A death in the family
- Alfred A. Yuson () - October 1, 2001 - 12:00am
We shall miss him. Many are the memories. Poet Michael L. Bigornia passed away last Monday, exactly a week ago. On the phone, through voice and text, we were all aghast to hear about it. He was only 51, the victim of a first stroke.

The Friday before, or so we heard, he was bending elbows over the usual San Miguel beer (like the usual river that can’t quite be the same) with fellow poet Bobby Añonuevo at Blind Tiger. Mike confessed to feeling chest pains. Bobby suggested a visit to the Heart Center nearby. Mike demurred.

Three days later, his fellow poet and officemate Roger Mangahas texted him at mid-morning. Wasn’t he coming to work? Mike begged off; he wasn’t feeling well. Soon after, the Bigornia household was thrown into bedlam and grief.

Dropped off at home by Jimmy Abad after a briefing in Makati, I had instinctively sensed dark news upon being handed a list of callers: Mo Rillo, Karina Bolasco and Butch Dalisay, within minutes of one another at a little past 4 p.m. It could only be about some dire development, I thought. Sadly, Fidel Rillo confirmed this on the phone. Mike had left us.

Some of us had last caroused with him on Palanca Awards Night on the First of September. Only a month ago he had wound up his three terms as Chairman of UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas or Writers Union of the Philippines). And we had expected him to join us for the new UMPIL Board’s first meeting last Saturday, so he could informally hand over the reins, the papers, plans, whatever. We were looking forward to sharing visions and laughter with him before we all trooped over to Balay Kalinaw at UP for the launching of a book to honor the memory of Maningning Miclat. Now we had lost another beloved member of the family.

On the first night of the wake, a score of writers gathered with long faces at St. Peter’s Memorial Chapel on Quezon Avenue. We waited vainly for Mike’s remains, till after midnight. We agreed on a writers’ necrological service for the following night. Driving home, I found myself constantly humming My Way. It would be hard to accept Mike’s absence in future videoke sessions. No one among the writers I know could ever hold a candle to his bell-tone take on Ol’ Blue Eyes.

The memories are still a half-joyous, half-woeful flood.

Mike at San Fabian, Pangasinan, on that "Weekend with Writers" sponsored by then-Governor Oscar Orbos, when over 30 of us were bused to a beach resort for a grand sing-along session, with National Artist for Literature NVM Gonzalez and lovely Narita leading the way.

Mike helping Danny Dalena in half-dragging the blissfully besotted Erwin Castillo, coordinator and co-host, up to his quarters after he’d offered one too many madrigals as to turn most everyone’s knees into delightful jelly.

Mike in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China, defending our legendary pride of voice on our first night out at our hotel’s videoke club, even as the large screen displayed only lyrics in Mandarin.

Mike leading the toasts to our hosts as we toured the ancient capital of Dali, cruised around a postcard-pretty lake, trooped through the Stone Forest with the prettiest of lady guides costumed to represent this or that cultural minority.

Ambassador Sedfrey Ordoñez and I took the shorter seniors’ walkthrough of the entrancing grounds dotted with picturesque karst formations. Mike opted for the longer scenic route along with his chronological peers: bosom buddy Marne Kilates, Charlson Ong and Wilson Lee Flores.

The party of six Filipino poets and writers were eventually taken to a tourist village much like, but so much bigger than, our Nayong Pilipino. We were surprised to see a version of our tinikling being performed onstage. A call was made for foreign visitors to come up and join in. Mike did, and came away a winner, his twinkletoes dexterity earning him a prize.

At IBP or Ihaw-Balot Plaza, Brews Brothers, Blind Tiger, Padi’s Point Mindave and all the other drinking places where we had perorated on the lofty ideals of poetry and pulchritude with Mike Bigornia, the table assumed a gentle kind of gravitas whenever he sat at its head. He turned beet-red quite fast, but held court and noble sway till the wee hours, dispensing serious plans, quips and robust laughter.

Succeeding Virgilio Almario as UMPIL Chair in 1992, Mike steered the state of the union through thick and thin, parlaying with Speaker Joe de Venecia for a Congressional resident writer’s grant, with the Presidential Management Staff then headed by Sec. Lenny de Jesus for publication grants, the successive Directors of the German Cultural Center where we held our annual National Congress in August, and each year too, with premier artist Manny Baldemor for the finely sculpted wooden trophies presented to the "Gawad Alagad ni Balagtas" winners.

With Mike Bigornia at the helm, UMPIL published several issues of the multi-lingual literary journal Mithi, the newsletter Kalatas, and the Philippine Writers Directory that he had hoped to update before his unfortunate early demise. We should do no less than carry on and grant this wish for the sake of our Brother Mike.

He authored three collections of poetry, Punta Blangko (Tagak Series, 1985), Prosang Itim (Anvil, 1996), and Salida (UP Press, 1996), the first two of which won a National Book Award for Poetry from the Manila Critics Circle.

He was the youngest among the acknowledged Big Four of Filipino poetry, which included Rio Alma, Teo T. Antonio and Lamberto E. Antonio. For the longest while Rio, Teo and Mike were inseparable as a binge triumvirate. Bert Antonio was often busy with work. Teo and Mike became the item when official duties also began to pull Rio away. But there were Fidel Rillo, Marne Kilates and Boy Martin to take the favored places at the spirits table. And Bobby Añonuevo, the "Tiger Woods of Filipino Poetry" as the youngest ever Palanca Hall of Famer, soon joined in. Mike became his Big Bro, which explains why Bobby was so disconsolate at the wake that he couldn’t get himself to read his memorial text for Bro. Mike, and had to ask Joey Baquiran to do it for him.

Mike Coroza, Vim Carmelo Nadera, Becky Añonuevo and Luna Sicat were among the younger poets in Filipino who also looked up to Mike Bigornia, and who no doubt credited him with great influence. Mike and Vim spoke at the necro rites emceed by Teo. So did Rene Villanueva, S.V. Epistola, Sedfrey Ordoñez, UMPIL chair emeritus Adrian Cristobal, Butch Dalisay, Jimmy Abad, and certainly not the least, our latest National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, who took the trouble of calling all funeral parlors in Metro Manila for Mike’s whereabouts.

Marne Kilates reminisced on a picaresquely epic visit to Russia with Mike: shuddering together onboard Aeroflot flights, downing vodka with the best of them, charming Uzbekistani girks with their English... He also read his own translation into English of a poem by Mike Bigornia, as I did.

Celine Cristobal, Susan Fernandez and Jess Santiago offered songs. A lot of people were teary-eyed. When we started to disperse past midnight, I pulled Jimmy Abad aside and asked to borrow the sheet of paper he had read his wonderfully sounding little piece from. It turned out to be in his own write.

Here’s how it reads:

"Mike Bigornia –

"I know him only as a friend, and that is how I shall remember him – kaibigan.

"To remember, says Eduardo Galeano, is in Spanish recordar, which means ‘to pass through the heart’‚

"Kaibigan – that is Mike to me. Perhaps, who really knows? Perhaps, more than love between man and woman, more than brotherhood between brothers, friendship is a special quality of our humanity. For that reason, to lose a friend is hard to bear: it carries a special depth of sorrow.

"Mike was a man, period.

"He was also a man with a ready smile and easy to laughter and song. With him I had a sense that there was more laughter in his person than there is water in the sea. In him there was such joy in living that now I half-suspect he had a sense that he would die young.

"We miss him, his easy laughter and his songs, but since Time is without time, we shall shortly see him again."

Yes, yes, we shall live through this death in the family. However we will miss Mike greatly.

He will live forever through his poetry. Here is "Mga Makata," a piece from Mike L. Bigornia’s collection of prose poems titled Prosang Itim, followed by a humbly privileged translation.

"Lumilikha sila mula sa wala.

"Pumupulot ng walang silbi, kumakalap ng walang saysay. Bato, tuod, putik, bubog, pigtal na dahon.

"Bumubuo ng espesyal na balangkas upang dito ilapat ang espesyal na hugis at laman.

"Pagkat sila ang maylikha, itutulad nila ito sa kanilang anyo. Hihinga ito mula sa kanilang hininga. Ito ay magiging siya at saka babangon.

"Isasalin nila sa kanya ang katwiran at dadaloy sa kanyang kabuuan ang esensiya ng kababaang-loob, pakikiramay, at pagpapakasakit.

"Pagkaraa’y palalayain nila siya. Magmamasid sila sa malayo. Ngunit lagi silang naroon pagkat aakayin siya ng kanilang mga aral tungo sa makitid na ilog.

"Iaabot lang nila ang kanilang kamay sakaling siya ay malihis o malugmok.

"Mula naman dito hanggang kailan, sasambahin niya sila bilang panginoon at sa tuwina’y pupurihin ang kanilang luwalhati, pag-ibig, at kapangyarihang walang kapantay."
* * *
"The Poets"

"They create out of nothing.

"They pick up what’s of no use, gather what’s without value. Stone, stump, mud, shard, fallen leaf.

"Form a special framework to fit in the special shape and flesh.

"Because it is their creation, it will be likened to their image. Breathe it will with their own breath. Become himself and rise.

"Reason will be transferred unto him, and upon his entirety will pour essential humility, sympathy, and solicitude.

"In time he will be freed, while they watch from a distance. But they will always be around since it is their lessons that will guide him toward the narrow river.

"They will only offer a hand whenever he finds himself astray or prostrate.

"In turn, from now till forever, he will worship them as lords and always give praise to their glory, love, and power without peer."

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