THE OCCASIONAL POEM FOR A GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
So Silliman University's National Writers' Workshop turns 50! Fabulous (do check out that useful link of a column by Manong Krip Yuson who often makes me snort or raise an eyebrow) -- this is the workshop originally patterned after Iowa's and founded by my mother's thesis advisors, poet Edith Tiempo and fictionist Edilberto Tiempo. As part of the celebrations, Ian Rosales Casocot and Joel Salud are working on a special literary section in the Philippine Graphic Magazine devoted to this historic anniversary. And as part of such, they solicited me for a poem about the workshop and/or the Tiempos, both since heralded as Philippine National Literary Artists.
Well, as I told Ian, I usually suck at so-called "occasional poems." But their solicitation, for whatever reason, surfaced a poem below (which also gives an update to some of you following my Mom's health). First, a nice photo of writers:
PAPA ED & MAMA EDITH
She still astonishes—
Eighty-one-years old, cancer
surgery scheduled for next week—
she still amazes with her robust
laugh flirtatious as she never was
as a young colegiala in Silliman.
Yesterday, she asked me to unpack
the garbage bag, already tied tight
with cat poop binding together
what once were separate pieces of debris.
My fingers twitching in recoil, I
asked again, “What did you trash?”
“My sewing kit,” she confessed, though
with that laugh she always strains out
in incidents like these (almost daily now)
as a plea that I agree: This is funny!
Strained, I, too, acted and snorted—I have learned
to snort to give tonal variety to amusement—
my mother is not unusual. My mother
is simply old and it is my job to laugh
with her—to scoff over!—mortality.
I laughed louder when I turned towards
the garbage can, a movement that revealed
the image of her sewing kit on a nearby counter.
“Mom,” I pointed. “No need. There it is!”
Swiftly—to prevent her ruminations over “losing
brains”—I added, “What are you mending today?”
As she stitches back a skirt’s unraveled hem,
she begins to share a certain memory
not for the first time—perhaps the 50th time!
She is back at Silliman University giggling
with other female classmates and their teacher
Mrs. Edith Tiempo. They are discussing a new
paperback. She forgets which one—nor does
it really matter—was encouraging another one
to finish so the rest could borrow the read
that fleshes out the cover image of a handsome
muscular man embracing a slim brunette
that one of them judged as “But, not so pretty!”
Then comes the much savored punchline! Their
teacher’s dignified husband walking by and snorting
loudly (more robustly, no doubt, than I can yet
muster): “I would not be caught dead reading
that garbage!” Snort again with a raised eyebrow.
I can’t share what snacks were shared, how
the weather behaved, whether it was morning,
noon or evening, if someone in the group had
a cold—my mother, who still reads 2-3 books daily,
can only remember the fictionist-turned-critic’s
disapproval and his poet-wife’s gentle Never mind
him! as the hour further dissolved into giggles.
Short-term memory is a temporary activation
of neural connections that can store incidents
for less than a minute; age dilutes the strength
of such electrical circuitry. Long-term memory,
however, is biologic: short-term memories become
long-term through continued recall and associations
that change the physical structure of neurons.
As my mother’s body succumbed to diabetes,
heart disease, cataract surgeries and, now, cancer
she talks more and more about her youthful
days, no longer trusting a more recent reality
she cannot capture into reliable memory.
These are her days of grace, when she
focuses mostly on what she loves,
what gives joy. She chooses what she
must continually recall in order to preserve—
Thus the least I can do is offer a poem to
to say, I continue to hear about you all
an ocean away. I am pleased to report
that, recently, my mother read Marcus Aurelius,
The Bible, and, yes, various bodice-ripping
novels. Each finished romance usually
elicits the memory of her thesis advisors
who taught “Life Through Literature” punctuated
by Mr. Tiempo’s eyebrow. For these treasured
memories that enable my mother to laugh
at death, I say, “Thank you.” This daughter says
Agyamanac Unay. Dios Ti Agngina.
Postscript: I've long known Moi poetry Muses to have a sick sense of humor. To wit, Missy Scarlet would like to say that she is pleased to have helped inspire a poem. Because, she insists, everything about her is precious, even her, uh, fecal matter. Meow and Purrrrrrrr....