Poems wrought from a pandemic
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2020 - 12:00am

All the time we now have in our homes allow us much reading from the voluminous “infodemic” that pertains to the crisis at hand, to socio-political commentary and food recipes as well as availability, to fresh creative output that seeks to help make sense of it all. Poets in particular are having a heyday generating laudable insights and images that vie for posterity.

I particularly enjoy those shared by friends, feeling reassured that they’re as convinced as I am that it’s also a time for courage. And that we can wring precious stuff from an otherwise unwelcome development.

I’ve been filing the ones I find notable. Among these are the following.

My good friend and citymate Pablo A. Tariman continues with his literary creativity despite being pressed for time, what with his hourly vocalization obligations and the market runs he conducts without the benefit of a community quarantine pass.

Here’s his latest, “Two Verses in Time of Corona Virus.” The first verse is titled “The Prayer,” while the second is “Joy in the Morning.” It’s a long poem, so I can only share an excerpt that ends the first verse:

“From where I am / Contemplating ordinary mortals / In unlikely destinations / On their way to work / I pray they get home safe / With a semblance of food / For their loved ones. // In my mind / prayer works in many ways. / It is the only open path / by which I can / get in touch with the inner layer / Of my troubled psyche. // From the clothesline / I retreat into my mini-garden / And savor the quiet neighborhood. // Yes I do believe in prayer / As the only way to check / The barnacles gathering In my soul.”

Philippines Graphic magazine’s literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio also shared a lengthy poem, “Two weeks into lockdown” — from which, an excerpt that ends it:

“The perfectly-cooked meal / Of survival food plus love / Holds off the fear / Of the invisible. // The newly-cleaned floors / Dry without molestation / Of filthy feet or boots. // The shining bathroom tiles / Star even more centrally / Than a K-Pop drama headliner. // That screen / That once had your attention / Most of the day / Now has your all. // The world shrinks to the tiny / Cosmos of the domicile / Full of the people who are / Your reason to work / With whom you now / Reacquaint yourself / With open willingness: // The world is re-learning / What it means / To stay home.”

For international flavor, I take the liberty of sharing a poem by Donna Ashworth that was the featured spotlight in the Memory Matters blogsite, and which has gained some level of viral fame. It is titled “History Will Remember.”

“History will remember when the world stopped / And the flights stayed on the ground / And the cars parked in the street / And the trains didn’t run. / History will remember when the schools closed / and the children stayed indoors / And the medical staff walked towards the fire / And they didn’t run. / History will remember when the people sang / On their balconies, in isolation / But so very much together / In courage and song. / History will remember when the people fought / for their old and their weak / Protected the vulnerable / By doing nothing at all. / History will remember when the virus left / And the houses opened / And the people came out / And hugged and kissed / And started again. / Kinder than before.”

I looked up the author, who has a couple of namesakes. But the poet is evidently the author of a book about the unique geology and history of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona, titled Biography of a Small Mountain (1991, Small Mountain Books), copies of which are still available at Amazon.com.

Notably, National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario, a.k.a. Rio Alma, embraced white heat for the last week of March, coming up with about a dozen new thematic poems, all of which were shared on FB. Fully presentable here is one dated March 26, “Taliba ng Bayan” (Para sa mga babaeng frontliners):

“Tutulaan kita, munti kong prinsesa, / Perlas ng silangan, at walang korona; / Lingkod ka ng bayang kung maalaala / Dahil nakita kang lugmok sa umaga. // Wala kang medalya, gawad, o parangal / Na maitatampok sa gitna ng altar; / Ngunit may dambana ang iyong larawan / Sa puso ng madlang napaglilingkuran. // Di mo man nais na maging balita / Ang pagkalinga mo sa maraming dukha; / Ang malasakit mo’y taal na adhikang / Kapuwa’y damayan, lalo’t may pinsala. // Tunay kang taliba: Nasa unang hanay / Anumang panganib ang dapat labanan; / Kalong mo ang musmos ng kinabukasan, / Akay mo’y matandang dapat mong bayaran. // Tutulaan kita, hindi mo man hiling, / Upang ang dibdib mo’y hindi magupilimg; / Tula lamang ito, ngunit kung mapansin, / Maligaya akong ikaw ay narating.” 

And for our last poem, this came out as a memory fallback, published as a note on FB on March 31, 2012, by the poet himself, Victor Peñaranda, who left us over two years ago. While it was written with no pandemic in mind, and instead dwelled on a particular season of grace, surely you’ll agree that the sentiments expressed are appropriate for our time of crisis. So it’s probably why it popped up eight years later, to the day. It’s titled “Lenten Praise”:

“The rain insists on its presence, / Imposes a mood of withering loss / On flowering fruit trees. // Everything happens silently… / The way the sun dims and wind fades / On the wings of dying butterfly… // This weather bends me like bamboo: / Mindful of heartbeat in the wet leaf, / Light bouncing on breath and grass, / Powerful spells being cast from stones…. // Notice the defenseless sparrows; / They do not quest beyond cause and effect. // I praise the fallen seed on gentle ground … / Fearless grain, wise to endless seasons / Of living, dying, fulfilling a vow / Beyond the poverty of being helpless. // Praise the flat grayness of this sky, / Humid lovemaking in the afternoon / Song in my marrow, duty in sorrow… // Praise those who care by listening, / Those intensely engaged with the familiar, / The ripple from vivid to beautiful. // Praise awareness to release each pain, / This moment of abandoned abstinence / At home with what’s impermanent.”

INFODEMIC PANDEMIC POEMS
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