It may take the reader more than a little while to fully understand and appreciate the unorthodox collection of latter day poems by the Dumaguete-based Cesar Ruiz Aquino, whose penchant for wordplay and dispensing the various gifts of wisdom remains undiminished even in his ripe old 70s. Not the old man and the sea, though, more like old man is the sea.
For how else can a poet put together a sort of autobiography except through a biograph of poems themselves, and in Cesar Ruiz’s case, from a boyhood dating back to post-war Pagadian, adolescence in ’50s Zamboanga, young adulthood in ’60s beat Manila, all the way down to the ad agency ’70s with the Maryknoll (now Miriam College) teaching stint and Ermita artist in residency, and the ’80s back to resettling in beloved Dumaguete that would have done both Dumas and Goethe proud?
If that needs a bit of rephrasing let me run that by you again. The bayou is blue whenever Cesar picks up the pen, and he remembers the time when girls were jung and easily freudened. Or where the grinning dolt is Shazzam, the poet’s pet mutt, who would have done the overexposed Pac-man one better? The book is what it is, and the poet invites us to try and find the phrase in one of the poems in collection, from which the conundrum of a title is lifted.
Like a shadow is there peeking in “Blue god,” the circumstances of which he related either over the phone or in a short story to a kumpadre, something about observing a toro or live sex act in one of the dingy clubs in Manila which both hell and time forgot, and on the back or shoulder of the man delirious in humping his partner, the poet persona sees a tattoo of a blue Christ, and whether or not the Christ is shedding a tear is best left to the imagination or, indeed, to the poet’s sundry devices. It is worthy of Boatman and Manila by Night, the selfsame milieu out of which it sprang, or was crafted.
A smidgen of the title phrase too can be gleaned in one of the shorter poems, though somewhat reworded, as if the shadow were trying to retrofit into another found, incompatible figure.
There are excursions in physics in the shorter poems, a number of them haikus, tankas, or rengas, the poet reinventing the koan as nugget of wisdom and then some. When for example Einstein lectures on the beauty of women, the verse ends with him saying “the shape of the universe is Ms. Universe.” A beautiful lady physicist, meanwhile, is “an eyeful/ quantum of delight.” The muse is never absent in Ruiz’s poems, and we are all the more richer and enriched by her.
Or consider one poem where the title is longer than the verse itself, as in “Walt Whitman redivivus writes a line and gives it the title ‘On first looking into that, as Edgar Allan Poe might put it, quaint and curious word”: I celebrate my self and sing my selfie”…
A good number of the poems are open-ended, that is, without a period at the end. Which is just as well because this is a poet whose first collection of poems years and years ago was entitled Word without end.
The poet invokes a character of Borges who unconsciously writes or rewrites the entire Quixote without once glancing back at the shadow of possible plagiarism. And could it be that the best most faithful review is a word for word reproduction of the entire book itself? Even if it takes days and nights, we can only embrace a poem such as “Coordinates,” where the poet wakes as if from a dream in his young Zamboanga to head for sunset boulevard, only to find himself in Dumaguete when he gets to the waterfront to catch the sunrise and sumsuman. Or is it the other way around?
Oh the tricks of bilocation and a philosopher stoned, the reader can only ponder on the epic spirit in the briefest line, underneath the omnipresent chico tree and the sound of pedicabs all around.