Cloud-enshrouded Taung Chune:
At dawn, Nagakan Kyaung’s lights still glow –
Part of my activities for the three poetry classes I am handling here in Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Institute in Taunggyi is a poetry writing contest. It’s an activity performed simultaneously with the class requirement of the literary folio: all poems in the folio are qualified for the contest, and because all the students are required to submit at least one poem, everybody is qualified. The author of the top poem will get a perfect grade, among other prizes.
This is the first time I did this activity for class, and it culminates a semester of the students’ exposure to diverse poetic forms, from Japanese Heian Waka to American Spoken Word.The kids are still beginning with writing, but the judges chose the poems whose author showed the most promise.
My judges were Filipino writers, so it also had the element of cultural exchange. One judge memorably observed that the kids ‘have very haiku voices’ in their poems, a result perhaps of my emphasis on image as a poetic element. The winner, though, won because most of the judges favoured the poem’s boldness to explore the surreal.
The judges were poet and Palanca awardee CD Borden, poet and Silliman/Iyas/Iligan National Writers Workshop fellow Roberto Klemente Timonera, and fictionist, Iligan National Writers Workshop fellow and Jimmy Balacuit awardee Nal Andrea Jalando-on.
The following are the winning pieces
A mirror for the blind
soft music for the deaf
singing for the dumb
a comb for a person without hair
Education for the mad
– Akhar Lay, 1st Year Faber
When you drop a stone in the well
and the water shakes like a bull’s-eye.
Now the water calms again,
but the stone cannot emerge.
– Paulina, 2nd Year Ricci
comes in from the windows
and goes out through the doors.
– Nan Do Dhar Sa (Noom), 1st Year Stanislaus
I am a gardener
and I clean the grass sometimes,
but it always grows back again.
So I leave it for a month
and it becomes a wild thicket.
– Ngwe Judith, 1st Year Stanislaus
(My first translation from Burmese needed a lot of help from locals – I can hardly speak the language yet. The original was taken from the 1966 collection of Classical Burmese poem translations by Friedrich Lustig, which has a brief biography of the 18th Century poetess)
Kuwako, gialukan ako, kahit isang suyop lang daw:
Kung tanggihan ko, baka malain; kung tanggapin ko, baka akalain…
‘Ay hala, kung gusto mo talaga ‘day, ilagay mo
doon sa may kama.’
ဆေးတံတို တညှိုလောက်၊ ရော့သောက်တာ့ပေး၊
သောက်စေစျင်၊ ကုတင်တွင်၊ ထောင်ခဲ့ကွဲ၊
ညိုနွဲ့ ရဲလေး။ ။
A pipe… a puff…
short as a finger…
I give you
‘If I do not take it
you will think me crude
If I accept it
you will think I like you.
‘If you want me
to smoke it
put it near the bed
my dear one’
– Mae Khwae (translated by Friedrich Lustig)
Against the verdant, gold
Zedis, gilding the mountain in strange
There is tenderness to learn in these mountains:
from bushes planted wild
on the Shan hills; harnessed decay
in jars of shrimp, or grassy mustard leaf;
Dearness dressed from mud
as julienned Watercorn or threaded
Inle lotus, graped
into Ayethayar wine, or kilned
in Pa’o villages as water pots
from soil of reddest blood –
Trimmed, trained, or trellised,
but only in the shape of this land’s
untamed kindness, harnessing
the vigour of bamboo shooting skywards
to strum the songs of waterfalls yet to flow,
echoing the healing hush of streams
on this ever wounded earth.
That pain can be taught as wondrous thunder
to little children, metaphored
from the tenor of gunshots
in their war-torn villages,
That their precious breaths
can be wrapped at ease
in the most delicate wild-leaf
– Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar
Polished shine as the sun,
cobalt sky chromes through the bone-white cloud-
Bello, Lolo J, Bello.
You were wrong of course. Against the sword
perhaps, but your pen stood no chance
against Spanish firing squads.
Today your death
is taxidermied, curated,
heroed down our throats by teachers
by Maxipeel or Bello.
Your martyrdom we memor-
ize, like our jingles about nutrition
that we dance to every July
with eggplants dangling from our uniforms
Teasing our hair back to Igorot
when we can simply Rejoice it
to bouncy straightness, or bangs
to look Bieber, or Big Bang. Itchy
Barong too is now only
for the rotting and the rotten.
For streets, hoodies and jerseys.
While we still say punyeta
and leche when we see officials
like you did,
Bud Dajo taught us English, the way
Hiroshima taught the Japanese
to be peaceful.
And Pinoy nights, Dr Always-ready,
are star-spangled now, or moon-crested,
or maple leafed, or Bauhiniaed –
Rancid, fishy dreams to you, maybe. But herring
or salmon, or maybe camel, or any imported
longing murmured in a classier tongue that
TV or Facebook have taught us better
than Teacher Tocino in Sibika could ever teach us
to love this overgrown sandbar
you wanted to be a Spanish province.
Because you cannot caress identity
like some lana, or murmur it
like some oracion.
Teacher GMRC had to rattan
the Jenny out of Junjun, the way frayles
latigoed mea culpa on our brown backs
to exorcise us of our
As I said, lolo J.: Bello. Being
is lanced, bayoneted. If it will be you
it has to sting.
And in the stinging we have bled you already.
Matchstick-splinter, tome-papercut, chalk-choked.
But we have peeled off.
the scabs of your palabras now, knowing only the pain
that left your white absence, scars mapping
crossroads you could not even imagine.