On ordinary days, this is a magazine of creative nonfiction, inspired by travel, written by women–by which we mean that Vela publishes writing that endeavors to express what is real in a manner that is both curious and connection-seeking, and we do so in the spirit of solidarity. And when but in the wake of faraway disaster does such work matter most?
As everyone knows, one week ago today, Typhoon Haiyan–or, locally, Yolanda–made landfall and raged a course across the low-lying archipelago of the Philippines. The cyclone’s storm surge sucked people out to sea and heaved ships ashore, and the winds lay abject waste to places whose names–Cebu, Samar, Leyte–are all that’s pretty about them now. Or so one gathers from the images of wreckage.
Now, as the seas recede in the super-storm’s wake, and with the seas the world’s tidal attention, we have been gathering together writers who know the Philippines–as home, as heritage, as adventure or holiday–to compile this collective response, this homage to a place and its people, this elegy for all that has been lost. Our impulse is to remember the Philippines, pre-storm, yes, and now, postdiluvian, at the onset of a long, deep suffering, to share stories, poems, prayers.
Perhaps it’s feeble, to hope to fend off apathy and forgetfulness, to hope to help, with words. Perhaps the gulf is too great. But writing, that wormhole from one person’s world to another’s, heeds its highest calling when it works to ignite empathy for what lies beyond our own experience. And this event, this disaster natural and human, localized and global, this category-5+ emergency, demands empathy.
We are grateful to these remarkable contributors featured in what follows, and we encourage you to contribute also. At the bottom of this page you will find links to relief organizations operating in the Philippines and our comments section, where we invite you contribute your response to Typhoon Haiyan.
Through the Flood
Quezon City, Philippines
Madasalin, corner Mapagkawanggawa
The rain has been trying to tell me something all night.
The rain takes up residence in my dreams. I hear it arriving and arriving. It replaces all other sounds. It replaces the air itself.
When I wake, the rain roars at me.
The storm has no name. Not Ondoy. Not Pedring. Not my name.
If the storm is nameless, perhaps it will be harmless. Perhaps there will be no damage to describe. Perhaps the waters will recede as quickly as they arrive.
Anonas, corner Aurora
I have never known how wide this street is—wider than my arm span, wider than the sky. This street has never felt so vast before.
The traffic. The vendors. The commuters. They have been replaced by water, water, water.
The water is gray. The water is a gray field.
Children play in the water, leaping in and out. Their laughter competes with the roar of the rain.
It doesn’t matter how poor they are, how rich they are, how dry they are, how wet they are. Children everywhere will always find a way to play in the street.
They play in the flood. In the baha. They do not fear its undercurrents, its stray lines, its opaque surface.
The water is neck deep, later. A man still pushes his bicycle through the baha. He lifts his front wheel so that it cuts forward through the water. He presses the bottom of the frame to the top of his shoulder. He is his own Moses.
The water is waist deep. I enter it. The water is cool. It holds me as I move.
Girls in shorts and white T-shirts clutch their sandals around their wrists. They laugh and gossip. They walk barefoot through the water around me.
I pause at the front window to a tailor’s shop. It is dry and quiet inside. Bolts of cloth lean here and there in a mad rainbow. A black cat naps near a pile of red pincushions.
The tailor nods, smiles at my wet pants, and keeps mending a hole in a damaged white shirt.
Malingap, corner Maginhawa
I arrive home and slosh upstairs. I text my friends that I walked in the waist-deep baha.
Take doxycycline!!!! they text back. I have never read that word before. It’s a remedy, I realize, for the harm that hides in the water.
I wash my legs thrice, with three different kinds of soap. Baha, baha, baha repeats in my mind.
I say it out loud to my Filipino friends again. Baha, I say. I walked in the baha. They say I am pronouncing their word for flood incorrectly. They say it for me and tell me to listen. Baha.
I can’t get it right, though I hear the difference. I keep trying.
That night, as the storm continues, I have no dreams. Only rain.
Once, I visit a mountain called Banahaw.
My Filipino guide takes me to a cave. We pause and crouch at a shelf of rock. He lights a candle. His face glows in a circle of flame. He tells me to lower my body into a pool of black water below. I am not to emerge before the water closes over my head.
He says all of this in Tagalog. I understand only his hand gestures. He smiles. I laugh at the dance his hands make, the candle casting huge shadows.
Then I obey him. I lower myself into what I cannot see.
The water closes over my head.
The water holds me. I have never heard this kind of silence. I have never felt this kind of peace.
Something about this place, I think, will always recede beyond my understanding.
I stay under for as long as I can, listening.
Elegy, with lines from e. e. cummings*
Tacloban City, Philippines
Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands: but I do not agree. Time, perhaps, has the illusion of small hands. Time is made of wings we cannot see or feel even if they brush against our faces in the dark. In the daytime, they take the shape of pauses, those moments we think we have forgotten something important and we retrace our steps. Somewhere in the mind, the sound of a shutter clicking open and closed. Warnings and sirens, and then the wind: rising, insistent, forcing open all closed doors, all shelters. The pictures show how, before it made landfall, the storm was a magnitude of elegiac proportions: its one eye did not blink, so bent it was on bearing down with the unbearable weight of its sadness. No, this rain did not have small hands. But the child did, the one whose frail body spun like a compass needle wrenched free of its battered case. Let me go, and you live, she said to her mother, before the current took her. None of this is metaphor. Ten thousand lives did not shut very beautifully, suddenly, or close like roses.
*First published on “Hawak-Kamay: Poems for the Philippines after Haiyan“a project of Juan Felipe Herrera, poet laureate of California.
The last time I visited the Philippines was roughly ten years ago. My father had recently passed away, and my siblings and I traveled his country with my Tito Ging, my father’s oldest sibling. Tito Ging, like most of my relatives in the Philippines, is a jokester. With a small goatee, a round gut, and a playful grin, he is the Filipino version of Santa Claus. He took us to Cebu, a part of the Philippines where he and my father grew up; there, we hiked Kawasan Falls, ate the best shrimp of our lives, and listened to stories of my father as a boy.
When it came time to return to Manila, our flight was delayed due to a storm. My Tita Inday, the second oldest sibling, kept texting us, worried. “Everything okay over there?” she wanted to know. “What is happening?”
Tito Ging replied, “Level 5 Typhoon,” and then we all had a good laugh.
This was partially true: a typhoon had been moving in, and the weather was terrible, but it was nothing worse than we’d seen countless times before. That my uncle exaggerated the magnitude of the typhoon in order to make my worrying aunt more worried? That was just part of the fun. We laughed even more when we returned to Manila and learned that my Tita Inday and her family had gathered in the living room to pray an extra rosary for our safe return.
Maybe this was the reason why, when my roommate asked after my family in the Philippines, I didn’t think much of it. She told me there was a typhoon, and I shrugged. Typhoons happen. I had visited my relatives, more or less, every four years since I was a child, and not a single visit had passed when there wasn’t some raging storm.
Once, the night before my family and I were to return to the States, a typhoon had poured down on Manila, threatening to cancel our flight. The wind whipped the palm trees about the night sky and rocked the windows in my Tita Inday’s house. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old, and I stayed awake most of the night. I watched the rain pour rivers onto the windowpanes and prayed the weather would rage long enough to delay the trip home. But the rain let up, the way it always does. The wind settled. Our flight took off. For me, those sea hurricanes felt no different than American snowstorms. I didn’t understand that I needed to be worried.
Then, I received an email from Molly Beer, contributing writer for Vela and my classmate from graduate school. “I’m a little disturbed by FB silence about the Philippines,” she said, and then she asked me if I would be willing to write a response to Haiyan. It was only then that I began to pay attention to the typhoon–called Haiyan in the West, but Yolanda in my family’s country.
Clearly, there was something awful going on, and I was stunned not only by what I found out, but also about how easy it had been to ignore. I am not a news junkie, but I watch television. I sign onto Facebook, where I usually get alerted about any major event that is happening in the world. My friends are good informants: usually, I am in the loop when something BIG occurs. And here was this event, and here were my people, and there, the terrible glare of Yolanda.
I uncovered stories of starving survivors, leveled houses, entire cities engulfed in water. I watched a pregnant woman hold her newborn baby while the camera panned out to capture her sheets, stained red from her uterine blood. I watched people picking through the remains of what I’m told was a grocery store, their flip-flops sliding over splintered rubble. I read about mass graves, floating bodies, starving mobs. I listened to politicians expound upon the hurdles of disaster relief as bags of rice were loaded into military airplanes. I tried to understand what it meant for a devastated area to run out of food. The BBC reported that in Cebu, the same area where my uncle had sent the text joking about that Level 5 Typhoon ten years ago, many towns suffered 80 to 90% damage.
From my safe space in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I think it’s often easy for me to look away, to ignore, to go on with my daily life whenever tragedy strikes. My biggest concerns involve finishing my novel, getting enough sleep, booking a Thanksgiving flight. I grade papers where my undergraduate students lament government spending and the increasing amount of national debt. They write that we should let other people focus on solving their own problems, and then a typhoon ravages the Philippines, and the death toll is nearing two thousand, and I am still not sure how to digest it all.
This past summer, my wife, Randi, and I traveled through Oklahoma not long after the Moore tornado. That beast of a funnel cloud was 1.3 miles wide and uprooted – literally – seventeen miles of land, including countless residential homes, government buildings, restaurants, my father-in-law’s neighborhood pub, and even an elementary school. Twenty-three people died and several hundred more were injured. Randi grew up in Oklahoma, and she’d told me many stories of tornado destruction, but it wasn’t until her dad drove us through the wreckage, not until we stared at the gaping field where that elementary school once was and stood in the driveway of what used to be a well-tended house, that I even began to grasp what devastation looked like.
On the drive out of the tornado’s epicenter, I kept noticing signs people had placed on their houses, some of them spray-painted into barely standing garage doors. One said, “This is our home, not a tourist site.” Another said, “If you don’t live here, get the hell out.” Another: “Spectators will be scalped.” The signs were successful—I felt guilty for being another gawker clogging up their decimated streets, but Randi’s dad was unfazed; the tornado had stolen a storage shed’s worth of furniture and almost all his family photographs. It only narrowly missed his home.
He said, “You can’t understand what this was like until you see it. I wanted you guys to see this so that you could understand.”
I saw, but still I couldn’t understand. And I can’t now either.
For how do you make sense of heaps of rubble, splintered wood, indecipherable debris. And how do you make sense of all those bodies? Thousands dead. Thousands missing. More than half a million people displaced. And the numbers are rising.
How do we wrap our minds around this? What name do we have for this?
Just downstream, machete-bearing onlookers of all sorts, from tiny boys wielding bolos to tattooed men and women with long, sword-like blades, pressed tightly together on the swinging bridge over our heads. We finished rigging at the put-in near the Philippine town of Tinglayan and traveled with the current under the crowded bridge. Our exploratory team was not supposed to be here – but further northeast, on the Cayagan River. After being tipped off to armed kidnappers lying in wait for us at our intended launch, our group had opted to change plans, adapting our itinerary to the remote and mountainous Kalinga region – resetting our course towards one more conducive to survival.
As our rafts passed below the footbridge, someone tossed down a dead runt piglet. It plunged into the swirling water three feet from my boat. I pried at the pig with my paddle, brought it closer, then grabbed it by the leg and hauled it into the raft, dripping wet. From somewhere – a cultural etiquette book or a lecture from my mother – I recalled that it’s not polite to refuse food given as a gift unless you want to insult your host. I especially didn’t want to insult these hosts: newly recovered headhunters of the tribal highlands.
The Kalinga people of northern Luzon Island have a reputation around the Philippines as being both fearsome and homicidal. Even though today’s Kalinga largely refrain from the practice of beheading their enemies, stories abound of retributional hack jobs around the province. Just the day before, on the way to the put-in, our overloaded jeepney staggered through a memorial vigil near the most recent, not-that-isolated hacking incident, making the danger all the more real.
With this in mind, I smiled graciously at the armed crowd on the bridge and held the very dead little pig up by the leg, conveying my gratitude. Nobody smiled. They looked, instead, very displeased. Two young Kalinga men who were paddling in my raft, training as river guides, whipped around in their seats and frantically motioned for me to throw the pig overboard. They explained that this was a test of our intelligence, which in Kalinga culture translates as survival prowess. No one in their right mind would eat a stinking dead runt piglet. To the Kalinga, refusing such an insulting gift demonstrates survival intelligence: you’ve clearly lost your head if you accept it.
Bewildered, I stood up and launched the pig overboard, back into the swollen maelstrom. I closed my eyes and waited for machetes to fly. Instead, exuberant cheers and whistles pierced the lifting afternoon mist as we drifted further into unknown territory.
That day, we passed the Kalinga’s easiest test, and went on to survive challenging Class IV rapids and unexpected setbacks on our run down the Chico River. From our experience among the Kalinga, who live north of Typhoon Haiyan’s wake of devastation, intelligence is tested not for the adventure or thrill of it, but to ensure survival. As much of the storm-battered country is now put to a far graver test, we as a global tribe must ask the question: How do we survive that which is perceived as fearsome and homicidal?
Perhaps the answer lies in the words of Naderev Saño, the Filipino Negotiator at last year’s United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, who tearfully said: “I appeal to the whole world. I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face . . . the outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.”
This may be our greatest intelligence test yet, and, as our expedition team learned from our time on Luzon Island, survival prowess means adapting the itinerary and refusing to accept that which doesn’t put the integrity of our planet first.
Emptiness of Air
for the people of Tacloban City
Pericles lost his wife to a great emptiness of air, and water, and sound. One moment, she was alive in the house with him—in the next, she had shifted somewhat. She still had the same form, the same face, but something had changed in the way she spoke. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew what had happened had happened. He also knew there was no going back. Whatever had happened to his wife had stolen her from him as surely as if she’d been abducted and lost to him forever.
All the sampaguita blossoms had been knocked off the trees. He wandered the garden, lost. He smelled Jasmine.
Jasmines exude their scent at night.
He picked up a white petal from the ground. The browned edges were still uncommonly soft.
Santan, Pericles thought. Lantana. Gumamela. All colors. The red ones—where had they gone?
And the orchids. His wife loved those. Purple and white—tongued.
There were small brown birds, the ones called Maya birds. They perched on the telephone wires strung up and down the street. But now, when he looked up, there were no poles. Wires dangled like snakes, a few sparking like firecrackers.
The parrots in the shed—not a single cage remained.
Pericles stood in the wreckage.
But over there, snagged on a severed tree branch, dangling in the breeze, was a woman’s white dress. He was suddenly filled with fresh hope.
I went to the Philippines because I wanted to disappear. That much I can be honest about. Seven hundred islands, I’d read, and I could dissolve into any one of them. The morning before I left, my mother had stood beside me on her stoop. My girl, my only girl, she’d said, pressing her palms against my cheek. My only living, breathing girl.
It’s not like there was ever any other. What she meant, I think, was, Don’t go.
I went anyway, because it’s not like it used to be. It’s not like it used to be, I wanted to tell her, when good things happened if you just stayed put.
I’d stayed put for years, and it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. The problem I was having seems embarrassingly minor now: I was in love with a man who did not love me. He’d recently left for I don’t know where, and I felt like leaving, too. I told myself, You’ll be half a world away, and better off for it eventually. Who knows where he had gone? I imagined him backlit by sun in Phoenix, rolling hot asphalt onto pin-straight roads. I’d be in Asia, fanning myself with leaves bigger than my face, and he would be in Hackensack, inspecting screws on an assembly line.
The night I arrived, I hailed an orange cab from the Bohol airport—I chose it especially because I liked how it was orange—and as the driver sped through the busy streets, I hugged my suitcase and watched the trees. Mangroves, they’re called. I’d seen them before on the cover of National Geographic, sitting on the dull carpet of my parents’ living room, but they were bigger than I’d expected. They grew tall and rooted themselves in water, separate but in clumps. Later, in the hotel room, I decided I could be like them. I could grow alone, I could root myself in water, I could figure out how to be close to someone but also far. It had never before been this way, but I thought maybe in Asia, it could work.
Before he left, or maybe why he left, I’d look at him and see mason jar candles propped along the porch, his bony figure barefoot in a garden. I saw a T-shirt wrapped around his neck and his forearms, tan and ruddy, heard the words as he called me “sweet baby” and handed me snap peas that I ate raw. One morning I suggested we take a trip, and, one week later, he was gone.
In the Philippines, none of that mattered. My nights there were drinking Red Horse in near-empty bars, singing 1990s karaoke, daring tourists—any other tourist—to eat hot insects from the street cart vendors. It was in the company of absolute strangers that I tried fermented duck embryos and the cheeks of pigs, beer-battered cow intestines and paprika fried crickets. Each strange encounter came a little easier. A little salt, some vinegar.
But then came the tarsier sanctuary, and, for a while, it shook out my self-indulgence. Like little Yodas, the tarsiers cling to bamboo trees, their eyes big and green as housecats. They looked like something you’d want to hold, cuddle against your chest and feel its heart beat match your own, but what made me love them most was that, like people, they long for home. Of course this is a problem, the tour guide explained, because its natural habitat is often destroyed. Buildings, and hotels, and condos. The makeshift forest inside the sanctuary is the best that they could offer.
“If you can believe it, if and when a tarsier is removed from its natural habitat,” the guide explained carefully, “it often commits suicide, turning its neck fully around, whether in grief or fear of danger.”
I wanted to know specifics but was too afraid to ask. Sometimes I think it’s better if you don’t know the particulars of what you can’t change.
Later, back in my room, I realized the answer was likely simple: we long for where we’re from. Remove us from our place of comfort and we’ll forget the rules that long governed us, make decisions we’ll later find foolish, throw ourselves into fits of despair because we are scared and right to be. I spent my money that night on bags of candy, which I distributed in the moonlit street, spreading it out among the children and returning to the ATM when it was gone. One boy had a black eye, the wound still weeping when he moved his hand to reach out for all I had, and I didn’t know what more to do but buy him his own bag of Doritos, a pack of Skittles, a few gum balls. It startled me how much he wanted them and likely wanted other things even more.
I hadn’t—and I still haven’t—had to want for anything my whole life.
“They can get staples from the local shelter,” a Filipino friend had told me when I inquired. “And while of course that stuff’s important, there’s unparalleled pleasure, you know, in candy.”
Not long after that, I packed my bags and headed home. I’d taken so many plane rides but that one—it still stands out. I noticed it all differently: the air, that cabin smell. How it felt to know my body was propelling above the earth. Now, many years and thousands of miles from that cluster of exotic land, I read about what’s happened back in the place where I belong. The men and women and children—ones I can say with near certainty I once handed a bag of Skittles, and how I wish the world could hand them more.
Miles away, in the sanctuary, far from the downtown, I read the tarsiers were so afraid that for the first time in history, they lowered themselves to the shaking ground. They didn’t know where else to go. They didn’t know if it would hurt or help.
It will likely be many months, I read, before tourists can visit them again.
“They are traumatized,” the owner said. “They will need to regain that sense of trust.”
We share many things in common—people and animals. We all long for comfort and quiet, a place where we belong. And a house is not whole without the ones we love inside, whether animal or person or gnarled tree rooted in deep swamp. When sea and sky and plates shifting beneath the earth finally come to rest, and the sun blinks open a pristine sky, it’s our family that we seek, far before any structure or furnished dwelling. We want to find our family, our friend and next-door neighbor, because a house is just a house. They are our way home.
As many as 10,000 people may have died when one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded destroyed entire villages and devastated cities with huge waves and winds of nearly 150 mph. ~ Tacloban City, Philippines.
How to imagine 10,000 lives—10,000
lights snuffed out in one gust. How to begin
picturing 10,000 bodies, draped over
jackfruit branches, gliding down-
stream or washed up on sidewalks. Each
someone’s mother, husband, or child. It’s hard
to even fathom 10,000 days, roughly twenty-
seven years, almost a decade over
Juanita’s age when she left Tacloban
to cook meals for our family so she could
feed hers, and so my mother could work.
Afternoons, she’d let me sip from her glass,
a clear Nescafé jar steaming with black
barako, sweetened with milk and
a heaping spoon of sugar. At night,
when sleep would not come, I slipped
beside her on the wood floor, her woven
blanket barely wide enough to cover
both of us, her banig of seagrass
a tiny raft that shoved us surely
into the dark river of dreams.
Poem with a Hurricane Beginning with a Line from Rimbaud*
the furious gallop of twenty dappled circus horses
tramples through my dreaming
no word from you no word from you
no word from you no word from you
the sheets are worried, the sheets
are very scared flattened and coiled
they resemble the aerial view of
a hurricane hurtling through the East
the dog has curled into a washbasin, her fur
the white froth of thirteen-foot waves
heaving through Tacloban’s empty streets
where tonight only a few lights flicker
*First published on “Hawak-Kamay: Poems for the Philippines after Haiyan” a project of Juan Felipe Herrera, poet laureate of California.
Prayers to the Black Nazarene
A few years ago I quit my corporate job and spent a year traveling. I had heard all sorts of terrible things about the Philippines and never would have gone there if it weren’t for black Jesus.
Once a year in January the Black Nazarene, a life-sized, dark brown depiction of the Crucifixion that was brought from Mexico in 1606, is carried through the streets of Quiapo, a rough Manila neighborhood, together with dozens of smaller replicas of the statue. Millions of people from all over the Philippines turn up for the event, barefoot and wearing shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Pardon me, Señor Jesus.”
It sounded intriguingly strange. Since I had nothing better to do, I headed to Manila to check it out.
When I arrived at the hostel in a posh Manila suburb and said I’d come to see the black Jesus, the staff tried to discourage me from going and issued dire warnings about pickpockets, thieves, and stampedes. Once I arrived on the grimy streets of Quiapo I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. Of the thousands of people around me, I didn’t see any other foreigners or tourists. I towered over the entirely Filipino crowd, which was mostly male, shoeless and draped in Jesus memorabilia.
Yet people began talking to me, starting with small children who shyly greeted me. That broke the ice with the adults, who must have wondered what I was doing in the middle of Quiapo. Soon I was being offered candy and drinks by barefoot devotees who, rather than seeing me as an interloper at their celebration, sought to welcome me.
I ended up talking to a man named Raymund, who wanted to practice his English before he moved to California in a few months. He spent the next four hours chaperoning me around the streets of Quiapo, telling me to watch my purse every few minutes. If there’s one thing more dangerous than Manila, it’s how dangerous Filipinos think Manila is.
Raymund told me that the Black Nazarene had blessed his own family. His sister had been married for eight long years and was heartbroken because she and her husband had no children. Raymund convinced his brother-in-law to attend the Feast of the Black Nazarene. “It wasn’t easy,” he told me. “Some people have a hard time believing.” But the brother-in-law came, and when the Black Nazarene finally passed by him he prayed for children. By the time of the next procession a year later, Raymund had become an uncle.
The Black Nazarene’s devotees believe that the statue has miraculous powers and that touching the image can result in the answering of prayers. It’s this belief that drives the sweating, teeming masses of Jesus-crazed Filipinos into the streets of Quiapo for an event that results in at least a few deaths and dozens of injuries every year.
Raymund escorted me through the crowd, explaining all this to me, pointing out to everyone that I was just visiting, and the masses would part to let me through. The level of courtesy, in what was essentially a three-million-strong mosh pit of underprivileged Filipinos hoping for a miracle, was nothing less than stunning. I kept expecting someone to ask me for money, as people did in other countries whenever even the tiniest favor was given. But then I was ashamed of myself for thinking such a thing, because it never happened.
Some call devotion to the Black Nazarene paganistic. Certainly I saw little of the dour conservatism that I associate with Western Catholicism during that feast day, where faith healers abounded, exorcisms took place on the sidewalks, and children danced barefoot in the garbage-strewn streets. And even though I wasn’t religious, no one cared. They were happy to include me in their holy day, in spite of the fact that I was wearing shoes. For the first time in my months of travel, I felt I wasn’t just watching from the periphery. And for the first time in my life I understood why religion is so appealing, and how powerful a feeling of community it creates.
Then, after five hours waiting in the dizzying sun, when I was ready to go home, the fervent crush of people exploded, chanting and swinging towels above their heads like so many lassos for Jesus. Is directing a wish to the Black Nazarene the same as wishing on birthday candles—if you tell, it won’t come true? I don’t think that’s how it works with Christ, so I’ll admit that as the statue went by, a burgundy-brown Jesus on a giant cross, I wished that over the course of my travels I could have more days like this one, here in the Philippines.
After the procession passed, Raymund walked me to the metro to make sure I didn’t get lost in the crowd. After depositing me safely in the station he shook my hand and explained that he was going to continue on with the procession, which would last another seven hours. Then he walked away, barefoot, to follow the Black Nazarene.
Sumpa Ng Kawayan / The Bamboo Curse*
for the survivors
SUMPA NG KAWAYAN
Matibay ang kawayan. Iyan ang sumpa. Hayaang ipaghampas-hampasan ng unos, lumangoy at magpaanod sa baha. Pigilin ang hininga at baka malanghap ang bangkay na naaagnas. Tiisin ang gutom ng sikmura na kahit sa papuri, ay hungkag na hungkag. Kalimutan natin ang kasakiman na sa kabundukan ay nagpapatag, at nagbabago sa daloy ng hangin at dagat. Kalimutan ang pangulo na mainit ang ulo at sa sariling pulong walang pakundangang lumalabas. Kalimutan ang ayuda na higit na bumabagal, sa ating paghihintay. Yumuyuko at umiindayog sa hangin ang kawayan. Ngunit kami ay tao, tao lamang, Balat at dugo, luha at buto. Ipagpaumanhin ang aming galit at pusong nagpupuyos. Naghahanap kami ng katarungan sa gitna ng dalamhati’t pagluluksa sa aming di matapos-tapos na dalamhati’t pagluluksa.
THE BAMBOO CURSE
Resilience is the curse of the bamboo.
Suffer the storm,
swim through the floods.
Bear the stench of corpses
and the hunger
that does not go away
Forget the greed
that levels mountains
and changes wind and seas.
Forget the president
who walks out,
Forget the aid
that crawls slower
as we wait.
The bamboo bends and sways
with the wind.
We are human, only human,
All flesh and tears and blood.
Forgive us our anger
as we seek for justice
in our grief,
in our inconsolable grief.
Laurel Anne Flores Fantauzzo (Through the Flood) is a Filipina-American writer currently living in Quezon City, Philippines, where she teaches at Ateneo de Manila University. A former Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program, her work has appeared in Grantland, Lapham’s Quarterly, and Good Housekeeping Philippines, among others. Don’t miss Laurel’s essay Notes from a Storm-Wrecked Land: Watching the Typhoon from Quezon City, Philippines in this week’s New York Times. Visit her website at http://laurelfantauzzo.com.
Luisa A. Igloria (Elegy with lines from e. e. cummings) is Professor of Creative Writing and English, and Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. She is the author of The Saints of Streets, Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, university of Notre Dame Press), Trill & Mordent, and 8 other books. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, poemeleon, The Missouri Review, qarrtsiluni, Silk Road, Indiana Review, Rattle, and TriQuarterly. Various literary awards include the 2007 49th Parallel Poetry Prize, the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize; the 2006 National Writers Union Poetry Prize; and the 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize (Crab Orchard Review). Luisa is also an eleven-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature—in three genres, and its Hall of Fame distinction. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Since November 20, 2010, she has been writing (at least) a poem a day, archived at Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa site. She enjoys cooking with her family, yoga, book-binding, and listening to tango music. Visit her website at http://luisaigloria.com.
Samantha Tetangco (Oh, Yolanda) is a Filipino-American writer who was born in Ohio, raised in California, and currently resides in New Mexico. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Phoebe, the Oklahoma Review, Gargoyle, Gertrude, and others. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of New Mexico where she previously served as editor-in-chief of Blue Mesa Review and currently teaches writing.
Kristen Radtke’s (Breaking News) work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, TriQuarterly, Witness, Ninth Letter, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Blackbird, Fourth Genre, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and is the Marketing and Development Director for Sarabande Books. She is currently at work on a collection of graphic essays about abandoned places and hidden histories, research for which has taken her to vacant mining islands off the coast of Japan, Icelandic towns covered in volcanic rock, crumbling WWII barracks in The Philippines, and many other countries.
Bridget Crocker (Unknown Territory) is a river guide and outdoor travel writer whose work has appeared in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011 and 2012, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Paddler, and Lonely Planet guidebooks. In 2001, Bridget Crocker co-led an expedition team down an exploratory run of Luzon Island’s Chico River and taught a whitewater guide school for aspiring local river guides on the Cagayan River. She writes for the outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, where a version of “Unknown Territory” first appeared as a field report. Photo by Tony Demin. Visit her website at www.bridgetcrocker.com.
Marianne Villanueva (Emptiness of Air) is a writer from the Philippines. She is the author of the novella JENALYN, about a mail-order bride, and three collections of short stories: Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language. She co-edited the anthology Going Home to a Landscape, which includes the writing of Filipino women all over the world. Her work has been published in The Threepenny Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Asian American Literary Review, Juked, J Journal, the New Orleans Review, and many other journals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Amy Butcher (Displaced) is an essayist and short fiction writer whose work appears in Vela, Tin House, Salon, The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Fourth Genre, American Short Fiction, and Brevity, among others. She earned her MFA from the University of Iowa and, in May of 2011, visited 7 of the Philippine’s 7,000 islands during an overseas writing seminar; in addition to discussions on craft and international trends in literature, Amy also had the opportunity to sit in on a workshop at Silliman University, the oldest creative writing workshop of its kind in Asia, now entering its 53rd year. She is the editor-in-chief of Defunct. Visit her website at www.amyebutcher.com.
Angela Narciso Torres’s (After Haiyan) first book of poetry, Blood Orange, won the Willow Books Literature Award for Poetry and was published this year by Willow Books/Aquarius Press. Recent work appears in Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, and Cream City Review. A graduate of Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Angela has received fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, Ragdale Foundation, and Midwest Writing Center. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manila, she currently resides in Chicago, where she teaches poetry workshops and serves as a senior poetry editor for RHINO. Photo by Rowie Torres. Visit her website at http://www.angelanarcisotorres.com.
Lina Goldberg (Prayers to the Black Nazarene) is an American writer based in Cambodia and has work published in VICE, BBC Travel, Wall Street Journal and CNN. She’s also the author of ‘Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder‘ and runs Move to Cambodia, a site and blog for new and soon-to-be Cambodia expats. You can read more of her work at blog.linagoldberg.com.
Joi Barrios (Sumpa Ng Kawayan / The Bamboo Curse) teaches Filipino and Philippine Literature at UC Berkeley. She has written three poetry books, among them, Flowers in Water: Poems on Love and Revolt, which won the Gintong Aklat (Golden Book) Award in the Philippines. Before coming to the United States in 2006, Barrios was Associate Dean for the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters and a women’s desk coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN or New Patriotic Alliance).
This Vela Writers Respond was compiled and edited by Molly Beer.
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