Faith, it is said, is only known after it is sorely tested. It is in the ordinary and everyday experiences of this nation of sore tests that Louie Jon Sanchez couches his latest volume of poetry, “Siwang sa Pinto ng Tabernakulo” (Librong LIRA, 2020).
This slim volume of verse brings the reader down to the level of Ordinary Juan and his trials and tribulations—riding a congested train at the end of a workday, attempting to fit wages to needs, taking in the news of efforts to lower the age of criminal responsibility, finishing a degree—and weaves these small, but not insignificant, quotidian things into poetry.
There is a spareness to Sanchez’s use of Filipino that appeals, and makes his work accessible to the same people from whom the inspiration for this book seems to be drawn. His rhythm in this book is the rhythm of trains running across cities, counterpointed by the sharp delivery of broadcast news. There is the staccato of construction workers’ hammers toiling into the ebbing of daylight, and the slow drip of sweat from workers’ brows.
The struggle to feel the spark of the divine is part of the human condition—and well we know it from Dante Alighieri’s “Purgatorio.” So, too, does Sanchez render the search for the divine in “Siwang sa Pinto ng Tabernakulo,” literally, the cracked-open tabernacle door, behind which the holy host of the Eucharist rests before Mass.
The poetry appeals for its lack of hubris, but may, at times, push the card of divinity-seeking to the edge of the page. In the latter, one sees the apt metaphor for just how far the Ordinary Juan has to push, just to get through the day with body still joined to soul.
Weariness and relief
From the poem “Pasasalamat,” Sanchez draws out the intermingled weariness and relief of finishing a postgraduate degree: “Ang pagkakasakit sa pagtuldok ng disertasyon,/ Makapagmartsa lang sa pagtatapos.// Tatlong taong pag-ibig na kinailangang/ Palayain upang matagpuan ang inaapuhap. (Falling ill puts a period to the dissertation,/ Just so one can march in completion.//Three years of love that needed/ To be set free to attain what one seeks to grasp).”
Sanchez makes use of simple devices for the structures, internal rhymes and forms that, when juxtaposed against the exacting correctness of his use of the kudlit to mark meaning and pronunciation, offer us insight into the paradox of simplicity and deep nuances that characterize the everyday Filipino in all his walks of life.
The poem “Ngalan (Name)” ends on four lines that sum up the self-reliance necessary for life in the Philippines: “At sabay naisakamay ang pakahulugan,/ Wala nang anumang pagtatakda ang matutupad,// Kahit lantay ang aruga. Kailangang maalwang tanggapin/ Na nagsimula ang iyong lakbay patungong sarili. (And at the same time hold in hand the meaning,/ There is nothing set that will come to pass,// Even if the care is withered./ It must be easily accepted/ That we have begun the journey to ourselves.)”
This is, in a way, a book of prayers—one that every lover of the Filipino language can utter in solidarity with the rest of the nation. —CONTRIBUTED
Available in paperback through Librong LIRA
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