By MERLIE M. ALUNAN
“Every night at 8:00 we shall ring the bells for Father Romano, and we shall continue to do so until he is found.” —The Redemptorist Community, Dumaguete City, September 1985
Every night just as we settle
To coffee or a mug of cold beer,
They ring the bells—
A crisp quick flurry first, then
Decorous as in a knell, ten counts.
Into the darkness newly fallen
The cadence calls for a brother lost.
At home as we try to wash off
With music and a little loving
The grime of markets from our souls—
The day’s trading of truth for bread,
Masks of honor, guises of peace—
The clear sounds infusing the air
Deny us the salve of forgetting.
We know for what they lost him,
Why expedient tyrants required
His name effaced, his bones hidden.
As we bend over the heads of children
Fighting sleep, not quite done with play,
The bells vibrating remind us how
Our fears conspires to seal his doom.
We could say to the ringers:
Your bells won’t bring him back,
But just supposing that it could,
What would you have?
A body maimed, perhaps, beyond belief—
Toes and fingers gone, teeth missing,
Tongue cut off, memory hacked witless.
The nights in our town
Are flavored with the dread
The bells salt down measured
From their tall dark tower.
It falls upon our raw minds wanting sleep.
Shall we stop them? Though we smart
We know they keep us from decay.
Shared in this keening,
A rhythm beating all night long
In our veins, truth is truth still
Though unworded. The bells
Count in our blood the heart of all
We must restore. Tomorrow, we vow,
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
Merlie M. Alunan spent time in different places in the Visayas and Mindanao at different times in her life and thus acquired a level of fluency in the major Visayan languages. She finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Education at the University of the Visayas, major in English; and her Master’s Degree in Literature at Silliman University. She taught in several schools all over the Visayas: Silliman University, Divine Word College in Tagbilaran City [now Holy Name University], and the University of the Philippines Visayas [Tacloban College] where she initiated creative writing workshops and intensified her advocacy to encourage the young to write in the native language. While doing her workshops with its specific advocacy, she became sharply aware of the lack of models for the aspiring Waray writer and the literal absence of any reading materials in the language. She has since published a collection of oral narratives entitled Susumaton published by Ateneo de Manila University Press.
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