Binge

Take one bite.

Take another.

Take more,

out of pure petulance,

and indulge the lacking child from your past.

Take more –

no, I insist –

until your stomach overflows,

until your teeth rot from the sweetness

you’ve never known.

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A Sentient City

The city is alive, child.

It drools the sludge of factories and humanity and exhales the putrid smog that sticks to the graffitied walls, the veils of the religious, the rotten produce hawked at the corners; the fingers that pinch the tarot cards of somebody’s ill future. Its stench reeks of guilt, insistently invading even the pastel suburbs and the invisible alleys, wrapping around the prowling pickpockets and hidden lovers like a warm quilt. Step into its pavements painted with the vivid colors of blood, spit, and shiny plastic sachets – artifacts of its culture of gluttonous consumption and ensuing waste – and you will be swallowed whole. Small palms will reach out for alms, and withered hands, too, their pleading a discordant harmony to the melody of screeching wheels and annoyed honks on the highway. They are but ghosts to the crowd, but you linger and let their eyes latch on to yours. They gaze at you in anticipation. Maybe fairytales still lived in your subconscious; maybe the gayuma sold in small bottles and agimats dangling from a vendor’s calloused fingers in front of a grand church are getting to you, but there seems to be an unspoken promise of a reward or a curse in exchange for a few coins.

You slow down, then, but you remember: hesitation can grant you death here. There are lingering eyes and quick hands in every corner. Everyone knows this, pushing the crowd forward, forever on the brink of a stampede, blind to everything but their concealed possessions and the promise of safety in their journey. Selfishness is the general rule; you are counted on to save your own hide.

You move on, one foot after the other, your senses once again assaulted with every step: virgin girls for cheap, a man cajoles, his eyes red-rimmed, the tell-tale aroma of liquor on his breath; you careen away and into a worn woman sitting by children’s toys, their flashing colors illuminating her aged face. You sidestep and almost fall over a child, limbs tucked in an oversized shirt; his skin a cross between grime and flesh; jiggling a plastic cup that held a few coins.

The city is alive, child. It is without conscience.

Arson

year 1953, and an artist

erases a heavy, charcoal sketch of a man he admired

and hangs it up on the wall –

like a trophy, almost –

and the frame might as well have been

a chalk outline or a loud, bold DO NOT CROSS.

but even with the sighs of regret and curiosity at an unseen

(could have been, would have been) masterpiece,

you are forced to ask:

what is art but creation?

what of the creation of destruction?

 

it is criminal to contain this discovery, really, as

i find myself using rauschenberg much too broadly as an excuse.

i’ve a purpose, now, singeing my flesh, and i will tell you

i believe in artistic expression.

 

it is art, i say, and i set fire to paper and ink, the corners

of the page curling up within itself as the fire turns to darkness that

consumes what is left of my fickle memory. it is art, i say, and i set fire to my home,

vengeance for when it didn’t keep me warm in its arms as it promised to forever.

it is art, i say, and i set fire to the bridges that haven’t already been burnt down to earth.

it is art, i say,

and i set fire to myself.

 

marvel at it all. wonder at what is left, gild me with a frame, ask what was there

before the ashes, before the erasure of substance,

before i set everything ablaze, before i created

nothingness.

Art by Aleksandra Waliszewska

Head over streets

I came to the city nearly a decade ago from my hometown. If one gave me the chance to do so, I’d launch into a nostalgic spiel about my childhood; scraping my knees in the wide roads in the afternoons and looking up at a blanket of stars in the evenings. I’d recount the cool air and the tight-knit community; the peacefulness and the canopy of trees. I’d talk about the lingering smell of cigarette smoke that blanketed the small sari-sari store we owned, and how a whiff of the same smell transported me back in time. I said all these with what must have been a childlike wonder in my eyes; the eyes of a homesick girl from a village now in the confusion of the city.

It wasn’t entirely true. I was born in the city first, but the years in which I was at an age to somewhat comprehend my surroundings was spent in various places. We moved too quickly for me to consider a place one I belonged to. Pilar Village was different; we stayed there for years. I spent rainy days getting my legs splashed with mud, and the summer afternoons plucking bayabas and alatiris from trees with playmates. I skinned my knees stumbling on unpaved roads and sang Christmas carols with makeshift tambourines from the metal caps of soda bottles. When I looked up the skies, there was always a hundred thousand stars twinkling back. It was home.

I hardly recognize it now, and I’m sure the village doesn’t, either. The houses were familiar – despite various paint jobs – but the people who poured life into them were gone. When I looked up at the skies, there was only a blanket of grey clouds. The roads were smooth and empty. The trees were bare. Only the memories remained, but I realize they are nothing compared to what the city has given me.

I found comfort in its mayhem. Here, I was many times lost in the concrete maze and at a loss at life’s labyrinth itself. It gave me loneliness and heartbreak, and with my lowest and highest, the city shared memories of my pain and my happiness, comforting and celebrating with me. I experienced moments and met people both fleeting yet precious. I had grown familiar to the miasma of smoke and filth; to the flurry of people; to the bright, flashing lights and skyscrapers at every corner. I knew complex routes like the back of my hand. Despite the ever-present chaos and confusion and danger, I can say that it is home.

I mistook nostalgia to mean a sense of belongingness. How could a person ever belong to the past, especially one conjured from a fickle, young memory that was seen through rose-coloured glasses? What matters is what is here in the present, and how one feels when it is presented. I write this from a fast-food chain with loud, pop music; the view from the glass windows is one of neon signs and an overwhelming number of cars passing by us and I can still say, Yes, I am home.

Yesterday’s ghosts.

Sometimes, you want to ask, “What the hell are you still doing here?” to a memory, only for them to smile smugly back. They’re like ghosts lingering at the loneliest crevices of your body. When it’s dark and quiet, the night looms with shadows of regrets. They’re there, standing at the foot of your bed. They’re there, slipping past a doorway so quickly you only catch a glimpse of their presence from your peripheral vision. They’re there, with the familiar scent of their perfume, or a tune they loved to hum to. Try as you might, you can’t shake off their existence.

Other times, you never notice when exactly they’ve started to slip away. You stop at a familiar place. You hear the same song. Something should be here, you think, but what you only know is that you’ve stopped remembering.

Dead Stars of the May Day Eve: The Illusion of Love

I still see love as this magical thing. I grew up on a steady diet of paperback love stories and romantic comedy movies where two people can look at each other and just know, there and then, that they were soulmates. Cue the next scene of Romeo and Juliet meeting in a party, marrying each other, and then lying together on Juliet’s bed the next day. Cue the next few chapters of a Nicholas Sparks book, with in-depth confessions and passionate kisses by the fireplace. Of course, there are also those anecdotes on the Internet, where each tells a story of how a couple simply fell in love at first sight and are now living happily ever after.

I eventually figured out that love isn’t always like that. It’s delusional to think you can just make eye contact with a fairly attractive stranger in the crowd and exchange vows with them the day after. Even in relationships, while grand gestures or big leaps of sacrifices like we see in the movies or read about in books can happen, it doesn’t guarantee either of you a fairy tale ending. Those books and films and stories amplified the basic desire to be wanted and loved, but with the illusion that it can happen in a snap. It’s as if all you have to do is go out, meet a person once and it’s eternal love and happiness from here on out. It’s refreshing when you read a book or see a movie where the “love at first sight” and “everything works out in the end” cliches aren’t done among many others. It may not be as satisfying or romantic, but it’s definitely more realistic. It shows you the other side of love: one that flames too quickly and burns out, one that consumes and hurts, one that we chase after and never get, one that slowly turns bitter instead of sweet.

These two Filipino short stories do just that. They capture the magic of love as well as the allure, and temptation it holds, and how it can all come crashing down with the test of time.

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