An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

20 November 2009


Far Tibet calls you with a voice of ether and you turn your head to listen. In that eternal second you become a myth. With your eyes of saffron and your breath of incense you degrade art and turn it into religion, and I from woman into human.

[Similar posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]
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15 November 2009

For my mother, as she turns fifty-five

She is clean rooms and fresh laundry and open windows and beautiful gardens and warm, healthy food, and afternoon naps and anti-wrinkle creams and reading glasses and Clinique Happy and blue sign pens and yellow “smileys” and checks that never bounce and terracotta tiles and solid walls and etched light fixtures and well-maintained roofs and a home that always welcomes me no matter where I have been.

Feliz cumpleaño, Mamita. Te quiero mucho.

[A related post]
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13 November 2009

Time capsule

My family recently decided to move the remains of our faithful departed from one of our old family plots to a new location. The old family plot in Naga City is over thirty years old, and the cemetery it is in had been a parochial cemetery for about sixty years. This old Naga plot is different from the Moll mausoleum (see the old photo below) in the town of Tigaon, which was built almost eighty years ago by our ancestors.

My father’s father -- Heriberto Moll -- and my younger brother who died as a baby in 1978 were the ones buried in the old Naga plot until recently. They were not buried in the Moll mausoleum in Tigaon because, at the time, Tigaon was more than an hour’s drive away from Naga, and the roads were very bad. Bita -- my father’s mother -- was living in Naga then and wanted her husband to be near her. My parents were also living in Naga at the time, and decided to have my baby brother buried in the same Naga plot, beside my grandfather.

Perhaps they were uncomfortable to bury the little baby in a mausoleum, which, to a grieving young mother, must have seemed like an edifice honoring Death itself. There it stood, stoic and cold and brooding across the decades, unquestioningly admitting into its dark innards whoever Moll was most recently departed. And although there were a few Moll niños buried in the mausoleum in Tigaon, they died way before the seventies, so somehow they did not seem like babies to my mother.

And so the Naga plot has been there for over three decades, and every year for one night, the sons and daughters and grandchildren of Heriberto Moll -- me included -- would gather round the marbled space and talk about everyday things. When midnight would strike, we would all pack up, drive to our own homes, and go to bed, because on the next day there would be school and work and errands and housework and gardening and friends and life. The buried would stay buried. And for the rest of the year the family plot would be overgrown with weeds, flooded with mud and frequented by scavengers.

These cemeteries where our plots had been were built with no particular plan in mind, so over time people would bury their dead in whatever much space they could find: they would place graves on top of existing graves until there were five or eight stories of graves over one plot, and they would even place graves in the middle of lanes and passageways, so people had to step over them each time. As old cemeteries go, they looked medieval, they felt medieval. The only thing that would date them as modern is the changing fashion -- and music -- of the people who would visit these cemeteries once a year.

And so the family purchased a plot in a newer, cleaner, more modern cemetery in Naga, one that was privately owned and was created for the business of housing the dead. The plots were larger, the ground layout was more orderly, and there would be ample parking space. Everybody nodded, yes, it was a good decision. Yes, we have to change with needs of the times. Yes, we will move on now.

But then there was the business of the exhumation. The two graves in the old Naga plot were opened and the decaying coffins torn apart and the remains gathered. The gravedigger first found two tiny white socks, and then he found a tiny knitted cap, the kind that all mothers make their babies wear. He could not find any unbroken bones. Because the baby was too young when he died -- only a few months old -- the bones were still too fragile that they either broke or disintegrated. He carefully opened up the cap and showed the pieces of baby skull inside, broken into small pieces, but still perfectly in place inside the little knitted cap. He scraped up the rest of the soil he found inside the cement grave and put them all in the new container. He did not even want to wash the remains anymore, fearing that he would lose more tiny bones. Had he lived, my brother would have been over thirty now.

At the burial of the remains in the new family plot, Bita was in front, and she cried and had to sit down. My mother did not cry, and stayed standing at the back. But they were both in the same place. They were back in the old family plot, looking down at the freshly dug earth that would envelop their loved ones for over three decades.

[Image credits: 1, 2]

06 November 2009

The things we hide from ourselves

(An excerpt from a story soon to be published)

I sifted through the jewels that I had with me – earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pendants, and remembered the moments when my mother handed them to me. I particularly remember her giving me an antique cross of St. Benedict as a gift when I was thirty-five. I remember because she pulled me closer to her and whispered: “All that you need to say is, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’” That was the very first time I heard her utter the name “Satan” in all the years I have known her.

Then memories stopped because the pain had begun to grow on my back and run down to my hips. My belly had also begun to hurt, and the hunger began. I felt cold sweat on my forehead and my hands felt clammy and my feet felt moist, even when they were placed on the area rug where my chair stood. My head had now started to hurt. At first it felt like a drill was going through my right eye, and then the right part of my head started to hurt. It hurt so much that it felt like it was actually shrinking, and then I could not see clearly out of my right eye.

I staggered up and noticed that my nightgown was damp with sweat and I took it off and wiped myself with a towel. My breathing had become shallow because of the deepening and spreading pain. I gripped the edge of the dresser and gritted my teeth. I managed to get to the bathroom sink and uncap a bottle of mineral water and take great gulps from it, and from where I stood, clutching my stomach, I suddenly noticed something – the corner of a dark-colored, very ornate tapestry behind the door, under an hollow alcove, hidden behind a chest of drawers topped by a rather tall potted plant. I found it odd.

I put the plant on the floor and moved the chest aside. It was quite hard to do because of the pain in my back, hips, and stomach, but slowly, the tapestry emerged. The tapestry was so rich with color and marvelous patterns, and yet it was hidden from view in such a way that people would miss it, even with the alcove light on. Well, my husband and I were the only ones using the bathroom, so why would I cover that tapestry? It was too beautiful to hide. And then something dawned on me.

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