cramming for an important exam.

In fact, yesterday I planned to clean my room, as I usually do as the new year comes. But finishing a work task that I have been procrastinating about took most of the day so I was only able to start cleaning my room at around 9PM. Since this was a full-on spring cleaning that happens 3 or 4 times a year only, I didn’t finish until 2AM. When I went downstairs my mother and aunt were also up. We had a few laughs over coffee before I went to bed but I managed to sleep for just about 5 hours.

In between my working period yesterday, I walked around our yard and looked at our old macopa (rose apple) tree. This tree is older than I am and I can’t explain clearly but I’m quite fond of it. We had just harvested its first batch of fruits and I happily noted that its branches were once again filled with its frilly flowers. In the last few years, its fruiting pattern have been threatened by the erratic weather. The protracted rainy (and typhoon) season washed away its flowers and buds, and those that survived were not as sweet as they normally were.

However, this year, our old tree seemed able to adapt. Her buds survived the protracted rains and developed into sweet fruits that I enjoyed with my family.

I found this quite remarkable. Life really finds a way. It made me think of this poem, which I am sharing here. The poem I attached is quite old as well, but its themes of recovery/ rejuvenation/ resurrection still resonates today, as the present year is ending and a new one is about to begin. 

Happy new year, dear reader!



I still get the blues

Yesterday I sat in front of my computer for a long time, doing nothing. I was supposed to be writing to meet a couple of deadlines but I couldn’t. I just stared at the monitor and the empty space seemed to mock me further. Finally giving up, I turned the computer off and decided to read until I feel the urge to get back to work again. This diversion usually worked but yesterday I couldn’t even focus on the words of the book. The letters seemed to swim before my eyes–paragraphs, sentences, and words break apart on the page, stirred by an unseen hand.

Lying in bed, I tried to sleep. I wanted to wake up early so I can make up for the time I lost. But sleep eluded me. I dimmed the lights, lit a stick of incense, and enclosed myself in a pallet of pillows. This technique has never failed me but yesterday was a day for firsts, apparently. I ushered the new day looking at the wall clock on the wall opposite my bed.

November 30 is not just the death anniversary of my father. It’s also the time when I was forced to leave the house for the first time in 2 months to do the morbid task of picking out a coffin for him and make arrangements with the funeral service provider. During the wake, I was forced to be present and had no choice but to face the flow of friends and relatives who inquired/ marveled/ speculated on my state. I felt like a tree struggling to remain standing in front of a deluge.


My father’s death, in effect, ended my hiding from the world. It forced me to look at myself even if I loathed what I saw. The forced gaze hurt me but on hindsight, I needed that push. Even in death, my father still tried to help me even without my knowledge and permission. It just makes me miss him more now. But my grief is not just about losing him. His death marked the start of my long and hard journey to… to what? Recovery? Probably. Or whatever condition I had been in before yesterday. I think I’m also grieving for the monkey that used to be on my back. Sometimes I want to turn over the wheel to the first creature who will take it. Sometimes.

But who am I kidding, really?

I’m fine. Generally. But sometimes, I still get the blues.

But I’ll be fine again. You’ll see.

Remembering Pem

Dr. Rebecca F Catalla, or Pem, was one of the first Filipinos I met when I first arrived in Cambodia about 10 years ago. She gave me my first writing job; trusting me even if she didn’t really know me. Meeting the siblings Ted and Pem actually contributed to my decision to stay in Cambodia to strike it on my own there. Through Pem, I secured my first few projects in Cambodia. She was a strict and exacting boss but she was also very generous if you do your job well. Through her I discovered the power of research, igniting the interest that I still carry today.

my last photo with Pem c2010

my last photo with Pem c2010

In the 3 years since returning from Cambodia we kind of lost touch, but I’ve always considered it an honor to have worked with her and to have been one of her friends. I’m sad that I didn’t make it to her wake & funeral, and the other night I wrote this poem with her in mind. To mourn her loss, to pay her tribute, and to celebrate her life.

That Winter

I remember that story
Of that long-ago winter in Iowa
When a graduate student
Stepped into the cold night
To do a chore another person
Would’ve postponed without

A thought or bother.
But walked into the snow
You did, single-minded and
Steadfast, pausing only
To make sense of the act,
Well after the fact.

You told that story so well
That for a moment I too
Felt the chill of that winter
Within my body, even if
It was noon in the tropical
Country that adopted us.

Such was your power:
Your words exuded a casual
Elegance from which wisdom
Flowed freely; your manners
Evoked a quiet dignity and
Grace one can only aspire to.

I recall, standing beside you
Felt standing beside greatness
And I basked under the joy
Of learning from you, of
Working with you, and just
Being one of your friends.

Your leaving seems so like
That evening when you charged
Into the cold seemingly without
Any thought for your safety,
Steadfast and determined,
As we all know you to be.

That winter comes uninvited;
The bitter wind might have
Snuffed your very flame, but its
Warmth and bright light remain
On all those you have touched
In your rich and glorious life.


For Joyce

We’ve been colleagues in development work for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2003 that we became close friends. And such a loyal and honest friend she is. Unfortunately, as I made my way back to the Philippines in 2010, she was on her way to Canada to start a new life. We both are travelers whose paths rarely cross but it doesn’t in any way diminish our friendship. I wrote this poem while still in Cambodia and I asked a mutual friend to read this on my behalf on Joyce’s send-off party. I am posting this now at Joyce’s request.


If we were at Treehouse now 


Maybe tonight when you’re done

Celebrating, after the last of post-prandial

Conversations have been exchanged,

The night will forget decorum

And reveal the profound sadness

I am keeping inside my heart,

Because you’re leaving. It is an arrow

Embedded in the flesh, much like the stories

We have shared through the years–

Tales of joy and grief, the love we gave

But didn’t always get back, as we made

Separate but parallel journeys in life.

But perhaps, more than the stories,

What we really have in common

Is this wanderlust, the need to remain

In constant motion. So this departure,

Being just one of the many,

Shouldn’t cause me trouble, but

It does and what can I do?

The fire that consumes our hearts

Is the same, lighting up the evening sky

In the city I’m also preparing to leave.

The whole world is before us, my friend,

And I miss the times we are together,

Weaving such stories of our lives.

As you make this yet another journey,

Remember to look at the sky,

Know that no matter how far off you go

I will always be within reach.



Phnom Penh, 2010