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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