It is time to come home
(for Leoncio Evasco, Jr. and Procopio Resabal)
He has just paddled the banca out of Postan Gamay,
where the branches of the mangrove arch above the water
a temple of dark green silence.
In his heart he keeps the oars quiet.
Delivered back to the light and sound of the world, he sees,
hears, wild emerald doves and orioles stir the river,
dipping their wings for a bath and sunning on a wire
strung across the breadth of Abatan.
It will soon be sunset.
He catches his breath at the shimmer of wings when the birds
shake droplets loose from their feathers. A light breeze passes
through the nipa fronds on the riverbank; fetches faint sounds
of a church bell calling the faithful to prayer.
It is time to come home.
As the sun slips behind Maribojoc mountains, he comes
to Bitoon, the deeper part of the river; stops for a chance
to hear the bell thrown long ago by the people of Malabago
to defy anger of shamans, priests, and greed of marauders.
No one owns the bell but the river.
His friend, the wise healer of Toril, tells him the story
one starless night when he heard Lingganay Ugis
ringing. The young men in the river towns also heard it.
Many dived in to see for themselves the marvel.
The temple bell lies still on the riverbed.
At the mouth of Abatan children are hook-and-line fishing.
He calls to ask them if they were trying to catch Cogtong,
giant fish guarding the bell. They laugh and tell him: No, but
we’ve seen him flash huge red eyes, whip his very strong tail.
The old bell-keeper is alive and well.