MANILA, Philippines – Memories of childhood, the unsettling monsoon season and the simple provincial life.
All these were joyously awakened in my mind as I read Rio Alma’s “Dust Devils: A Bilingual Selection of Poems on Youth” (Aklat Peskador, 2005).
Appearing in this collection are 30 poems by the National Artist for Literature, all in the vernacular, alongside their English translations by fellow award-winning poet Marne Kilates.
Kilates began with a prefatory note about being given the unusual job of translating the works of no less than an institution in Philippine poetry. Recall that Rio Alma is also known for pioneering the production of children’s stories written in the vernacular through his publishing enterprise, Adarna House.
Reading “Dust Devils” reminds one that there is a natural poet in every child, who is constantly in awe over the wonders of the world; and that the poet, too, is always a child, in every moment of journeying with wonderment for the world.
Alma vividly recounts, for one, the flustering images of whirlwinds in the monsoon in “In the Season of Thunder and Lightning” (as translated here by Kilates):
Do you remember the dust devils
That dance funnel-shaped
In June and July’s humid days?
And the thousand deadly centipedes
That crawled out of holes in a tantrum,
In the season of lightning and thunder?
In “Typhoons,” he tells of the perennial tempests that visit the land, as he finds himself waking with full amazement to be greeted by clear daylight with each new morning:
What power of sun vanquished
And expelled the armies of the night.
There is a clear remembrance of his mother’s untiring devotion to farm work, even in the wet season:
In dense darkness or frolic of lightning,
Mother would hurry to the rice field
In her mildewed work sleeves and worn leggings,
Head shielded by salakot against the countless rainy seasons.
Jovial recollections of his encounters with the natural world and its rich lessons also awaken a sense of reverence for mother earth. In “Every time I go to the sea,” he writes:
Every time I go to the sea,
It whispers to me the principle
Out of the toil of the breaking wave;
It washes off the stale grime of the city
And I am reborn.
He also recounts the gentle virtues of water in “Water is Smarter”:
Smart, clear-minded water
Flows humbly, with bowed head;
But it leaves richness in its wake
Before it joins the sea.
And there are hilarious memories of secretly climbing fruit trees with childhood friends in “When the Camachile Tree’s in Bloom”:
Remember when Ka Moreng
Caught us in his mango orchard?
Or when Galapong scourges us as we clung
Like geckos on the trunk of his duhat?
In “Dust Devils,” we are invited to awaken back to our inner child, that guileless original self filled with lightness, magic and unfettered imagination.
We are invited to revisit the child-self that he aptly describes in his last poem in the anthology, “In Celebration of Innocence”:
At night, he does not sleep. He grows wings,
Strong, swift wings that will take him
Beyond time and the world of rust and dust,
Into the empire of sacred and endless light.
And this journey on wings into the “empire of light” will go on for the child in the poet, and for the poet in the child. – Rappler.com