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Lament of a Retired Tutor

Updated

I can see the lightning

strike the steel bars of the kitchen window.

It’s nice to know

the rains have come down, the frogs will bring

the almanac of fruits and rice

to steer me through another year.

As the light dims and flares I can hear

my knife cutting through the red tomato.

The piglet wallows in the backyard.

My books are tied and kept in the closet,

no more vexed problems of verbs and conjunctions

to resolve to show you are wise.

Some prized compositions of my students

to amuse me when doing things gets

tangled with nostalgia, with the scent

of your hair like the first bloom of white roses.

When you left you stopped

by the village gate and looked back at my house.

I wanted to join you and show you the ferns

and birds along the way, tell you their names

and what they eat, but your horse was trained

for a long journey and mine was meant for the farms.

Besides, what was left for us to speak about?

I dug a new well by the back door

where you had said it would be safe from insects

and falling leaves, and prepared the earth for the onions.

But I don’t like working with my hands,

giving the weather a way into my thoughts.

Where the wooden fence connects

with the side of the house I have a rock carved

into a chair. Here I reflect on what time has brought

for me, an old man with many cares

I fill a notebook with poems

but every time I see your face on the page

my fingers stiffen, what I want to say

escapes behind a cloud of doubt.

That might as well be. The wage

of my pride is a patch of vegetables and a cow—

nothing to show by way

of scholarship a high office to impress your friends.

I set aside for now

the fish at the bottom of the pan. I add

the potato, the cabbage and the green pepper,

a little salt and they’re ready to boil.

I watch the stove fire burn and feel sad

for willows in the wind and petals on the soil

while I can have your letters

to warm me through the night.

Yet those also will fail me, the broken endearments

and the date scratched out the calendar—

how easily without a fight

you fled from me, all your frail wonderments

turned to a stony star.

I wish I could have a word with you

but everything would be untrue

by way of love or hate.

I place the fish onto my plate.

Later, I will listen to my heartbeat.

God, what is this world that I should be born in it?

—Cirilo F. Bautista,

National Artist for Literature and former Panorama columnist (“Breaking Signs”)

I wanted to join you and show you the ferns and birds along the way, tell you their names and what they eat, but your horse was trained for a long journey and mine was meant for the farms. Besides, what was left for us to speak about?

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