Greener of foliage, darker of bark, Wider the spread of branches, You were a struggling sapling When first I sought refuge under your shade.
You’ve weathered tropical depressions And the scudding rains of thunderstorms. Battered by winds and seasonal typhoons, You have not cracked like the seawall.
Other trees, not you, in secluded forests Have fallen in the whirr of chainsaws. The only signs of outrage are the ex-votos Curved heart-shaped round your gnarled bole.
No longer needing your shade for my head, Though my sore heart needs shelter from life-storms, I have come with one foolish wish: Perchance, Through sudden shower of pink-white blossoms
You would deign whisper to me The mysteries of your charmed life.
Anthony L. Tan was born in Siasi, Sulu. He earned his BA English from the Ateneo de Zamboanga in 1968 and went on to Silliman University in Dumaguete City for both his MA Creative Writing (1975) and PhD. in British Literature (1982). For more than a decade he taught at the English Department of Silliman University and was a regular member of the panel of critics at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. In 1983, he joined the faculty of the English Department at MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology and became one of its chairpersons in 1984-85. Together with Jaime An Lim and Christine Godinez Ortega, he helped organize the first Iligan National Writers Workshop/Literature Teachers Conference in 1993. He retired from teaching in 2012. He has won a number of awards for his writings, among them the Focus Philippines award for poetry, the Palanca 1st prize for “Poems for Muddas” (1993) and another Palanca for the essay. His poems and stories have been published locally and abroad, more prominently in the prestigious Atlanta Review and Manoa, the literary journal at the University of Hawaii. He is the author of two books of poems titled The Badjao Cemeteryand Other Poems (1985) and Poems for Muddas (1996).
Our instincts on holiday urged a walk through the countryside, a brief jungle trek as lightsome quest to fill a vacant hour. No, we didn’t think that bruited marvel, cliff’s fall of waters pouring from the sun! was too far to walk or too hid to find— we were no longer young, my wife and I, and worried about our boys though they are as sure-footed and spry as mountain goats.
Resting awhile in a wild little glade throbbing with the noonday whirr of crickets, we quenched our thirst with bottled sun-warmed Sprite. With shouts as to dare the encroaching woods, our boys leaped to the clearing’s sunlit edge —the mountain received them without a sound! I sprang after them, and gripped my wife’s hand as the sun blanked her sight where her heart dropped, Oh, where?—Our boys had found their hearts’ mountain!
But we who knew danger and kept her speech, must track that sheer drop without syllable, foot to crevice, hand to vine, butt to earth, eyes yearning to see the roaring waters of her text—in full flood, naked to view, in the vast sounding wilderness around.
Ai, here is no time, and the sun hangs fire— and we are lost, and cannot ever speak. Our hearts cry fear in the desolate woods fraught with accident, and cry, Where is God? or His hand, if bush to grip free its root or vine to cling to grow a row of thorns. O, how far down our cliff yet? a rumor of waters drifts up to taunt our hearing as we hang from the crumbly slope and slide our bodies down the trail that slips and twists like a coil of gut through the tangled shrubs; any loose rock may suddenly cry out and rain down stones and earth at last to break the stillness made the tangled forests wild and the cliffs hang sheer. Our bodies pressed so to earth must sense the weird geometries of breath and sweaty grip, postulating in grime a sudden precipice to flesh.
Through the jumble of fern and thorny vine, we glimpse a shimmer of stream far below, tumble of rocks like rugged cuneiform to the dead tumult of the mountain’s birth. The falls sound everywhere her murmurous thunder, but invisible, cascading without alphabet through the heave of trees and fall of vines; amid the surge and roar of waters, the derelict boulders seem to fill the tidal caverns of her sound.
Our boys wait a long time for us, laughing wet and bold on the stream’s tilting boulders; the waters swirl barbaric round their feet and toss up glinting spindrifts of the sun. They wave to us like spirits of the woods and point to the falls proclaiming her name.
And we look to see her descending nude from her cliff, and shield our eyes from the dazzle and sheen, utter tumult and panic of her name— Casaroro! wild oceanic tongue to the mountain’s cliffs of cool greeting dusk. Our boys must know what haunts her troubled speech, from innocence and wonder they suppose half the world’s seas thundering down from God’s open hands, but I—dimly, through the lush stillness of forests sprouting wild from earth, I sense how the earth will last long after our boys have become men and forgotten how once a mountain strode tall through their speech. And again I look— a stark foreboding of our flesh’s tumble shivers my faith, and plucks in strange despair a fierce conjecture from God’s thundering plunge. Was it death’s steep annihilating drop invented our God? or tendril of hope that in our own cliff’s fall to His wet sod should sprout a deep abounding wilderness, Casaroro around His streaming hands.
Gémino H. Abad is a poet, fictionist, and literary critic. He served several posts at the Unirversity of the Philippines, as Secretary of the University and the Board of Regents from 1977-1982, Vice President for Academic affairs in 1987-1990, and Director of Likhaan: the UP Creative Writing Center from 1995-1998. At present he is a University Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines. He received Italy’s Premio Feronia (in 2009 for his poetry, the first Filipino to have been so honored. He also represented the Philippines in the Third Mediterranea International Festival of Literature and the Arts in Rome in July 2006. He is known for his three-volume anthology of Filipino poetry in English from 1905 to the present, including Man of Earth (1989), A Native Clearing (1993), and A Habit of Shores (1999), and his six-volume anthology of Filipino short stories in English from 1956 to 2008. He also co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), and is a Regular Panelist at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. In 2012, he was proclaimed National Artist for Literature.