Poetry, like a toothache, was a pain in school. Like Fr. Steinbugler, S.J. handing out Ds in third year high to us who failed to compose a poem modeled, measure for measure, on Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”
Drudgery, too, in Freshman A.B., despite Fr. Harry Furay. I remember him saying that had his sister been named Helen, she’d be known as Helen Furay (Furay was pronounced with a silent A). Such welcome relief to boredom from the grind that was English Lit back then!
Not so with Tagalog. When I was a child, siesta time for me meant my Nanay Onor reading from the romantic novels of J. Fausto Galauran serialized in Bulaklak and Liwayway. While being lulled to sleep, I would remember how Tagalog sounded—elegant and mellifluous, musical and graceful.
Then one must add Malabon’s acerbic wit. My hometown, in this heart of Katagalugan, was the home of the “bansag,” the practice of nicknaming, really the art of mockery in jest, of pitching curve-balls at everyone who became fair game.
A whole clan was called “Bulabog” because an ancestor spoke too loudly; another was “Bapor,” in remembrance of a ship which an ancestor designed, and had no sooner been launched when it sank like a rock; or Mariang “Ganda,” whose face was pockmarked.
My own family’s lore must have also figured, drilled into my “kukote” with each scolding, calibrated to build up shame at having failed to measure up to my Lelong, my great-great-grandfather. He was the model for Rizal’s Pilosopong Tasyo, wisest of the wise, ugly, dark and cross-eyed.
He had married the town beauty whom townsfolk looked upon, admiring her from their window as she walked to church followed by Lelong, after which they exclaimed: “Inaku! Katapat ng langit nga naman ay pusali!” (Chew on that: Heaven, mired in a cesspool!)
Today, with every high tide that floods Malabon, its gentry is driven to settle elsewhere, leaving the town to migrant crews of fishing boats. Much of Malabon’s past is being lost, its unique patois and lore slipping slowly into the global flood tide.
Such loss can only be accelerated. Graduates must be proficient in English if they are to be employed in call centers, I.T. and BPO.
Sink or swim
Either we sink or we swim. So too will our soul. Our native language must retain its kilig factor for the young and become streetsmart, or it will fall into disuse. Should this mean propping up the Balagtasan with Taglish, Spanggalog, gayspeak, jolography, jeje and/or bekimon, well…why not?
So here goes a Shakespeare sonnet curveballed into straight-from-the-heart Po-Mo (post-modern, Oldies!).
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
(Palubóg na araw ang mata ni my-secret-shyotà;)
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:
(Pulá ng kanyang labì sa kurales ay dehado;)
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
(Kung putî man ang puto, suso niya’y kutsintâ;)
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
(Kung buhok ay alambre, yun na ngâ ang tumubò sa ulo.)
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
(Mga rosas na hinabi, kesyo white o red,)
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
(Hanggang ngayon sa pisngi niya’y hinahanap pa;)
And in some perfumes is there more delight
(Sa pabango’t kolonya kung ikaw ay ded-na-ded)
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
(Mas dedbol ka sa kanyang machorvang hininga.)
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
(Labs ko siyang magsalitâ, aynakú, subalit)
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
(Ka-boombox s’ya ng Raón na kalembang pa ng Quiapò;)
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
(Sabihing walang diyosang kung rumampa ay langit;)
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
(Ismagol pô ang kaladkád sa lupâ ng kalaguyò.)
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
(Itó, joskupô, ‘wag pang-asár ang ituring)
As any she belied with false compare.
(Sapagkat kukurót sa puso kong jologs, at sinungaling.)
The author was a banker all his professional life. Retired, at 67, he is reinventing himself as a poet, having won several Palancas in Tagalog poetry.