On a slow and basic Sunday

Hardcore backpacker friends would chide me for often opting to spend my last day in foreign towns in malls and cafe’s when I should really be cramming my itineraries to the minute with out-of-the-way art galleries and hot spring pools only locals have access to, but hear me out: despite having only recently accepted that I need human company to thrive no matter how much I adore being alone else I’ll dwell on things more than I should, I like quietly watching from the sidelines the most ordinary scenes. That way, long after I’ve gone home, I can think back to a place and this is exactly how unfiltered it’ll look, very much removed from the hype of travelogues and Instagram that it begins to feel like home.

Case in point: today, I heard mass in the town mall despite having relinquished my faith years ago, said a little prayer for the toddler who kept tugging at my dress as his mother closed her eyes in thanksgiving or penance, I don’t know which, struck conversation with ticket vendors at the central bus terminal on where I should go for lunch given that I was alone — yes, ate, as single as I could possibly be — and therefore can’t afford the tourist trap places which only serve large dishes, shopped for books on bargain then proceeded to plunk myself down in this small coffee stall while watching from the corner of my eye an impeccably-dressed old couple on a Sunday day date sip cappuccino’s as they read — the lady on her smartphone, the grandfather whipping out the newspaper he had tucked under his arm. I am aware this is not exactly a faithful picture of this city, a more comprehensive story supposedly factoring in accounts of people from the outskirts such as that habal-habal driver who offered to guide me up Mt. Isarog and who I now have to turn down once and for all because despite the temptation, post-surgery practices don’t normally include a major technical climb and I should, for once, side with my more logical side and hop on that bus back to Manila tonight instead. 

But still. My point is, my heart is very, very full, and the places I know and love are increasing, and the world I know is growing. The subsequent departures used to feel like desperate tries at coping. All the empty spaces now, all the hurt I’ve learned to live/distract myself with, suddenly they don’t matter so much anymore.

For the very first time in a long time, I feel hopeful — like I’m about to be thrown into something so impossibly beautiful I won’t even make the slightest attempt to fumble with words. 



This morning I woke up from a dream about someone I was seeing until a couple of weeks ago. And then I thought of how, exactly a year and and nine months ago yesterday, I decided the face I saw every morning was the last one I’ll imprint in memory, and how that changed too last summer. Then I looked up from my office window and from a distance saw a window I once looked out of at five in the morning as I waited for the sun with someone I could have loved. Could have loved, what a funny phrase.

And then more names came up and only this poem could silence the enumeration.

Arkaye Kierulf


In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.


Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.


Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.


In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.


Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.


Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.

Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.


I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.

I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.


Memory is brutal because precise.


She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?

I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.


I have only one purpose: to live intensely.


I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.

You taste like a river in June.


I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.

The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:

“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”


In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.


Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.

They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.

Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.

Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.


Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.


How many more times
are you going to let the world
hurt you?


My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.

Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.

He said: “I am dying.”

I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”


And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.


A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?


In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.


I believe in love only when it rains.


To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.

In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.


Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.


You came to suffer/survive.


How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?


Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.

Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.


Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.


Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.

Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.

Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.


In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.


When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.

Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.


In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.


Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.


She said: give me more space.



Again, someone told me: you should be kinder to yourself.

This was yesterday, during what has come to be the typical daily long distance exchange between myself and someone who actually referred to us as star-crossed once, mostly because we’re literally separated by at least a thousand miles, but partly because of how parallel we led our lives this year, meaning I’ve come to realize the predilection for geographical and emotionally unavailable loves runs deeply universal.


And so, this whole thing called finding repose in writing / forcing myself to write daily — and read poems, too (because I’ve been complaining about not having read enough, and this blog called readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com inspired me, so why the hell not) instead of spending days on end going out to sustain pointless conversations and feigning little intimacies just because I’ve been told it’s what I should be doing at this age.


I’ve realized that winds can actually howl. I told this person about this yesterday, sending him a recording or two of what they sounded like in my bedroom window, according to google, exactly 1,463 miles away from him. Somewhere, always, a storm brews over the mainland, but this weekend one lingered over the north and brought the usual circus of families being evacuated and those eyeing seats in government deeming it prime time TV. I live up sixth, which means storms sound different up here from the ground, as mother noticed yesterday. On the ground, it’s just wind through the trees, a beautiful girl’s hair flying in the wind, but up here they’re more ferocious, coming in gusts that fling themselves at the building through the night so much that you begin to question how long can the structure you call home hold out.


I saw an old boyfriend the other night, too, just as this one made landfall. Over drinks I have never been more sure things ended for the right reasons, even as we struggled to remember what was those were, laughing over how this elusive teenage excuse once seemed like a Greek tragedy. It’s funny how you can look at someone and call on nothing from within, this line from a poem by one of my mentors, Nerisa Guevara ringing in my ears: “Actually what is left / is a vague memory that I loved you.”


The small, fleeting sadnesses still come in spades, but at the very least I’ve come to terms with the menacing ease of reaching out for a drink or a hand to hold during such episodes.

And so, in light of learning how to be kind to myself, this poem by Charlie Samuya Veric.


I think of that word in the dark of winter–

the negation coming first, a state of being, then

the contrast. All this in the syllables

of a word I stumbled into while reading

an online comment on NY Times, my laptop

and myself, passing time in the dead of the night.

I wonder what it is with this season.

Once a physician said something

about her patients committing suicide one

after the other from Thanksgiving to New Year;

people dying in the darkest hours.

This evening, I was walking from school

all bundled up, the arctic wind

blowing in my face, the howling I could hear

now and again. Then it came to me

what loneliness meant. It was the cold biting

into thick layers of clothing, deep into pores

of one’s skin, the body curling like the tip of a fern,

and then the voice sounding from the bitter void:

There’s no one else. Embrace yourself.