The charmingly discreet doubts of the bourgeoisie

Mula sa:

Smoke and veranda and a clock saying its 06:44 and a frame of sky welcoming blackness. There’s this chubby girl who’s holding a pack of Marlboro green and wiping her eyeglasses and calmly getting her lighter from her faded jean’s pocket and I — we were so fond of evenings that just got started.

“So how do you do?” It was me, painless and pretentious. We always start with this, instead of getting to the point right away, our fondness of alibis and metaphors.

A slow sigh, a puff actually, and then a gaze on the houses outside, “I’m pretty cool — doing great; you?”

“Fine, terribly fine.” A sheer monotony.

“You not smoking?” That was her, giving me a second or two of a stare, a minute offering of warm, placid eyes I strongly like.

“Later. I don’t want doing it while others do it with me.”

“But you like doing it with someone.” She has this knack for quick retorts, answers that would be impressive if they were numbers or equations to a complex math problem.  I guess that is part of her cunning which I find charming.

“I guess it should be like ‘I like smoking while with someone,’ not exactly, ‘I like smoking while someone does too.’”

She made a bashful nod, I catch her looking at my lips, perhaps memorizing the way my mouth moves as I sort of passionately try to drive home a point. Her response was oblique.

“Well, I am more after solemn conversations and what, obvious frankness and gritty revelations.”

A pause allowed me to think, allowed her to mildly kiss her yosi stick again.

“Me? I am more after silence and ashes and more ashes and more sticks of yosi.”

“That was long, and redundancy in disguise. And I hate long lists and enumerations. That is a terrible thing, I think, spewing locutions when one word will do, only letting them muddle up and die as we utter them.”

“But language always fails.”

Her twitched brows and suddenly famous wrinkles hinted that I did not make sense to her.

“So your point is?”

“Ahm, my point, what’s my point? Overlocutions are forgivable because they are more beautiful.  They show how language can be exhausted, or rather, tried to be exhausted. And they are closer to poetry.”

“Ah, poetry and lengthy words, lengthy, unwieldy words.”

She was smiling, mockingly I can tell. She’s about to tell me how wrong I was.

“That’s funny. Language fails and we cannot exhaust it, take full control of it. We humans are in a sorry, sorry state. So what degree of linkage do we have with our world when we rely on language in describing it? A very tenuous link? Precisely, I guess.”

I drew back. Drawing back means lying low for a while, thinking of a relevant response. And then she goes with it again.

“Funny how people condemn the very things that they employ. Marxists and Mcdo. Gretchen and her rich husband, You and language.”

Mine. “But language is all I have, but is there something else which I can use instead? Nothing. So even though I am saying that language always fails, I am still for it, still with it. There is nothing else for me to use.”

She gave me this sharp look, like a the way a teen in Armani would look at the church beggar pleading for coins, holding at his shirt, or the way a pretentious religious would look at dogs mating on the streets. And then she asked for a cigarette. I halt too, took a puff and make myself more impurified. At her first puff of her new stick, I felt her becoming more deliberate.


“I guess we’ll never agree on things. You’re forgetting your community integrations.”

“Well, I guess so, too.”

Before the minute of no talking, I had the last say. I guess she was getting bored.


Our stints together were always married to silence; extreme, long silences. Winds slyly scampering through our bodies, muffled voices from the TV inside intruding our privacy, neon lights, orange city lights begging for us to make poems about them.

“I have this poem, I wrote it just last night, about the tricky gap between knowing and acting on what you know. It made me feel proud after doing it.”

This time, she was calmer, I was more agitated.

“Pride is very deceptive. It is like RH Bill in relation to the Filipino poverty, a tiny sliver of goodness that haunts us and makes us blind to the larger picture, the larger sore. In that sense, the goodness can be fake, propounded only to hide an adjacent muck.”

“I envy your knowledge, but your actions make me still proud of myself. For instance, your manner of talking with poor people as if making clear that you are not only cleaner, richer, and more refined, but smarter too. You know I have tried Wittgenstein and Derrida and more but I have always felt obstinate for clinging on some dead German’s manifesto.”

“Can  I problematize you and your employment of language?”

“You’re being too overwhelmed again, my friend. Why dispose of the simpler terms when they still work, and work better? Why fool yourself with the idiocy of big words, why let them govern you?

“Okay, okay. Be still. I’m sorry and I’m beginning now, I trust what I know and I feel offended by you saying that you have this negative something about my actions. But you, what do you get from Marx any better than Wittgenstein’s genius? We do not need to kill one another, we just need to change the way we relate to our world and others, which is negotiated by our language…”

“”Wait, I’m pleading now for you to stop. Wala na ’kong yosi. Mukhang hinihintay na ‘ko ni Mike. Babalik na ‘ata kami sa area. Kakausap uli ng mga magsasaka. Ikaw din, tapos na lunch break, bumalik ka na sa mit nyo.”



Ganito nakikiramay ang langit sa atin

Ako ang dakilang tagapagmasid

Sumusubaybay sa pagsibol

Ng pawis sa iyong braso, konsensya sa iyong ulo,

Barya sa inyong bulsa, dahil nililimos ang kita.

Isipin niyong ang ulap ang aking mga mata

At dito ang simula ng pagmamasid

At ang ulan ang aking mga luha

Tuwing ang inyong pagdarahop ay aking nababatid

(Ganito, ganito ang lahat ng pakikiramay.

Hindi ko alam ang pakiramdam ng makasuhan,

Kumain ng panis na isda, iwan ng mahal, pero

Sasamahan, sasamahan — kita.)

Sa akin ang kulog

Sa akin ang kidlat

Ang kulog ay para ipaalala na may likas na liwanag kahit tagdilim

O kung abo ang lahat: ang ulap, ang langit, ang pananaw

Wag masindak: alalahanin ang bukang-liwayway, ang dapit-hapon,

Ang pagpapalit ng panahon.

Ang kidlat ay paalala na ‘wag tutulala

Hinahakbang, tinatalunton, ginagapang ang lahat papuntang katapusan

Tandaan ang garalgal na tunog

Hindi isang kumikinang na opera o konsyerto ang buhay

Isiping ang hangin ang aking kamay

Dumadampi upang ipaalala ito – ito ang meron tayo: buhay.

At iyong mga takot, iyong mga mapanglaw, iyong nagluluksa nang lubusan kahit tapos na ang ulan –

Sila ang nararatay.

Hindi laging optimistic ang langit

Margaret Atwood and subtle notes on The Handmaid’s Tale

I first met Margaret Atwood in a literature class where her unconventional story, Happy Endings was discussed. Right after then, and perhaps also because of my fascination with the novelties being ushered in literature and criticism, I started to more consciously look after what she has to say about things. While I have been reading her other stories, which unsurprisingly like Happy Endings do not need too much length to jolt or awe, Handmaid’s Tale was the first Atwood novel I have read.

In this novel, Atwood tells, more than the story of Offred, the story of Gilead, a society set in the future where women are classified depending on the status of their husbands and the status of their ovaries. In Gilead, births are declining and humanity might be needing salvation and so Handmaids are primed most of all. Their function is to be impregnated by Commanders, powerful males of the previous society, and to bear the children that will occupy the future. Here, through the voice she lends to Offred, Atwood tackles the sense of loss gripping someone who had been a victim of societal forces who had stolen her past and the occasional spurts of rebelliousness that always threaten to undercut existing orders.

Atwood’s feminism and the authorial voice

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood speaks through Offred, the primary handmaid from whom we were able to experience Gilead. Through Offred’s wanderings, we were able to know about the existence of the Wall in Gilead – the place where people who committed felonies are hung to their death. Also, the brewing of a desire to rebel, usually conflicted its weakening with inevitable hearkening back to the wiped away past was best translated in the lines of thought of Offred.

In Gilead, women are classified either as a Wife, a Handmaid or an Aunt. Otherwise, they were in the Colonies where some of the women discarded from the past were doing petty, often hazardous tasks, or in the Jezebel’s, the place where most of the Handmaids who were able to escape pass away their already dissipated life. Wives cannot bear children, but by virtue of the high status of their husbands, the Commanders, they are saved from being thrown to the Colonies, or forced to find a way to get to the Jezebel’s. The Handmaids are considered National Treasures, thanks to their ability to reproduce. But sadly, they are no more than what their ovaries can do. They are reduced to that. Even after giving birth, they are not even allowed to look at the life that sprung from them. They are already less human. For instance, Offred is not really Offred – that is not her real name. She just happened to be the Handmaid assigned to the Commander named Fred, and so the prefix of-, implying association, perhaps possession, perhaps consumption.

But in the end, even by lending the privilege of narration to the female character, to Offred, Atwood could be perhaps be cleansed of possible treachery to the female which people might expect her to defend. This is the Handmaid’s Tale coming from the Handmaid, not from an Aunt, or an envious Wife, or a domineering Commander. This is Offred telling her story, telling a story in behalf of all the Handmaids who, after tottering since their pasts were stolen, have struggled to maintain the remaining shreds of their humanity, much less their individuality.


The charming in Atwood’s fiction

Reading this book, I got to explore further the silently charming style of Atwood. Tacitly post-structural, with the copious gaps that deny the sense of an unbroken narrative, Atwood brought to us the tale through Offred’s mental meanderings, hampered conversations with the likes of her Commander and Ofglen and recollections of her past.

There are some instances I find cute when Atwood would sort of parody herself, falsify her earlier narrations. When Offred went to Nick to make love to him, Atwood showed how Offred negotiates with her experiences, especially after she has already found distance with them: “I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized. I wish it showed me in a better light, if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia. Here, Atwood seems to be calling attention to the storied-ness of her story, sometimes confounding the readers, halting them, barring too hasty conclusions.

And then there were her elaborations, ravaging of precious details that make up for what singular words fumble to articulate. Telling the act of Offred’s company boss when he had to lay off his employees, including her, this is how Atwood put into words his manner of speaking: “He said this almost gently, as if we were wild animals, frogs he’d caught, in a jar, as if he were being humane.”

The beauty in Atwood’s works is the absence of the sense of trying to say too much, if not everything, in order to capture the reader’s attention, latch them onto the happenings in the story, the wanderings in the story. Atwood digresses from that, and I like it. With her obvious post-structural leanings, she tells this story in a light manner that is not afraid of speaking of heavy things. After all, the values of things do not reside within themselves. And because in the end, her reminder in the novel itself shall bear a vital weight: context is all.


On travelling

The wheels of the bus scratch against the old road.

And what they produce is heat, what they go against is friction, what they execute is speed, what they achieve is, dis


This is not only physics inside a bus.

This is how we come, and how we go, and how we arrive.

Hear: I am planted on seat number 33, Dagupan bus, Baguio-bound, here.

I am not moving, only my fingers and my arms, yet I am moving.

This is how we are led to places, how we go to places.

There are cracks in the road, some big ones, mostly small ones.

These are not things I see, but things I feel.

This is what lies beyond the ability of our eyes, this is where sight recedes –

To feel, and touch. And smell.

How everything is jagged, blistered.

What can a poem communicate, but fragments of thoughts, patches of sanities.

Travelling – by bus, by plane, by boat, by foot –

It is all about leaving and arriving at once, where opposites are one, where all we have are endlessly temporary designations.

I am in Mabalacat now, I’ll be in Tarlac the next hour, Yet I remain on seat number 33.

Another one: being displaced and remaining. All we have are twos in ones, manys in one, multiples at once, both/all at the same time. The wheels of the bus keep on scratching the road, and it keeps on moving, leaving, arriving –allatthesametime.

Kung may nagbabasa pa ba ng tula ngayon, (kung tula man ito; bakit ang haba ng title? Bakit ganito ang title? Ano ang title?) kahit i-post mo sa Facebook, at maraming masakit na katotohanang madalas natin pinipikitan

*This poem first appeared in my Facebook profile. These times are hard for poets to make sense, so… here is what I offer.

Magsimula tayo dito:

Paano palalayain ang diwa

Kung nakatameme, natameme ka sa

Mapagpanggap na parihabang mundo. (1)



Halimbawa, gaano katotoo ang mga tao sa Facebook,

O ang “Five Reasons to stay happy while being Single”

ng Yahoo Philippines.

Ang “Kaprangkahan” ni Boy sa The Buzz,

o “Kabayanihan” ni Pacquiao,

o “Tuwid na Daan” ni Pnoy,

Ang litany ng Derrida tungkol dito – “ ”

ang mga salita sa tulang ito.


Dati, lumabas ako sa highway

Marami ring nagpapanggap sa Cubao:

May tatlumpu, o limampung palampag

ang mga gusali.

Sa ilalim, may tatlongdaan, o limangdaang

mga pamilyang nakaratay sa kahon tuwing gabi.


Napadaan ako sa La Union sandali:

May mga nakikipagsapalaran

para sa barya-baryang bangus, o tilapya

Mahirap ang huli kung walang

maayos na kagamitan.

May mga nagkakape sa Starbucks

Sa kung saang mall.

Nagtataka sila kung bakit “Third World” ang Pilipinas.(Akala ko, “It’s more fun”)

Alam kaya nila na may pulubi

At pokpok sa Cubao?

At araw-araw pinapatay ang mga magsasasaka sa Mindanao?




Sa langit ba natutulog si Lucio Tan?

Kung nakakulambo at electric fan ka sa malamok

mong suburban na bahay,

hindi mo ‘yan masasagot.

Una: lupa.

Pangalawa: posisyon sa gubyerno.

Pangatlo: negosyo – malaking negosyo.

Wala ako ng kahit ano diyan.

Meron lang akong mg salita.

At maraming kwento.



‘Wag maniwala sa mga kuwento,

Parang sabi ni Lyotard.

Lahat sila nagbabalat-kayong totoo,

Parang version ni Foucault.

(nakakatuwa kung paano tayo umaasa sa “parang,”

Marami tayong hindi alam.

Pero sa mga nasa tabi ng riles ng tren,

O nagbibilad sa araw para makakain,

Walang “parang” pag sinasabing

“Mahirap ang buhay.”)

Ayaw ng mga followers ni Marx

sa poststructuralism.

Pero minsan, convenient silang gamitin.


Wala akong pakialam sa tula ko.

Wala silang pakialam sa tula ko.

Wala kaming makain,

Wala tayong makain.

Wala tayong trabaho,

Wala tayong tirahan.

Magkakapatayan na tayo.