Translation Tuesday: “The Logic of the Soap Bubbles” by Luna Sicat-Cleto

. . . actually, it has now become more complicated because I now get imaginary enemies and lovers.

The mania present in this week’s Translation Tuesday is forceful and visceral, poured forth with a tide of senses, memories, tastes, smells, and visions. Upon the arrival of a spectral personification named Sandali, the inner monologue of Luna Sicat-Cleto’s narrator detonates, threading seamlessly through the past, the present, and the future. The word sandali, in Filipino, can be roughly translated as “moment.” In this story, we are reminded of exactly how broad, and how various, a moment can be.

That moment comes, unexpected, uninvited, she just appears, like a visitor, a visitor whom I cannot shove off, I let her inside, offer her coffee, she will not drink the coffee, she will merely stroke the cup’s ear, and will look at me from head to toe, like a child, she will stare, and I know that she is sizing me up because I too am sizing her, she will look out the window and whisper something about the weather, I will nod, as if I had heard what she had whispered but actually hadn’t, I have been deaf for a long time, I don’t recognize the noise I heard, I no longer know if birds still sing in the morning, whatever noise I heard, I’m sure that my eardrums have already burst, a noise that had pierced through to my brain, but it’s funny that I still recognize the sound of my own name, and this gives me hope, hope is a dangerous thing, they say that it is what thrusts people to madness, and when the visitor called my name, I did not know if I was dreaming, I lifted my head up and smiled, I was about to mention something about the weather, or our weight, whether we have gained or lost some, but I had forgotten what I was about to say as soon as she squeezed my palm, where the pulse lies, where the welt from the blade rested and she whispered: flee, flee and I will know what she wanted to happen, she wanted to sleep with me, I will not object, I will be even the one to usher her to bed, and I will feel her trembling, I will take off her clothes and she will do the same and we will begin our voyage, that’s how I see it, a voyage I will not object to, I will try not to think, I will let it be, she will come again tomorrow, my door will be open, I will not refuse, for I want our world to be filled with our children, the whole universe even, so that I wouldn’t feel lonely anymore, isn’t it right, Sandali, for that is her name, Sandali, she has neither parent nor sibling, neither home nor job, she is not bound to anything or anytime. Sandali, her name does not suit her, perhaps I needn’t give her a name, she is like a poem, a poem that does not have a name, if a person labels a poem a poem, it vanishes, it disappears like bubbles that can no longer be touched.

I often wonder if every person has been visited by Sandali, I’m not certain, I would have liked to breathe a word about her to others, but I do not know if they would have understood me, I remember my friend who became a priest, he told me that he did not know why I wished for peace when we visited the Monastery of Santa Clara, he told me I could wish for other things, a comfortable life with a good spouse, two beautiful and ordinary children, and a house in a clean and quiet place, I do not see myself in that situation, I answered him, until the time my friend and I parted ways, one day, on the telephone, he told me that he has finally found peace, and it is only now that he has understood my persistent questioning of myself, I didn’t want him to think that I’m putting up a pretense, I haven’t had a taste of everything, I haven’t experienced everything, there is much I have yet to understand, before, I thought, I have met all whom I was supposed to meet, God, peace, understanding, I thought that I knew something but I actually don’t, I’m still a fool.

And about it, nobody knows about my visitor, Sandali, I have lived alone for a long time, in an apartment in Quezon City, which was small, cramped, covered with old cobwebs, without running water so that you had to pour water to the toilet every time you flush it, I buy my meals outside instead because I don’t know how to cook, I have attempted to subsist on only canned food and Skyflakes, sometimes, I visit my parents and sibling, but I rush to leave once they have set the table because I don’t want to dine with them, I don’t know why, I give my mother a portion of my salary to spend on groceries, she had complained that the prices of goods had already risen and while the announcer on her clanking AM radio was blathering so that I wanted to throw it out the window, my father was reading the newspaper, he didn’t look up when I said I was leaving, I stared again at the bottle of vitamins patiently waiting, something for strength, for reversing aging, whenever my mother asks me when I’ll return, I would respond next week, even though it’s not true, I have long since erased the concept of weekly visits, I will just slip in the house, much like Sandali.

Sometimes, I think that I spend more time with Sandali than with other people, I don’t know whether she is human or just a figment of my imagination, if anyone else would know of this, they will ask me to get help, when I was young, I used to have a friend whom only I could see, Eugene, he always hid behind the curtain, Eugene had disappeared, I don’t know the reason why, perhaps he became upset, I have never run out of friends like that, imaginary friends, actually, it has now become more complicated because I now get imaginary enemies and lovers.

That’s how Sandali is, imaginary friend, lover, and enemy, it’s intense, right, I’m not a drug addict but that’s how I think, like a drunk, many people are scared of me because they say that I’m weird, but I think that this is a common condition that afflicts narrow-minded people, they are like those people who say that you can get pregnant by peeing on a toilet used by a man, I don’t jive with them, my mind just flickers and flickers, like a camera, merely taking photographs without anyone’s permission, that’s why they’re annoyed with me, I’m too candid, they say, actually, I’m an anarchist sometimes, very violent when I think, once, I saw a man crossing the street, I thought what if he was hit by a truck and his head rolled off like change, I’ll be discreet about thinking this way, for instance, I’ll think of the sea, the piece of clothing I’ll buy, I gaze at the sky, pretending I’m in love.

I don’t have a lover, except for Sandali, she is the only one who knows my scent, each person has their own scent, my mother smells like milk mixed with urine, my father the smell of langka infested by termites, Bituin the smell of leaves about to be burnt, I’m not like other women who smell of baby powder or ginger colored perfume, sometimes I smell like the newly cut grass, the crumbs that remain on a table surrounded by flies, a rotten fish in the market, more so when I have my period, I wish that women didn’t menstruate to save expenses from buying napkins, Sandali has periods too, although she doesn’t use napkins, because there is no blood, I just know that she menstruates when she holds her own hands, like washing them, removing the invisible stain there, as if washing away sin, for that is what menstruation symbolizes, the washing away of sin and the paying for sin, I haven’t committed mortal sin, I haven’t had an affair with a married man, I haven’t stolen or killed, I haven’t even disobeyed my parents, perhaps the heaviest sin I can think of that I have committed and am committing is bearing a grudge against those who have wronged me, I don’t want to wash my hands, but here I am, I’m doing the ritual of cleansing.

Is it a sin to sleep with Sandali, she hasn’t penetrated me, nor did she deflower me yet, I’m like a bruised dalanghita that has yet to be peeled, how could she ever penetrate me, I can’t even touch or see or smell her in a conventional way, I can compare her to the wind, the obscene wind, that caresses the hair, legs, and breast, is the wind truly obscene, perhaps not, a violent wind, a tender wind, we are the ones who are truly obscene, but we are the ones who give color to all things, color itself is without color, red doesn’t symbolize anger, green is not calmness nor mystery, yellow is not cowardice, we invent color, sometimes I don’t know if Sandali pities me, because she kisses me on the forehead, her eyes wide open, she doesn’t close them, Sandali is a good kisser, it’s like taking a bite of a newly plucked guava, a guava you stole from your neighbor’s roof, a guava that your cousin wrapped in plastic to prevent others from plucking it but you still do to irritate him, and you will only think, why did he wrap the guava, and it’s as if you also asked, why are there people who want to claim everything as theirs, even the wind?

Sometimes, I only want to be carried by the wind, but I don’t know if the wind can handle my weight, perhaps I can be swept by the tornado, I know that at the end there is a place where I can land, it’s a good thing that I’m not light because if I were light, I would surely be caught by the tornado all my life, I first would want to travel and disappear, like Sandali, I am envious of her, she knows how to get along with others, she knows how to multiply without me, she will only need to search for another soul like myself, we have already scattered throughout the world, though she says that I don’t know it, for I have lived in the clouds for so long, that’s what I fear, Sandali’s movements are terrifying, I fear everything, who is comfortable with those moments, the guru, the Zan Roshis, they may even embrace the moments, like how they embrace the coffins empty of riches, cancer, forgetful friends, prison cells, chauvinism and the sophistication of people who understand those who are happy because they themselves are happy.

When Sandali moves, she is like a rat, more so when she is with our offspring, they are like rats chasing about in the ceiling, the ceiling of my mind, and they make it clear that I cannot escape them, that I must offer coffee to each and every one, let them inside, until they multiply, they are only heeding the command of the Testament, go forth and multiply, and I’m not supposed to stop them, they will find me wherever I may go, and I will blame myself again, my lust, I’m a slave to Sandali’s lust, that is why I’m not happy anymore because I’m always searching for her, I want to seal all the crevices of my body, from my eyes, ears, mouth, and my great hole, but a patch is of no use, I don’t know anything about vulcanization even before, I’m merely a tattered tire, what if I close all the doors and windows, what if I patch up the holes of the crumbling ceiling, what if I patch the cement of the walls, where could I get a hold of cement, I know nothing of construction either, the only thing I know of construction is the construction of memories and dreams and nightmares, and ghosts, I do not know anything about construction, they are already there, their movements accelerating and accelerating, no, nothing, nothing will ever happen, they will find a way to slip through, what’s worse is that I now look like all of them, and I myself confuse our reflections in the mirror, my doppelgangers fill the entire room, the entire apartment, the entire planet, the entire universe, they are there in the kitchen, cooking, making an egg omelette, one is opening the refrigerator and fetching a pitcher of water, one is washing the dishes, one is tumbling on the floor, one is bathing in the bathroom, someone is watching the TV, one is reaching for a book on the shelf, one is playing an old record, Sandali’s and my children are there, I’m not surprised if tomorrow (I still hope that this is just a nightmare) they will accompany me in the jeep, and I will face them in my class, and I will see them from the window of my classroom, and I will ride with them in the jeep after work, and I will eat dinner with them, and they will be with me as I brush my teeth, and they will be with me as I sleep, if I will be able to sleep, the sphere will enlarge before my eyes, these dark spheres, a reminder of our intimacy, I need to find a way to control their replication, now I know why population control is necessary, before I found those who demonstrated the use of contraception corny because they looked like idiots, but how I wish that there are contraceptives for this, to prevent our children from multiplying, I need to decide, I need to kill them, but I’m too afraid to kill, I don’t even know if they know death for they don’t even know time, I’m annoyed with myself whenever I become smug, how I wish I could have studied in a Catholic school, perhaps it could have imparted to me something of life’s sacredness, whatever that means, there are a lot of collegians who get pregnant, today is the time for being knocked up, I remember I Believe in God, there is a part there where you say I believe in the communion of saints, there is really only one saint whom I admire, St. Francis of Assisi, he is the saint who knows how to tame wild animals, maybe I can ask him to help resolve my problem with Sandali, but they are not wild animals, wild only in their movements, like rats, gnawing at the ceiling of my mind.

“Make us a disciple of your peace,” said our children, wherever there is rustling, there will be peace, or if this were not to be true, love, love is the solution, in every facet of this emotion is where its ability to quell the rasping that disturbs and torments the heart of man is, give me silence, I scream at them, as if they hear nothing, their deafness is worse than mine, I cursed at them, son of a bitch, they laughed because it was myself whom I mocked, I was misled, I sighed deeply, where is your sense of humor, they ask me, do I not know how to laugh, I’m amused, I admitted to them, what comes out of my mouth is almost like laughter, I should lip-synch the laugh, like those who don’t know how to sing but are forced to, we will leave but you should still sing, they answered, swear to god, hope to die, they teased, I can’t think of any song, except for “You And Me Against The World,” they surrounded me, I was at the center of their circle, my voice has been hoarse from the start but I’m now nearing the end, giving my all, though the taste of the melody is bitter, that is my and Bituin’s favorite song, we sang it every time father spanked us when we refused to take a nap at noon, and I didn’t notice that our children were already sleeping, one by one they lay down in their own place, until it was only me and Sandali who remain in the room, and my lover handed me a flashlight, we played shadow puppets, I grabbed my blanket, I turned the lights off, we played with the shadows, we used our entire bodies, Sandali traced the silhouette the shadow left, she began with the motionless objects and ended with mine, she handed me a dipper, a dipper full of water mixed with soap and a wire which curved to a circle on one end, on her right hand, she crushed petals of gumamela and mixed it with the water and soap in the dipper, and she blew through the round wire and formed bubbles, and one by one the bubbles guided our children.

This is paradise, I whispered to myself, paradise is a girl playing with the soap bubbles beside her shadows, and beside her Moments.

Luna Sicat-Cleto is a poet and novelist. Her works are “Bago Mo Ako Ipalaot” (High Chair, 2018), Makinilyang Altar (UP Press, 2003) and Mga Prodigal (Anvil, 2010). She is also an editor and translator. She teaches creative writing and literature courses at the University of the Philippines. 

Bernard Capinpin is a poet and translator. He is currently working on a translation of Ramon Guillermo’s Ang Makina ni Mang Turing. He resides in Quezon City.


Read more translations on the Asymptote blog: