On the way home, we stopped by the park to see the lights.
Waiting for the world’s first verse
ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2019 - 12:00am

On the way home we stopped by a park to see the lights. That’s a caption I thought of while scrolling through pictures taken on a recent visit to Dumaguete, city of gentle people, which has an altogether different vibe in December approaching Christmas than in summer, when it is most written about due to the yearly writers’ workshop. We arrived there on the afternoon of Thursday, day after the U2 concert in Bulacan that had us reach home at five in the morning, a kind of rock and roll lifestyle unsuitable for seniors.

Checked into a hotel by the boulevard with a picture window for a good view of the sea and nearby pier, ships coming and going like strangers in the night, and the several ancient acacia trees that line the boardwalk must have inspired a poem or two from the poets of the region: Cesar Aquino of the selfsame city, retired judge Jun Dumdum of Cebu across the strait, and perhaps even Ulysses Aparece of his beloved Bohol though his trees may have been transplanted in Tagbilaran side of the imagination.

A student waits for ride with Christmas around corner.

“Ang tawo way kalibutan.” That’s a dedication Cesar wrote on the virtual frontispiece of his latest book of poems, Figures From a Long Ago Mirror, published by Silliman University and launched last summer during the workshop. It’s Cebuano and literally means “Man has no world,” or, figuratively, “Man is out of his depth” and ultimately clueless about the workings of the universe, let alone the mysteries of Miss Universe. A stranger in a strange land, as the Leon Russell song goes.

The book features a poem on the back cover, “Dream Poem,” about the poet wandering alone all afternoon in the forest and coming across verse etched on a tree’s bark, and how he has to rush home before evening to write it down or it would be gone forever.

The first morning in the city, an inauspicious Friday the 13th, saw us strolling with the joggers and promenaders on the boulevard, stalls selling fresh buko at P20 apiece out early under slightly overcast sky. Took picture of a white bird gliding on the horizon between sea and sky, faith discreetly tucked under its wing as if on cue to It’s a Beautiful Day’s song. Jun Dumdum saw the Facebook post and reacted, ‘Nice shot and no bird was harmed”.

Also a lone student waiting for a ride with Christmas vacation just around the corner, statues of pioneering nuns maneuvering their boat, the pier, the city’s emblem of “DumagetMe.”

Pulangbato falls, Valencia

Later in the day visited Pulangbato Falls or literally Redrocks in Valencia on the outskirts, on the foothills of Mount Talinis or Cuernos de Negros, from whose waters a famous rum is said to be made. Photos of young su-oy (jackfruit) wrapped in red ribbons in anticipation of the new year, a hometown girl posing on a hanging bridge, a brief video of a sudden drizzle falling on hot springs of the resort.

Meant to be brought as reading material for the trip was Aparece’s Space Speaks also launched this year, with its fair company of shamans and spirit guides among other secret fires. One of the poems is in memory of Clovis Nazareno, a contemporary from university who died in his early 40s in 2003, betrayed by firewater.

Poet, dog, Christmas tree

Empty spaces speak of how poetry is born of the blank page, a black hole out of which springs the first verse of the world. In the beginning was the word, and the word was “ang tawo way kalibutan.” Clovis long since consorting with other shades of the underworld, including his chosen persona Simeon Lugo.

Saturday morning was a trip to the Dumaguete city market, one of the cleanest public markets we’ve seen. At the pinainitan section there was puto maya and tsokolate-eh but without the mango, the chocolate occasionally poured on the glutinous rice. Displayed in stacks were a variety of suman: kabog, Tanjay and tres Marias, the last a delectable trifecta of flavors — chocolate, ube, regular malagkit.

In the row of carinderias there was no sign of balbacua endemic to the place, the thick soup of cow hocks first tasted in Siaton an hour down south. There was however morado bananas, a variety hard to find in Manila.

Boulevard tree

By early evening it was time to visit Cesar’s place on V Locsin in Taclobo, past Foundation University, for his 77th. Even the regular workshop panelist had a different vibe in December, with his pet dog and pet cat, and his daughter cooking a famous repast fit for memories of a retired rock and rolla, washed down by Gato Negro merlot, the black cat named Wereboy ambling by the little Christmas tree, how lovely its branches.

To paraphrase the poet, you may never see the world in a grain of sand, but to see a grain of sand in the world – why, that’s more than enough.

POEMS SILLIMAN UNIVERSITY
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