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Lahar

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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.

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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.

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Written by thedoe

October 30, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Visiting Paco Park

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This is a revision. The first draft appeared in an older blog.

Various times, I have been motivated by wanderlust to go beyond ogling old buildings from within the confines of trains. In one occasion, a friend and I rode the train from EDSA to UN Avenue where we stepped off and looked for Paco Park using directions copied from Google Maps. The park turned out to be a very quick amble from the station. An archway greeted us at the entrance where a posted guard informed us that we had some thirty minutes to explore the place before the park closed at 5:30pm sharp. After paying a minimal fee in a small office to the right of the arch, we proceeded to make the best out of our half hour.

The park is enclosed in a thick circular stone wall. The passing of time and weathering had made the stone a rich habitat for moss and other fungal growth that mottled the wall as gray and black patches. From the inside, we noticed that arched niches had been bored into the thick stone. These looked like medieval ovens or overly large dovecotes. Round fluted column supports lined the wall in intervals. These also grouped the niches into sets of nine arranged in three columns and three rows. The first row from the top was only a few inches taller than I was, so it must have been a little over five feet. Some were empty and merely stored dusty darkness. Many others were sealed, and closer inspection revealed barely readable stenciled epitaphs. These declared their sleeping occupants to be the Spanish dead. The dates competed in age but I had been too hasty to note who trumped the rest in age.

Mossy steps led to a walkway on top of the outer wall. This we climbed. From there we spied a small church at the center of the courtyard enclosed within an inner wall. The chapel was octagonal, topped by a dome roof. Mosses and ferns grew wild in its nooks and crannies, even on the dome roof itself. It had an arched doorway flanked by four gray columns and two stained windows at either side. A low round fountain spouted water in front. It didn’t have the same mossy discoloration and so seemed to me recently installed. After having stared more than was deemed polite (for a wedding had been ongoing at the time), we decided to proceed on the walk way until a troupe practicing a dramatic performance below us caught our attention. We stood on the walk way observing them in their makeshift stage, until we were reminded of our limited time. We discovered that the walk way spanned the park’s circumference.

My friend had read in a blog that the national hero, Jose Rizal, had been buried there before he was finally interred at the Luneta and so like sleuths, we descended from the walk way and went in search for his tomb among the niches. We found a grave instead in the outer circle. It wasn’t difficult to find. A white metal fence about a foot high surrounded it. A white cross stood in the middle and a plaque anticipating our questions why the simple grave, why was he moved, and when. Our curiosity satisfied, we climbed back up the walk way and sat down on one of the small stone benches to transport ourselves in time with our imaginations. In my head, I peopled the park, then Paco Cemetery, with promenading Spanish mestizos and mestizas. I wonder though where they gazed at. Did they direct their eyes toward the inner courtyard toward the church, or did they look beyond the outer walls of Paco? If they did, what did they see?

Written by thedoe

October 21, 2013 at 2:25 am

Look what light can do

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It’s a Sunday afternoon, barely an hour or so before dusk, before night claimed the day for its own habits, its own forays. But already it is dark in my room because I am that sort of person who spends Sunday sitting without the lights on, in front of screens, in front of books, always reading. But I look away for a moment from the other world, to take stock of my surroundings, just to see how things are on this side of being.

I look and I see what light can do on the hour before dusk. Look at the light, golden yellow and streaming through the open window. But not glaring or powerful, soft in fact, grazing the curtain upon its entry into my room, falling finally on the floor where it casts the longest shadows. Look at what light can do, bringing the sense of what is past, the faded color of childhood pictures. Look at what light can do, teasing a smile from my lips, kindling a certain warmth for its unannounced visit.

Then it is gone. Night comes so quickly soon after.

Written by thedoe

September 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Foment

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CommuterNothing so mundane as lining up at the drugstore and drifting away, shifting out of focus, staring at nothing in particular, to grant respite to a mind all muddled into soup by the repetitiveness of a day job. I begin to understand what ekeing out a living means, begin feeling the discontent of a laborer, underpaid and overworked. For the first time feeling the burden of tax, the wracking doubts of job insecurity, hearing apprehensive murmurs about the late pay, the social security contributions that don’t get remitted, and underneath it all the growing alienation easily stirred into discontent by every little whisper of injustice, rumor or truth.

Written by thedoe

February 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Losing the Signified

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Sometimes with an incline of the head, one searches for a feeling, rifling the heart, hunting the book of our emotions for a word, a name that used to set the heart ablaze with longing and passion.

But it is no longer there, the word erased, wiped clean from the slate of affection. To no surprise. And no sadness. Make no mistake it is not forgotten. But this name whose tie to feeling is severed, is nothing more now but a stranger’s.
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Archiving this post here from the teacher blog. It is out of place there.

Written by thedoe

June 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Read This When Sadness Finds You

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I can’t even explain it and it is so strange. And though I can be angry and sad, also, seeing with unclouded eyes that the world is imperfect, that so many people are poor and suffering in my country and in other parts of the world, seeing that and knowing, too, how hateful human beings can be myself included, that someday I will die, that someday I might have to bury people who matter to me, despite these things right now at the core I am just happy. Lost and confused, and uncertain, and afraid but I am just very happy to be me. I am not that naive to think this will last forever. This feeling will probably go and dissipate, or be violently replaced by anger, or swallowed by restlessness, but recording this memory, of this being pleasantly contented with myself, I find happiness in the thought that I can return to the thought of this, and maybe by remembering from a point in the future, the shadow, rather, the warm glow of this ember of bliss can reach me then through the years.
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Also from the teacher blog. This is better kept here, among things of similar vein.

Written by thedoe

March 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Stop where you are, that’s where you need to be

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In the past two weeks, I have become this person who leans rather wearily on a cold metal bar of the MRT bound for home, to safety, to the semblance of family. I have become this person whom at the end of a long day looks forward to only one thing: slumping and disassembling myself from the taut and tight hold of my self control in order to melt on the bed and lose myself in my muddled dreams. Up the steep stairs of the stations I have to depart from and arrive at, I plod, dragging myself through the crowds, keeping aware enough to know where to wait for the jeepney, when to call it to a halt, which corner to take, how to open the gate.

I want to scream stop! to this person. Stop! Stop where you are! It’s okay to take it slow. It’s okay not to keep pace, even as all your friends and significant peers seem to have become adults overnight (or at least are getting there). It’s okay to get left behind. It’s okay not to participate in this. There’s no hurry. Figure things out. Have the courage to stand still and scan the panorama. What is it that you really want? What is worth living these days for? It’s okay to ask that, and be still. It’s okay, really. Today, tomorrow. It’s all the same. You have all the time to live.
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First appeared in Facebook

Written by thedoe

June 11, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Essaying

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