Poems from/for An Incontrovertibly Oppressive Period in Philippine History

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Myth versus myth: At their own behest, the Marcoses are literally painted as Malakas (Strong) and Maganda (Beautiful), the legendary progenitors of the Filipino race.
Prometheus Unbound
— Ruben Cuevas (1973)

I shall not exchange my fetters for slavish servility.
‘Tis better to be chained to the rock than bound to the service of Zeus. 

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Mars shall glow tonight,
Artemis is out of sight.
Rust in the twilight sky
Colors a bloodshot eye,
Or shall I say that dust
Sunders the sleep of just?

Hold fast to the gift of fire!
am rage! I am wrath! I am ire!
The vulture sits on my rock,
Licks at the chains that mock
Emancipation’s breath,
Reeks of death, death, death.

Death shall not unclench me.
I am earth, wind and sea!
Kisses bestow on the brave
That defy the damp of grave
And strike the chill hand of
Death with the flaming sword of love.

Orion stirs. The vulture
Retreats from the hard, pure
Thrust of the spark that burns,
Unbounds, departs, returns
To pluck out of death’s fist
A god who dared to resist.


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One in a thousand: Amnesty International estimates 1,000 desaparecidos (disappearances) during the Marcos regime.
The Bells Count in Our Blood
— Merlie Alunan-Wenceslao (1988)

Every night at 8:00 we shall ring the bell for Father Rudy Romano,
and we shall continue to do so until he is found. 

The Redemptorist Community
Dumaguete City, September 1985

Every night just as we settle
To coffee or a mug of cold beer,
They ring the bells—
A crisp quick flurry first, then
Decorous as in a knell, ten counts.
Into the darkness newly fallen
The cadence calls for a brother lost.

At home as we try to wash off
With music and a little loving
The grime of markets from our souls—
The day’s trading of truth for bread,
Masks of honor, guises of peace—
The clear sounds infusing the air
Deny us the salve of forgetting.

We know for what they lost him,
Why expedient tyrants required
His name effaced, his bones hidden.
As we bend over the heads of children
Fighting sleep, not quite done with play,
The bells vibrating remind us how
Our fears conspires to seal his doom.

We could say to the ringers:
Your bells won’t bring him back,
But just supposing that it could,
What would you have?
A body maimed, perhaps, beyond belief—
Toes and fingers gone, teeth missing,
Tongue cut off, memory hacked witless.

The nights in our town
Are flavored with the dread
The bells salt down measured
From their tall dark tower.
It falls upon our raw minds wanting sleep.
Shall we stop them?
Though we smart
We know they keep us from decay.

Shared in this keening,
A rhythm beating all night long
In our veins, truth is truth still
Though unworried. The bells
Count in our blood the heart of all
We must restore. Tomorrow, we vow,
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.



Bayan Ko
— Jose Corazon de Jesus (1929)

Ang bayan kong Pilipinas,
Lupain ng ginto’t bulaklak.
Pag-ibig ang sa kaniyang palad
Nag-alay ng ganda’t dilag.
At sa kaniyang yumi at ganda,
Dayuhan ay nahalina.
Bayan ko, binihag ka,
Nasadlak sa dusa.

Ibon mang may layang lumipad,
kulungin mo at umiiyak!
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag,
Ang ‘di magnasang makaalpas!
Pilipinas kong minumutya,
Pugad ng luha ko’t dalita,
Aking adhika,
Makita kang sakdal laya!

 

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