Guest Poet Alex C Delos Santos

Vaun, 8

You asked me what circumcision is,
And I told you the doctor cuts the foreskin 
Of your penis. You frowned and said it hurts,
And looked at me, waiting for confirmation.
Of course, it hurts. It's painful 
Like all manner of cutting.

It is painful for a tree when you cut
Its branches with that sword you fashioned
Out of bamboo sticks; when you cut
A flower to make tinola* in your tree house.
It is the pain you felt when you cut your finger
With Nanay's** kitchen knife, trying to sharpen
The tip of an arrow with which to shoot
Lola's*** santol fruits. You cried, didn't you?

Though not exactly the same way I cried
Looking at Tatay**** on his deathbed
That first morning of May.
You looked at me, wondering.
Because it was painful, too.
Something was being cut, being lost.
But that pain we can bear.

And you asked me why boys need
To be circumcised. I don't know.
I did not ask Tatay when he took me
To the hospital for this ritual men imposed
Upon themselves. I am sure he wouldn't have 
Known the answer. They say it is for us
To stay clean, though it's only the tip of us
That's trimmed ( I don't really believe this, 
Because once we expose our heads, the more 
we become impure).

They say it makes us a man. Maybe
It is for boys to feel the pain of becoming men.
So when time comes when we lose our fathers,
We can bear the pain.
It is like sticking up our necks, alright.
Now that Tatay's gone,
You are not only my brother, but also my son.

*Tinola - a Filipino dish of stewed meat and vegetables
**Nanay - Mother
***Lola - Grandma
****Tatay - Father

Last Supper for Juan Iremil Teodoro This could be our last supper together. Tomorrow we leave The Castle Your plane will take you to Palawan so you can watch your cashew orchard bear golden cups of your poetry, and mine will take me to Metro Manila where I shall wait every working day for my muse to wave outside my 16th floor office window. So we choose this chicken restaurant by Iloilo river, because the skewered chicken asses are ever so fat, and the oysters are big as our heads, and we have no care for cholesterol. The river is dark and still, and doesn't mean anything to us because our beach in Maybato is forever shimmering in mind. This is no time to talk deep secrets of diminishing water bodies. There is nothing else to talk about. This manly ritual of prying open the oyster shells, and plucking out the juicy flesh we performed noiselessly. The grease of chicken glisten in our lips; we smile knowing we shall not feast on this bank after a long time. Is this why we prefer solemnity? After tonight, we shall patiently scribble our pains to each other, and the only hand we can extend across the seas when one of us suffers is a leaf of words. We are witches of words we have used them like sorcery, casting spells to the unsuspecting, and conquering even the strong. But what do we do this time we are without them? Let's order another thigh of chicken. In feasting, we contain our grief.
Datu Lubay's Song "They were the first to master weaving, because Datu Lubay, who was effimiate, taught them." - Maragtas To pick cotton is a heavy task. In this field of women, I balance the weightless blossoms And the burden of my name. Later I will pack them Into balls of clouds, And spin them into thread - Actually endless stories. It is even more difficult To dye, hoping for perfect colors The scarlet of virgin hibiscus May look like spit of chewed beter-nuts. At the loom, I am bowed, Pushing, waiting for the coming out Of the soft flower of a scarf. Pride blooms in the garden of my face.

July, 1998

Alex C Delos Santos's Questions:

1. Does my use of a conversational, familiar tone in poems 1 & 2 approach poetic language?

2. Am I able to translate these very personal experiences into more universal themes that can be shared by the reader?

Thank you very much.

Alex C Delos Santos, Philippines

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The Albany Poetry Workshop