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?