SIC TRANSIT MUNDUS

 

This must be the taste of Language--

the tongue mapped by many colors,

parsed by the vowels of memory, the roof

of the mouth the dome of a world

circumscribed by consonants, whose edges

suggest the sour-sweetness of oranges,

the bittermelon's green rind, the river-

scent of mangoes all the way to the grove.

 

When I sing of Balicasag, island

whose name inscribes the upturned

crab, I am translating a story of fire

razing a whole village to the ground

when the revolution was fought.

In whatever month dolphins are born,

mothers weaving pandan mats

pause to tell the story

of how it happened one day in May,

in the month of fiestas in Bohol:

 

The churchbells rang mad at dawn.

Someone had set fire to the orchard

of Padre Domingo del Valle;

by noon even the grasshoppers

had turned to ashes.

 

I sing this story now to let you taste

the aroma of milagrosa rice boiling

on the earthen stove, or catch

from your open window

the pod of lumba-lumba playing near

the island's shore. And I want

the edges of your tongue to water

from the hint of acid in the air, as if

invisible trees stood windward, still

ripening in the burning sun.

 

*for Franz Arcellana born Sept. 6, 1916