“Today’s a perfect day for a watermelon,” she thought as she fished for a slice from the cellophane packaging and broke off a chunk. She took a bite, red liquid dripping on her chin, and stared at the remaining piece in her hand. “If I were a watermelon, I’d be round. Red inside. And juicy.”
It was a “fortuitous happenstance” that you were at the mall a few weeks ago. You were planning to watch a movie with your friends and you were looking at the movie posters when I spotted you. I couldn’t recall the movies that were showing then but I do recall they were mostly crap.
You brought a book with you to pass time: The Zombie Survival Guide. I asked if you were preparing for a zombie apocalypse and you laughed. You said a friend gave you the book and you found it entertaining.
We talked about med school and how you wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I told you I couldn’t imagine your sausage-y fingers fiddling on someone’s brain.
Then your friends came and you had to go to buy tickets. I invited you to drop by at church if you have time. Sure, you said.
I didn’t know which movie you and your friends picked.
I didn’t realize that would be the last time I’d see you.
You will be missed…
The summer breeze stirs them
into a dervish —
this crowd of dancers
without faces and without names.
They leap at the command
of our footsteps, and pirouette
at the turning of tires
recounting civilization’s strides.
Their collective memory holds
what has been, what is,
and what will be.
And we inhale them
into our lungs, where they occupy
the passages pilling heavy
and sticky like the years,
with their stories
and their dance.
For when everything has come to pass,
all shall return to them — to dust.
They could not grasp the enormity of the task. Perhaps all they imagined was some scrubbing here, some dusting there but most of it, in fact, involved tchotchkes and thingamajigs that have accumulated through time. Each piece of junk had a story to tell, some of those stories weren’t even mine, but whatever story they told, I had to let them go.
China and cutlery: they had to go.
Oven toasters in disrepair: they had to go.
Fragments of chores in suspended progress: they had to go.
Receipts, scraps of paper and their secrets: they had to go.
There is something cathartic about housecleaning. I am not talking about the daily effort of keeping things tidy but the kind that happens once in a few months, or years, when you resolve to get your hands dirty by sorting through stuff and scouring every nook, every cranny of the house. I feel as if something in me has been purged in the process, some excess passion or some emotional tension. I feel as if I have moved on, but from disorder to order aside, from what? And to where?
I gathered the trash in bags and a truck transported them to some landfill where some will be salvaged and given new life to tell a new story but probably in a different form: the fork becomes a can opener; the oven toaster, a paperweight; the receipt, the mechanism inside an iPhone. Some will ascend into a state of non-form and then into non-existence. While the others will persist through centuries, and their stories become anonynomous memories of a faraway past.
Mutindog ko sa hawan nga lugar,
sa tunga sa dalan,
ug hulaton ko
ang paglabay sa hangin.
Bantayan nako kung asa
asa muki-ay ang mga sanga;
asa musayaw ang mga dahon,
papel-papel ug plastic
Dayon inig abot
nga mapalid ko
ngadto sa lain-lain
nga mga dapit,
lapas pa sa syudad
ug sa mga lugar
nga akong naadtuan.
Ug imong masundan
sa Twitter account sa PAG-ASA
kung asa nako dapita:
Ala una sa hapon,
sa kasadpan sa Cagayan de Oro.
sa habagatan sa Tagbilaran
Alas kwatro y media,
sa habagatang-sidlakan sa Dumaguete.
sa habagatang-kasadpan sa Iloilo.
Ugma, ngadto na sa Palawan,
ug ugmang gabii,
mubiya na sa Pinas.
Kung dili na nimo mabalitaan
ang akong lokasyon,
sa kana nga panahon,
siguro ang bagyo
nga akong gisakyan, nikutat na
ug ako, nialibwag
kuyog sa hangin.
Busa, kung hangin ang adlaw,
adto sa hawan nga lugar,
sa tunga sa dalan,
ang akong pagbalik.
I have around six weeks to finish reading all the books that I bought this year. When the year ends, I want to be able to look back and say that as far as reading goes, I have been productive.
Early this year, I bought a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation). I have read a significant portion of the book but due to other hobbies demanding attention, or to life interrupting, I haven’t finished reading it even until now.
Last month, I bought Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, one of the books I’ve been planning to read for ages, and started reading it despite the unfinished Anna Karenina but then a few weeks ago, I bought another book, Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. I found it an easy and enticing read. I was able to finish it in a matter of days.
If on a winter’s night a traveler is a metafiction, a story about stories. It begins with a Reader getting a defective copy of a novel (it only contains the first chapter, thus, he is unable to finish it). This sets off a perplexing series of events where the Reader ends up with only the incipits, the beginnings, of nine other stories.
Just like the protagonist, some readers of If on winter’s night… might find themselves vexed, or worse, disappointed that Calvino furnishes them with story upon story but never resolving them. But I guess that’s the point. One of the readers the protagonist encounters at the library asks, “Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end?” He explains that stories of old either have two types of endings: a happily-ever-after ending or an ending in which the Hero and Heroine dies. The first ending speaks of the continuity of life, the second speaks of the finality of death. After pondering upon this, the protagonist realizes that the story wasn’t about the traveler he encountered in the first incipit nor of the other characters from the other incipits. He realizes that all along the story was about him, that he is the protagonist of his own story.
But wait, there’s more! According to Calvino, we read stories in order to escape the real world, being “at the mercy of the fortuitous, the aleatory, the random, in things and in human actions”. In stories, the variables have already been defined — an event sets the plot in motion eventually leading to a climax and finally to a denoument where all the threads are tied and matters are resolved. With real life, however, most of the variables are undefined. In fact, we worry about the future precisely because it is uncertain. Since the stories in If on winter’s night… are unresolved, it creates a sense of uneasiness because rather than allowing us to forget, it instead reminds us of the unknowable that is so prevalent in the real world.
Also, the frame narrative of If on a winter’s night… is written in the second-person perspective. At the beginning of the book, Calvino addresses the actual reader although as we continue with the story, we blend further and further into the role of the protagonist/reader-in-the-story. However, the constant use of the pronoun “you” somehow continues to remind us that we are that character. If the protagonist had an epiphany that he is a character of his own story, then we too are chracters of our own stories. Thus, If on a winter’s night… is not just ten stories, it is a collection of twelve stories: the ten incipits, that of the protagonist, and our own. The incipits remain unresolved, the protagonist’s has a sense of an ending, and our own stories continue long after we finish reading the book. Brilliant!
I haven’t written anything in a long while apart from the sporadic poetry. Oftentimes, I would set out to write but I would find myself wanting of a topic. And even when a topic comes to mind, whenever I begin to spin it into words, I would find the words trite and I would discard what I have written.
I logged into my old WordPress blog and read some of the entries. I wrote about a lot of things… about what I learned, about what I felt, about what I experienced. Could it be, that in the present, I am learning less, feeling less, experiencing less, thus the diminished impetus to write?
Or could it be that I am simply distracted? By technology, for instance. When an idea comes, instead of allowing it to flourish, I would truncate it into a mere 140 characters or so because something else has caught my attention.
Rilke advised that the aspiring writer should ask himself if he must write. Must I write? I think I found the answer in a poem by Charles Bukowski that I stumbled upon recently. Here’s an excerpt:
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
Bukowksi then summed it beautifully:
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
my heart —
darting across rooftops
and leaping over
the gaps between
shops and houses
to the tempo
Like an equatorial summer’s day,
the air rises, visible, a cellophane apparition
screening the houses that encrust
the distant hills as if barnacles.
He stands, framing this vista
with his torso, white, like the margins
of a Polaroid, nary a scribble on it,
no record of when’s and where’s
nor any maudlin remarks, stark,
like my quietness, and the man in it.
He is transparent.
* title taken from Frank O’ Hara’s In Memory of My Feelings