Canons of the Cipher

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(For Joel Pablo Salud)

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I. Returning to the Root

“Will courage Redeem stupidity?”
– Nick Joaquin

There is a manner of returning to the root
that explains the virtue of a hole,
its quietness the petering circle:
The canon of the cipher indicts us all.

And you, rocking yourself to an eddy,
drown the death wish: O that grief
on sons’ faces could tell you all.
“Will courage be visited upon my children?”

It is this cut whittles the tree down,
not of consumption but of fright
that bereaving is one’s splintering
of children’s bones. Death is our betrayal.

They are sons gaping as grandfathers die
shapes the gloom of the breaking circle.
They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry
must never return to find sons become spittle.

*This was adjudged the Grand Prize Winner of the first Philippine national Parnasso Poetry Writing Contest (1971). A handsome trophy sculpted by noted Philippine sculptor Edwin Castrillo and a princely sum of a thousand pesos made me happy. Father must have returned the favour. But he was no longer around to applaud. I would not even have minded a slap on the nape. In Canada, it won the Mississauga Library System Annual Poetry Writing Contest in 1998, Adult Winner.

II. A Swimming Lesson

How much of those happy times
would you bring back, like the waves
ebb but must always rush back?

It is the sea that returns you intact
into my now empty days, windy days,
your laughter always a raw memory.

You threw me into those restless
waves, cried out a challenge: Swim!
Kick hard, swing your arms! Swim!

And I never stopped, not for hurts,
not for lost dreams, nor for losses.
You warned me never ever to cry.

**Culled from “Poesias Para Los Muertos” (11-01-11). I was not able to say goodbye to my Father when he passed away at the Bethany Hospital in San Fernando City, La Union Province, the Philippines. Just as well. He is still with me.

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