Today was the universe trying to talk to me again in spaces, these that I have left but was gently forced to come back to due to circumstance. Today was the universe bringing back pieces of my old life, as if pulling me into a dream I used to know.

Today is May 14th. Thirteen years ago, Frank Sinatra died. I was twelve years old and I have never known incredible sadness until that day. I have experienced devastation before, but this was different: this sorrow was so alien, so other to me, and I suddenly realized that this is what Sinatra sings about, what that tiny tremor in his voice means every time.

Today is May 14th. I am sitting in my new favourite restaurant, waiting for someone. I am drinking coffee and thinking about all this, when the first strains of music began. It was Frank. He was singing Moon River.

After my meeting I got a cab and went to the university. Our yearbook is finally out, they said. I had to get it before August. The yearbook is out. After four fucking years. I’ve forgotten all about it, to be honest. Who needs to look back on a bunch of photos and read all the lies we told about ourselves? But I paid for it, so I had to get it. I am not an accountant’s daughter for nothing.

Tonight I turned to the page where I was. There, under my name, were quoted two lines from a poem:

“And I run like mad
Never catching up with myself.”

It was attributed to Yevtushenko, when in fact it came from another poem. I don’t know how it ended up like that; maybe someone in the committee screwed up. Maybe it was supposed to happen. All I know is, while everybody else heaped praises upon themselves, I only had these words to say for myself, and oh, what precious words they were.

But where was the hidden message from the universe? It came during lunch. We were at a place named after a mythical bird from my childhood, smack dab in the middle of nostalgia, drinking Felicidad, made from whipped egg whites, milk, vanilla, rhum and cream. We were laughing, discussing the news, our lives, whatever comes to mind as we tried not to think of the heat outside. Across the room I spotted a familiar face, and I was up from my chair before I could remember her name. All I knew is, she was Inay to me, a mother I’ve always wanted to have (if only I could exchange mine) and I haven’t seen her in years.

My mentor, who asked how I was, who was concerned if I was doing alright for myself (as all writers in this country are either poor, dead or delusional — well, some are blessed, but only a few, I’ll give you that), who told me I should start publishing again (it has been a while), who was excited to meet up for coffee, who said I should send her my work soon, who said that it was great to see me, me out of all faces — my mentor who wrote this poem, who made me love what I do so deeply:

Yevtushenko, On A Rainy Day
Benilda S. Santos

All is quiet where I sit
and listen to rain trickling
through a hole in the waterspout
outside my bedroom window.
I seize the moment
to be alone with my Yevtushenko.
He is saying between quotation marks
that look like droplets of rain
suspended near the edge
of my windowpane,
he is saying,
        “And I run like mad
        Never catching up with myself.”

How I wish he would run right
into my room so he could see
my pen struggling across this piece
of white paper, writing as though
on soggy stationery
or on shreds of sandpaper.
What would he say
if he could see me thus?
Would he recite,
        “I walk across life
        Shirt collar open” or,
        “I am cruel to the petals”?
Or would he simply
lead me out of this room
to the rain-soaked grass
in my garden
where, in a quiet corner,
under an awning,
my soft-spoken washerwoman,
tall and gentle as Yevtushenko,
is noiselessly erasing with a bar of soap
a darkish stain on my skirt?
Or would he whisper
with outstretched arms,
        “Come, let us kiss…”?

But the rain has stopped.
Yevtushenko has to go
back to the second-to-the-last-shelf nook,
next to my husband’s copy of
The Stock Market Handbook.

Dear universe: thank you.

28 Oktubre 2006

Mahal kong [T.],

Unti-unti, nakararating din
sa kamangha-manghang

Ma’am Beni

Mahal kong Ma’am Beni:

Balang-araw magkakaroon din ako ng lakas na tawagin kayong Inay, at yakapin kayo nang mahigpit na mahigpit.


Benilda S. Santos

Tuwing makakahanap ako ng tula
sa laktaw-laktaw na liwanag sa ulap sa gabi,
sa laganap na dilim ng ulap sa araw,
ang natatagpuan ko ay buwan at ulan.

Sa mukha ng buwan
nababasa ko ang paglusong at pag-ahon,
ang pagkukubli at paglalantad, at
ang himala ng pagiging malinis na ostisya ng langit
sa kabila ng maraming pilat.

Sa patak ng ulan
naririnig ko ang lagaslas at ragasa,
ang hikbi at hagulgol, at
ang himala ng pagiging dalisay na alak ng lupa
sa kabila ng alat at pait.

At isusulat ko:
Ako ang ulap na bilanggo ng liwanag at dilim,
na magpahanggang-ngayon lambong lamang ng buwan
at magpahanggang-wakas lambat lamang ng ulan.