As the rainy season sets in and chilly nights become the norm, I offer you stories and poems in Filipino that tackle the theme of fear in quite different ways.
One is a collection of dark stories by a young but prolific writer in Filipino literature, and the other is the body of work of a poet who lived and died by her beliefs, passing away in the prime of her life.
Bayan ng Mga Bangkay
Chuckberry J. Pascual’s latest book offers his own take on horror as seen through a queer perspective that immediately foregrounds this book as a significant contribution to that genre and also to queer literature.
Pascual, who teaches creative writing at the University of Santo Tomas, writes in the book’s introduction that these ten tales were inspired by the spate of extra-judicial killings that occurred in recent years – “nang magsimulang lumitaw ang mga bangkay sa kalsada – nakabalot ng masking tape, natatakpan ng karton o diyaryo sa mukha [when corpses started appearing on the streets – wrapped in masking tape, cardboard or newspaper covering their faces].”
While he admits being uncomfortable with the topic of death, he stopped avoiding it in order to confront and make sense of the increasing levels of violence in society, and the impunity with which murders are committed. “Walang galang sa búhay, walang galang sa iniwang katawan ng kapwa, walang galang sa mga naiwan ng kapwa,” he writes. [With no respect for life, no respect for the body left behind by kapwa, with no respect for those left behind by the kapwa.] I deliberately choose not to translate the word ‘kapwa’ so that Pascual’s meaning will hit closer to the heart.
“Sasaeng” is a Korean term that refers to fans’ intrusion into the private lives of celebrities, sometimes to the point of obsessiveness. In the eponymous story, Jed uses a dating app to while away the time while job-hunting. He meets Nathan, who like himself is a fan of a certain Korean girl group. They meet up in Nathan’s room, which is almost a shrine to their idols. Nathan must really love the group, Jed thinks – until he finds out something that causes him to take a different view of the entire situation.
In “Matandang Binata,” Rhey, an elderly gay man, is taken in by his nephew Roel, who has kindly committed to taking care of his uncle in his old age. Rhey cooks, washes, and generally makes himself useful. Yet even as he tries to show his gratitude to his nephew’s family by keeping on his toes, he can’t help but indulge in behavior that others may think – is somewhat odd. In between each action of Rhey’s, we are shown his memories of his late partner Dee. How these all figure into the mind-shattering ending is a surprise for the reader.
The stories in this volume are not only Pascual’s exploration of the genre, but his efforts at coming to terms with important issues by examining their shadow side. As queer lit, horror fiction, and social commentary, this book stands out as a distinctive and imaginative contribution to the public discourse and as a statement of the writer’s role in shaping and changing society.
Sa Aking Henerasyon
Activist and revolutionary Kerima Tariman died a little over a year ago in an encounter between the New People’s Army and the Philippine military in Silay City, Negros Occidental.
She was a poet, journalist, and writer, and growing up enjoyed the world’s best music and literature, partly owing to the influence of her father, cultural writer Pablo Tariman. But Kerima devoted part of her life to armed struggle, and out of her experiences and strong convictions wrote a body of poetry that is hailed as a significant contribution to leftist and feminist literature.
The volume contains Kerima’s works over the years as well as the poems of others translated from other languages – among them those of Salditos, Szymborska, Lacaba, Buenafe. Written in Tagalog (she also wrote in Visayan and Ilocano), many of her verses are unflinchingly political while others are musings on shared human experiences. Most of them detail plainly, without sugarcoating or obfuscation, the reality of daily life for the poor and marginalized in rural and agricultural areas and her belief in the worthiness of her cause.
In “Peligroso,” she acknowledges that her choices cause pain and worry for her loved ones – “Nangangamba ang mga kamag-anak at kaibigan, // Dahil rebolusyon ang landas na pinili ng mahal.” [Friends and family are worried // because the beloved chose the path of revolution.]
The poem goes on to list the opportunities she ‘wasted,’ recriminations that Kerima likely heard all her life – “Sayang ang talino, na kung natapos lang ng kolehiyo // Disinsana ngayon ay doktor na o abogado.” [What a waste of intelligence, if only she’d finished college // then she would have been a doctor or lawyer.]
But the poet, almost joyfully, accepts the destiny she has chosen for herself – “Huwag mag-aalala, bagkus gawin lahat ng makakaya // Upang sumanib at sumalig sa lakas ng masa.” [Do not worry, but rather do all that can be done, to join in and rely on the strength of the masses.]
This book is a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of a feminist activist, one with the mastery of words to ably convey her passion for the cause she embraced and died for. In his foreword to the book, Kerima’s father Pablo writes: “Well, we lived and breathed poetry. She [happened] to be the better poet and a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.”
Bayan ng mga Bangkay
By Chuckberry J. Pascual
2022, 260 pgs, pb, UP Press
Sa Aking Henerasyon: Mga Tula at Saling-Tula
By Kerima Lorena Tariman
2022, 390 pgs, pb, Gantala Press
Dr. Ortuoste teaches communication and creative writing. She is a board member of the Philippine Center of International PEN and a member of the Manila Critics Circle that organizes the National Book Awards. You may reach the author via Facebook and Twitter: @DrJennyO