Verse Exercises

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In childhood I saw the ash of disaster. Many years later, I would trek these canyons as a vacationing college student. I would walk on the ash canyons of lahar as a tourist of what was once disaster.These gray-white canyons were once called lahar that overran the plains of Pampanga, households, cities, and flooded mostly the television at hometucked safely away from the eruption of a long dormant volcano by miles and miles of sea. For a brief moment in history, Pampanga was the Philippines.

The tons of ash Mt. Pinatubo spewed into the air were said to have scattered across the globe riding on the back of trade winds, and stayed suspended in the sky for months, blocking sunlight. If the flecks of dirty-white ash, the only snow I’ve ever known since they fell gingerly on the dark asphalt streets of my hometown, had stayed there with the clouds for a year, how much vegetation would have died? Had it stayed there long enough and made us, too, victims of disaster, then perhaps even the world would remember 1991. Lahar might even make its way into the dictionary, and we’d put it up on our collective national shelf next to boondocks as proud evidence of our growing contribution to the internationalization of the English language.

The ash fall lasted only about three days in the town where I grew up, far away down south as we were, but strangely the memory of it lingers even now, and when you mention it people nod as if they have remembered something sad. Was it the eeriness of it that stamped the Mt. Pinatubo eruption into collective memory? The surreal sight of ash falling by the heaps on our roads, telling us that somewhere far something was burning, being devoured by the licking flames of the earth. Or was it the news report, of the star-spangled banner retreating down fast from the pulley on the pole, and the hey-Joe’s scampering into their jeeps, abandoning their military bases instead of shooting our people for game, that etched this into memory. Not disaster after all but finally deux ex machina in our people’s history. Who can say? I only know that year we gave away many white gifts, as we did for other tragedies, none of which I can name, or even faintly remember.


An earlier version, not much different, was first submitted as a creative non-fiction writing assignment on 17 Feb 2009. This is part of Triggers, a collection of writing born from images.


Written by thedoe

October 30, 2013 at 7:47 pm

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