Maysa a Burburtia (A Riddle)
November 25, 2010, 9:25 pm
Filed under: essay, language | Tags: , , , , , ,

Uggor na ti lubong. Awan biag dagiti darikmat no saanda nga aglasat iti bitekna. Kas anniniwan ti agdaliasat nga aldaw no saanna nga marikna ti agek ti parbangon, arakup ti malem, no saanna a mangeg ti arasaas dagiti bituen, duayya ti rabii. Kaingingas ti papel dagiti sabong no saanna ida taliawen, no sanna nga aprosan ti sim-meda nga isemda, no saanna nga ikidem nga sul-uyen ti bangloda.

Uray dumanarudor dagiti bambantay no mariingda, awan kaipapanna no saanna nga madlaw ti sakit ti nakemda. Uray di agpatingga ti ririaw dagiti riniwriwriw a bulbulong ti kawayan awan makaawat kadagiti ananek-ekenda no saanna nga ipalubos ti kabagi-anna nga mangnga-asi.

Anianto payen no saan nga matokar ti maysa a timek ti bitekna, no saan nga agbaliw ti widawidna a kas awan mangmangegna, timek a mangal-allukoy, sam-it nga agayus iti sanguannanna. Agsawisiw ti angin, agsenna-ay dagiti pakak a metektkan nga agur-uray ti isungbatna.

Masangpetanna ti sabangan nga maang-san. No saanna a maikaso nga isang-at dagiti ladladingit daytoy, malnekanton nga agsansaning-i dagiti dalluyon . Nupay agguilap-guilap ti masipngetan a waig awan pategna no saan a maaawis dagiti bitekna ket babaen ti mata a mangmingming kadagiti darepdep dagiti bituen.

Iggemna ti napalabas. Agbibiag iti masukunsukot a silidna, silid nga awan ridiridaw. Petpetna ti agdama. Nalukay unay nga kumaradap daytoy kadagiti agsisillapid a dalan iti kaungganna, dagiti rinibribu a pagayusan ti rikna. Padpadaananna ti masanguanna, dagiti darepdep nga agam-ampayag nga ilillili ti bulan ket no saanna nga sippawen dagitoy, matnagda kas bato iti kumkumraang a kapanagan.

Awan masao a bukelna. Maysa laeng daytoy a kas prasko, awan nagyan, awan aglasat kaniana ket agbayag. Masapul nga bayat bitekna maiwerret dagiti pampanunot, rikriknaen, sasao, an-anek-ek, dardarepdep a bibiagen dagiti bituen.

Uggorna ti ayat. Ngem awan makatiliw, makapugto no ania ti kita daytoy, no ayanna ti nangitukelanna, ayanna ti pangsibsibuganna. Uray no kasano ti gagar dagiti agsisiim iti parbangon, wenno tengga’t aldaw, wenno iti panagkeppet ti langit a makatiliw ti daytoy kapatgan nga uggorna, a ti lubong ti kaibatoganna, mapaayda.

Mapaayda urayaman no pirpirsayenda. Uggorna ti lubong dagiti agayan-ayat, lubong nga ubbog ti biag, lubong a kadakdakkel wenno kabasbassit ti gemgem, ket kas gemgem awan matiliw, awan masirip a nagyan, kas rikna.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Alegria Imperial

Posted in 02/14/2010

“Papa,” the last time

His gaze lingers, unblinking, as if he were seeing me for the first time. I wonder if I don’t look grotesque in the closeness of an ambulance cab we have been packed into. And yet his eyes graze every spot I worked at concealing like a bug-shaped mole on my upper left cheek and a shallow dimple he couldn’t possibly find because I, too, am gazing down at him baffled, unsmiling.

His cheeks defined by sharp high bones like mine, now webbed with track lines of the years have been drained of anxiety—some perhaps his own of his younger years and mine of evenings he waited for me to come home. His lips held by a round chin like I have, a bit wide like a woman’s flaked—they always did from some kind of vitamin deficiency like mine—and slacked as if about to say something but stays mute.

The paramedic edges closer and leans towards me. He whispers, “Say something to keep his mind awake. His hearing is still sharp.” But his thoughts like mine could be drowning in the rhythmic rise and fall of the siren as the ambulance hurtles into space that for the first time do not pull us apart like they did when as a child his visits home seemed years away. 

What could I tell him now? “I love you” or words akin to it that we never did exchange? He did sign letters I received as a child, “Love,” answers to letters I scrawled that asked for dolls—he sent books instead, saying these were easier to find: the first ever on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” 

He worked in the city a whole evening away and schooled nights, too. I remember birthdays I waited for him to step off the only bus trip that got to our town—it did stop at our gate for the driver to drop off a parcel of golden delicious apples and walnuts and a greeting card every time all those years that I read only recently: “Darling Baby…” 

“Papa” was a word I could say properly accented in the last syllable the Spanish way my mother taught me. But as it was foreign to my friends who sat on their father’s lap whom they called by the native term not “Papa”, it was a mere idea for me—the absent arms that could have caught me when I fell from the stairs once and scraped my knees or whom I imagined brought home chico, a brown fruit I craved during my malarial delirium, the figure who should have pinned my ribbons in grade school when I attained first honors, and who could have led fans as I rode on the open top of a bedecked convertible being muse of our Senior Class. 

When chosen to represent our school in a regional secondary oratorical contest, he descended like Zeus into my existence—writing my piece, training me in elocution, whipping me with his serious stance as he listened to me recite every evening on our balcony to a phantom crowd. Like a sword dangling in the night sky instead of the moon, a gold medal he had aimed for me haunted the hours—my stomach churned acids that kept me in the bathroom retching every morning. His presence had turned so venomous that I refused to go to the competition if he stayed—in the battle of wills I won; he left on the eve of the contest. I got a silver medal. He wired a note and sent me my first gold wrist watch. 

By the time he could afford to bring my mother and sister over to the city and we lived as a family, I had started working in the publications office of a university. He critiqued any piece I wrote—I faced every blank page terrorized by standards he pointed out in books he shoved at the dinner table. I broke down one evening tossing out the books, raging at his indifference to the child he doesn’t know for whom he wasn’t present ever. He had cried, quivering as he is now. 

“What’s happening?“ I rasp. The paramedic whispers, “a slight convulsion, don’t worry. We have it under control. Hold his hand.” I take his left hand in mine. 

It is the first time our hands clasp—his feels so fragile, so light like butterfly wings. I am tempted to squeeze it, to drain that power he had so held me in rein but the hand fluttered like a fallen wing. 

Is that a blink of one of his eyes? “No,” the paramedic tells me, “just muscle contraction.” The gaze continues to lie on my brow. 

What could be missing that he seems to search beyond me? I realize I don’t have time to ruminate, as he would call indulging in thought. With words, alien words, English words were how he kept me as a child clasped to his without being there, without being present.    

Discombobulate, was another word he loved. When he tore up tangled phrases and sentences I wrote, he hammered the rules of clarity. Work on language that paints pictures, he later added, as he earmarked pages of books on the craft of fiction writing. By then, my writing had turned murky—I had fallen in love and my emotions kept me etherized. But love was a word that he never talked about. 

The sirens wind down to a whine. “Papa,” I hear my voice and it sounds like a child’s. He blinks again and is that an attempt to squeeze my hand? The cab doors fling open. Paramedics push out the gurney and I let go of his hand. His gaze moves to the sky. Out on the hospital lobby, a river of moving legs seems to flow ever away, bringing my father.

It has been two decades since and here I am writing the way he would have loved, present in each moment that I craft words.

Copyright © 2010 by Alegria Imperial

Published in Timeless Spirit Magazine Vol. 7, Issue #4, May 2010

Pilipino (or Iluko) for willow tree, anyone?
March 20, 2010, 7:42 pm
Filed under: essay, language | Tags: , , , , ,


I took a break from the haiku that I usually post in and wrote this reply to someone who got to the site searching for the word willow in Pilipino.
I don’t think we have one like we don’t have a Pilipino word for snow–we call it yelo (hielo), which means ice in Spanish (Pilipino and some other Filipino dialects have a lot of Spanish words, understandably imprints of 300 years of colonization). Kaskas yelo is how Filipinos look at fresh-driven snow the first time as they scoop it to taste, recalling or wishing for a glass of halo-halo in hand.

Citing the absence of Pilipino (or Iluko) words for willow tree and snow demonstrates how language is deeply entrenched in culture: the totality of one’s being layered over by influences of earth, air, water, living things, language whispered, sang, murmured, chanted, stated, shouted, screamed, written for one to read under fluorescent light, Coleman light-flood, moonlight, candle light–how we whine and laugh and cuddle up wordless or word-full, with what flowers we offer our sighs, what trees we carve arrow-pierced hearts, from what looming shadows we scamper away, what wings we shoot down, from what edges of cliffs we plunge off to get to our dreams.

Borrowed language, borrowed tongues often entangle the mind. Take how words to describe autumn turn into phantom leaves in tropical groves narra trees crown and how the red and gold in song that trail sorrow are mimed on plastered walls in made-up nooks while out on a window in constant blaze, a row of arboles de fuego (fire trees).

In languages like mine born of life, a borrowed word–just one, say cry or sob–fails to bring out how anug-og in Iluko (the dialect I was born with of the 87, one of which is Tagalog out of which Pilipino is derived) pictures a bent figure broken in grief, shaking with spasms of pain, sobbing an animal cry that escapes from the depth of caves. Iyak in Pilipino (Tagalog) is less descriptive in my mind because it is a dialect I learned not one I was born with.

Dung-aw, simply translates as lament in English but in Iluko, unravels a dirge a man or a woman unleashes during a wake. An Ilokano says dung-aw and instantly pictures how a woman or man, not necessarily a kin of the deceased but known to the family (who isn’t family in a neighborhood or town, even, anyway?) veiled in black sadness has wrinkled, creeps to the dead, kneels and beating breasts, relates a life story now a dirge on the footmarks which those attending the wake follow in sorrowful steps, sniffling, but some chuckling, too, with humor thrown in–what life is ever without it?

Or saning-i, one of my favorite words, portrays someone–usually a woman in a dark corner splayed on the basar (suelo in Tagalog, floor in English), propped by a teddek (wooden post), the neckline of her dress naka-tallay (off shoulder in a careless way), the hem of her dress, nakayamukom (gathered)—deeply hurt, flayed in spirit, melting in helplessness, too enfeebled to even scream or sob, simply shaking with sorrow in what sounds like staccato coughing broken by wet sniffles. Saning-i is also the cry of a child suffering from chronic hunger pain as in children whipped into living skeletons due to kwashiorkor, or a baby burning with fever.

My sister came home once with news of how her boss shared the first laughter of his daughter on the speaker of his cell phone. The baby gurgled and laughed. Garakgak instantly came to my sister’s mind but could she tell her boss how garakgak actually describes the sound that thrilled him—how it describes how the baby’s laughter first cracks like a branch and screeches before it bursts into short squeals? Garakgak even illustrates how the mouth opens to let off three syllables coming off the cave of the mouth, hurtling from the base of the tongue. The baby must be half-bending from the stomach if she were standing or half-curled with legs up flailing if in bed that the Iluko word also pictures.

Language is as mysterious as the spirit, indeed.

Yes, I recall willow trees during Imelda Marcos’ time (said to have given orders to plant them) along a highway that beribboned a short stretch the buses to Bacarra, my hometown, pass through in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. (In pre-colonial times, according to notes on history, willow trees from Asia possibly brought by Chinese traders grew along river banks in some Philippine towns. These possibly exist to this day.) I named them but they didn’t seem to root in my spirit. When I came to North America and have walked by them through the four seasons, their name, willow, took on a breath and began to weave into my being, my writings as in one of my sequences published in The Cortland Review, Issue 39, May 2008 (New York, USA) and the haiku pieces I had posted at jornales.

No, dear friend who’s asking if there is a translation of willow tree in Pilipino, there’s none I’m aware of because unlike guijo, narra, bayabas (bayawas), algarrubo (acacia), mangga or lomboy (duhat) that spread luxuriantly under perpetual summer skies, a willow tree grows under other skies, skies that turn crystal blue in freezing winter against which weeping willow branches turn into a bundle of women whose dried thin hair hang like those of witches under the moon. None of our trees have looked as sinister—under Philippine skies that stars perforate, crowns of mangoes and some other trees sparkle. No, nothing that does not belong can be a match, can be translated.

Also posted  in its shorter version at

Copyright (c) by Alegria Imperial