Frank will have to forgive me, his poem was too beautiful not to re-post outside Facebook. The man is brilliant, to put things bluntly.
I never met Nick Joaquin, but in my mind - Frank is one of the few people I keep up there, in my mind's hierarchy of modern literary genius in the Philippines. He's also one of the best journalists I've met in the business -- even if he never joined a wire agency or moved to a foreign country.
It was never his style.
Even if he writes for one of the best dailies in the Philippines (and in Southeast Asia -- trust me), the man is someone hard to keep track of. He comes and goes as he pleases, and refuses to be tied down to an office where he has to lead a Dilbert sort of life.
I know he could have just followed the traditional path of becoming an editor in an international news agency if he wanted to. But while it works for the rest of us, he's just not the type -- and this is exactly why I have such high regard for this man's work.
For his mother's birthday Frank wrote this beautiful and touching poem I can only dream of being capable of replicating someday. Enjoy!
By Frank Cimatu
The only time my mother sold something in the market
Was before the war.
Six years old in an Ilocos town
Clutching her mother’s saya
As she held a bouquet of squash flowers.
Ilocanos are a thrifty lot.
They want their flowers edible.
They refuse to buy anything they can grow themselves.
So my mother would smile sweetly
To draw out the Catholic guilt of the buyers.
Her father was a wara boy in Hawaii then,
Bringing water for his fellow Ilocano sugarcane workers
During the lull of the remittances,
His family sold in the market.
Ilocanos are a thrifty lot
They refuse to buy anything they can grow themselves
So my grandmother sold those wild plants called the papait.
It is so bitter bitter gourd tastes like white gourd after it
It is so bitter water becomes so sweet.
This is what the Ilocanos crave for in papait:
Suffering to make the ordinary sugary;
Like my grandfather who was the least paid
But the most popular among the sacadas
Because he brought the sweet water.
He came home but died right after the war.
My mother came to the city after the wedding
And bought papait whenever she can
To remind herself of her flowerselling days
But more so to impose on us
The “suffering for sugar” sermon.
Forcefeeding vegetables was one thing;
Pure bitterness is another.
She would order an elder sister to watch over me
Because it would often take an hour
And another hour of nagging
With the untouched papait salad left on the table of guilt.
Finally when I was nine, without prodding
I ate the papait out of rebellion.
It was so bitter my tears tasted so sweet.
I finally won the battle for bitterness that day.
My mother’s too old to hunt for papait in the city market
And there’s no “in the wild” in Ilocos now.
All the water are bottled;
All trying to be as tasteless as possible.
Or maybe bitterness has crept all over the land.
I shouldn’t have eaten the papait
To keep my running battle with mother.
I have been nagging her lately
To tell me more stories of her childhood
But her memory is flowing like syrup.
A week ago, I ordered squash flower tempura
As expensive as five large squash in the market.
Ilocanos are a thrifty lot but I have to do this
For the way the fragrant petals crumbled on my tongue
Is the only way I can buy back
The smile of a six-year-old girl
That was my mother.