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the river

>> Thursday, July 15, 2010

                                         the barrio is a patch of green made orphan
                                         by water that is as long and as unwinding
                                         as the tales of loves and woes of the people
                                         whose lives cling to it but curse it...for when
                                         day becomes night, tongues once beholden
                                         turn vicious and vile, prophesying death and
                                         evil once the river's veil is lifted by the dark.

as the moon creeps up to the infinite skies,
its face fully illumined by the sun beyond,
alabaster, purposeful feet scurry, barely
touching the moss that's deep in slumber.
but the now hollowed ground, familiar with
the flight, is alive and whispering in muted
grace, "make haste" it says, "make haste".

                             the light of Aurora drenches the river, quietly
                             seeping through layers of water to a shadowy
                             world until it touches the skin from memories
                             born. insubstantial but yet manifested, it stirs
                             and consents benevolently, rousing the heart
                             that never died or forgot, and that for many
                             a sun, lay in wait to surface and behold again.

the drumming of her heart she cannot quell as
her anticipation is as heavy as the moist air
that clings to the slender grass, bent, scattered
like the black pebbles on which she descends
breathlessly but collected like her threadbare
skirt. as the cool water becomes nothing, her
eyes absorb the gossamer glow from the river.

                            compelled, but not by the moon, she ascends
                            from the depths of forgetfulness like a ripple
                            seen from the after to before. with a nostalgic
                            ache that she cannot place, she breaks the
                            surface of the calm water into a softness so
                            familiar she weeps. as her tears become one
                            with the river.she looks to where she always is.

                                                   seduced by the light, all else is banished - the
                                                    heart soaked in despair, the legends passed
                                                    from tongue to tongue - for after all, radiance,
                                                    surely, is not the lonely devil's cloak. her hair
                                                    from a distance brings bliss, what more the
                                                    face that remains a mystery? the broken man
                                                    failed by the bottled spirits feels whole again.

her core escapes her and momentarily soars,
then shatters into a million stars, cascading to
the ground like the falls that have formed in
her eyes. finally, the girl that the world forgot
is found and time stands still to reveal what
she knows all along, that her visage that looks
like no other's, was somebody else's before.

                             she wails but nothing is heard, only music that
                             sends the birds from stupor to flight. the wings
                             of black fanning the memories back. of her days
                             in the sun, of the water on her feet, of a lover's
                             hand in her hair. but the sweetest she recalls,
                             before their malice sunk her to the blackness,
                             is a child's face that must mirror her very own.

                                                     little by little, emboldened by the second, he
                                                     goes to where his lover awaits. even the birds
                                                     awake to witness the ethereal moment. there
                                                     is music as silt and stones drag his feet further,
                                                     cool, welcoming. his breath leaving him making,
                                                     space for release and perdition. but what is life
                                                     if he cannot see her face? he's near her at last.

                                         the barrio is a patch of green made orphan
                                         by water that is as long and as unwinding
                                         as the dreams of a young woman exiled by
                                         the wrong kind of love. but as the sun rises
                                         her emptiness departs like the diaphanous
                                         remnants of a nightmare. seeing the lady
                                         might never be again, but she knows where
                                         she will always be. and she will always be.

This poem was inspired by the kundiman (traditional Filipino love song) 'Mutya ng Pasig' (The Gem/Muse of Pasig - music by Nicanor Abelardo, words by Deogracias Rosario) and the 1950s movie of the same name.

The kundiman, written in 1926, tells the story of a lady who appears in the Pasig river when the moon is full and sings of a kingdom of love where she was a princess. The kingdom vanished because "love died" but will rise again if love is given back to her. The movie, on the other hand, delves deeper into the story of the lady. Supposedly, she was a thing of beauty coveted by many men in the barrio including a rich and powerful landlord. The landlord had her lover banished from the barrio and forcefully took her as his wife. When she gave birth to their child, he noticed a black mark somewhere on the child's back. Thinking that it was a sign that the child was not his, he drove out his wife one rainy night sending dogs after her until her only escape was the river. The child, a girl, was sent to live with the landlord's servants and grew up believing she's an orphan. When the moon is full, a lady manifests before her. But she's not the only one who can see her.



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