Last semester, two months ago, my students at UP Los Baños had to write 101-word short stories for an activity in our Humanities course. They chose the best among these, decked them with collages and illustrations, had them printed on tarpaulins, and mounted on 3′ x 3 1/2′ boards, all in an attempt to repurpose our campus corner into a picture storybook.
Then, towards the close of the semestral break, just a few days after All Souls, typhoon Yolanda ripped right across the heart of the country.

The used tarps were among the first things we sent to the relief centers. I asked my new students to imagine where these tarps went, how these were shipped, how perhaps upon landing these were immediately distributed then rolled out as mats, or cut out as patches maybe for makeshift walls and ceilings; so, were we in any position, miles away and comfortable, to suppose that the new “readers” had any need for the words on those tarps?

I asked the new batch to write their own stories, this time more directed, more mindful that their words would greet the survivors, perhaps as sleeping mats over the caked mud, or over the tents of the makeshift kitchens at the airports, maybe even as embedded messages on their timelines or inboxes.

Some of my students professed that our shared activity proved a profound initiation into the complex relationship of literature and society. A few of them went on and wrote poems, for submission to an anthology project raising funds for relief organizations.

Wanting to do something alongside my students, and not only to require things of them, I asked them to furnish me with copies of those poems, because frankly, at that point, I believed myself quite envious of their awakening (or in some cases: reawakening), and as such was hopeful to play a part, no matter how negligible, in their sustained meditations on suffering, in our shared, strange hunger to make something, anything from even the black materials.

After reading their work, I chose to use the cento (from the Latin word for “patchwork,” as in, a cloak of various squares and running stitches), an old form that produces a poem completely out of passages from other poems. Below you will find the poems, each word of which, from title to toe, was derived from the lines––indeed, the gifts––of my current students.

* * *

Poem The sound of helicopter wings

(Paulo Cabrera, Jae Nheslyn M. Calo, Hannah De Guzman, Micah Laguardia, Jolo Lim, Christian Linatoc, Grace Anne Malolos, Jane Palis, Kathleen May Ramos, Jey Filan Reyes, and Lina Vergara)

Some pick up the pieces and start
Life’s a word no one
was wrong For choosing

he blabbed, “This place

you saw a firefly Bearing
His last words were, “Counting

them in a box full of
story. As the next

rampage, a golden
sigh Smell the fresh
stutter, hardly grasping

self was lost
voices. There’s no way out of this

* * *

and someday awaken
(Crzthlv Bisa, Dhanise Belan, Paul Carson and Mark Patrick P. Atabay)

there, never felt.” But
here. Not with shining
who has everything Sanctified

in the morning of what’s left,

chords But with the
beating there is still life to live, even
for that glimmer of

quick skies Snatching your memories with
A fallen dewdrop from a slender leaf
played Or people lifted

felt.” But what I saw in the morning

* * *

Esther, Gustavo, Pidro, Lucy

(Maffi Gieson Asilum, Mary Rose Manlangit, Edelyn Tayo, and Josiah Deus Tiongson)

Sand, you’re an Esther
in front of her favorite ice

after saying those words the man disappeared

HERE little Gustavo with
nuns No brother or sister, and parents

he started to grow His feet
like writings on the sand

by fragments of earth While he
has grown into a
syndrome, also asking, “Where

through prayer and determination. Pidro has grown
by the rocks and stone

Lucy?” I can’t contain myself,
see you when I come back one day
with a vibrant rose-

dress and purple slippers.” These are the words

in the town. The words
yellow and starry at night

* * *

fathers that the world spared
(Yasmin Aguila, John Jereth Gage A. Andal, Emmanuel Codia, and Hanna Melissa Sorbito)

fall. In times
of the Fathers Winds are whistling, trees are
hateful eyes and palms of red. With your

small joys once bred Now
others for we are all brothers Under

Violet Winds of
doves Here comes a strangler

Father There was a knock on

on his cheeks. A knock is heard no
daughter, Standing

coming From the ocean

* * *

a movie Slowly,
(Gerieka Anapi, Hannalita Marie F. Antero, Adriene Gail Gerolaga, and Maria Mikaela E. Perez)

earth alone Despite
sound. There was

this second first day of my
-ego Of a mere

Saying, “Live not for
years Years for the

souls. As the night grew
laughter, There was

Water for three
people’s lives slowly

settle our dues,’ she whispered.


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