Open Letters to Filipino Artists
By Emman Lacaba
“A poet must also learn how to lead an attack.”
—Ho Chi Minh
Invisible the mountain routes to strangers:
For rushing toes an inch-wide strip on boulders
And for the hand that’s free a twig to grasp,
Or else headlong fall below to rocks
And waterfalls of death so instant that
Too soon they’re red with skulls of carabaos.
But patient guides and teachers are the masses:
Of forty mountains and a hundred rivers;
Of plowing, planting, weeding and the harvest;
And of a dozen dialects that dwarf
This foreign tongue we write each other in
Who must transcend our bourgeois origins.
1 Mayo 1975
You want to know, companions of my youth,
How much has changed the wild but shy poet
Forever writing last poem after last poem;
You hear he’s dark as earth, barefoot,
A turban round his head, a bolo at his side,
His ballpen blown up to a long-barreled gun:
Deeper still the struggling change inside.
Like husks of coconuts he tears away
The billion layers of his selfishness.
Or learns to cage his longing like the bird
Of legend, fire, and a song within his chest.
Now of consequence is his anemia
From lack of sleep: no longer for Bohemia,
The lumpen culturati, but for the people, yes.
He mixes metaphors but values more
A holographic and geometric memory
For mountains: not because they are there
But because the masses are there where
Routes are jigsaw puzzles he must piece together.
Though he has been called a brown Rimbaud,
He is not bandit but a people’s warrior.
South Cotabato; Davao del Norte
We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.
We are homeless and all homes are ours.
We are nameless and all names are ours.
To the fascists we are the faceless enemy
Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:
The ever-moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.
The road less travelled by we’ve taken—
And that has made all the difference:
The barefoot army of the wilderness
We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are Messiah.
Here among workers and peasants our lost
Generation has found its true, its only, home.
Davao del Norte