In a Sparrow’s Time

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Poems on the death of General Antonio Luna y Novicio, soldier

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He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled.
—Robert Frost

(In 1897, General Antonio Luna was exiled to Madrid. He had just denounced the Katipunan and some of his friends like José Rizal, Alejandrino, et al, out of anger. His Spanish captors told him—during the reign of terror that followed the discovery of the KKK—that he was betrayed by his compatriots. A year later, after studying military science in exile, he went back to the Philippines to volunteer his services to the Revolution against the Americans. He was subsequently appointed Director of War. His obsession for creating an effective and disciplined army and his desire to make up for his disavowal of the KKK, brought him untold frustration and, consequently, his death. On June 5, 1899, that fateful day of his assassination, Luna rode toward Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, responding to summons purportedly coming from President Emilio Aguinaldo. He was accompanied by Col. Paco Roman, Maj. Simeon Villa, and some 25 cavalrymen. Upon coming across a broken bridge on his way, the impatient General left his retinue behind and kept his date.)

A. Confession Before a Broken Bridge

It is my grief pursues a habit of death,
The weight of a mountain rides me down.
But blood must be avenged—if blood it is
Would still the violence knotted in my gut.
If men should die at all, they must be pure:
The crag that breaks for them will be.
But these rocks, this grass, this brackish cove,
They shall not take me. I shall not even die.
Earth vomits the gall of its memories.
I am a memory bitter to the bite.
Forgive me.

B. The Exile

It was cold out there, Pepe, hermano querido.
Madrid, Barcelona, Catalan, Manila—
How could they ever be any different?
My anguish knew no country but death.
Your fall at sparrow’s time was as much as mine,
The bullet from my gun.
It is our passion devours us. Ourselves our war.
The Revolution was a bastard son, Rizal.
Denying it, I found myself becoming one.
Was it this fury we dreaded most?
Or was it the son we refused to father?
When born, we disdained to patronize?
Was it because it had the mother’s features?
Revolutions are by paps of ignorance mothered.
C. Luna Shall Overcome

His vile temper felled him.
—Diego Esquivel
1.
No, Senor Presidente. It is not in our habit
To be spat upon while offering our haunches
For rending and outrage! Faith must end
Beyond the whore’s bed and cuckolding on the Bay!
If Dewey had fooled us once, let us,
I demand of this Assembly, be the wrath of God
And cut the Yanqui balls asunder!
2.
What? Are they still yapping at Malolos?
Caloocan has fallen! Calumpit imperiled!
Send for Janolino to shore La Loma up!
Torres-Bugallon is dead. What?
Pedrong Kastila is sore in bed?
What sort of harlot had he?
3.
It is your kind, Tomás Mascárdo,
Deserves to be caponed!
The Macabebes have sold out to the Yanqui,
And here you are sucking nipples
For your breakfast!
4.
Paralysis. It must be this plagues our war.
Like castrated chicken, the Cabinet asks
For Yanqui armistice! Has Mabini gone limp, too,
In his head? We should never surrender
Our birthright to die free and unafraid!
5.
Remember this, Buencamino! I could have
Crushed your manhood bit by ugly bit
For begging my troops turn to maricones!
What? And leave them lap the Yanqui stool?
O, you small, weak men better born as rats!
Tell Schurmann, tell Mabini— Luna shall overcome!

D. Death Wish Kept: June 5, 1899

There was one, Diego Esquivel, who witnessed the carnage.
—Julio Villamor

Some afternoon dread becomes this heat
That singes the Convento where he fell.
On this branch should his rended arms be at,
On that flagstone should his plucked eyes tell
How blindly stared the blinded rage,
How soundlessly shut the windows there.
Was it some passion play on a barren stage?
Was it some cruel theatre of its audience bare?
Here, touch the crack slithers on this tree.
Your fingers should trace a slosh of brain,
Cold drip of sap now blood on cold machete.
The afternoon’s dread is an afternoon’s pain
Dulled the laughter caught in the horseman’s throat.
Was it vengeance sated, or was it Death wish kept?
Was it fallen man cried helplessly: Assassins!
Or was it slayers fell where slain had spat:
ASSASSINS! ASSASSINS!

E. The Habit of Mountains: A Dirge

“It was his grief pursued the habit of mountains:
It moved the world with quietness. Quietness moved them.
No dearer madness there is than which he died for:
A will to perish in time and manner he chose.
It could not have been any kinder than this falling,
A manner of bargaining one’s way
Into a choice between a kind of dying and feeling dead—
No option for us who learn, too early perhaps,
That death prorogues a dream of fancy
Or a prayer of willing our pain stay
The ramrod poised to rend our days descending
Foglike upon us decreeing silence for our bed.”

(Gemino Abad published the Still Points version of these poems. He includes a well-researched Notes on the Poems, pp. 527 etseq. in his A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse in English from ‘60s to the ‘90s. Some of the above poems have earlier been published in the Philippine Free Press by then literary editor, the late Nick Joaquin).

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