Five Poems

Rosmon Tuazon


You may have not heard, but there’s a monk bathing himself
in gasoline somewhere at the intersection; and now he’s carrying
a match. It is 1963. This is Saigon.

If you’re not here then maybe you’re lost, missing
in the thicket, trading fire among the trees,
or you’re looking out the window of a hotel room, rolling

through your fingers the bullet you always keep wiped clean, thinking
of the coming parade. While the flames imitate
the lotus position of the opposition:

if it refuses to catch on, it isn’t ready,
you say, if you’re one of those standing by the side of the road,
in line with all the madness and wailing

like firetrucks circling, circling
the city, trying to get to anywhere but the fire.
But what is gained before

one of them is consumed? Quick, someone get
a pail at least, soften the flaying flames, begging,
roasting the ears of the monk with every whisper.

If you’re not here, perhaps you’re pacing
in your office, or dizzying your swivel-chair you refuse to leave.
As if you’d catch fire any moment now,

pestered by the bullet whose shrieking you feel you can end only
by shooting it. When it finds its target. But don’t worry
about that now. There is no fire, no monk, you were never there

to begin with—but there’s a mound of ash sitting
in something like the lotus position in the middle of the intersection.
This is Saigon. It is now 1963. You’re probably still alive.


This is the spoon and the bitterness measured.
This is the cup and a cup of remains.

This is the veil of the widow of the world.
This is the sleeping mat with wide eyes woven in.

This is the necklace bright in the mind of the blind.
This is the bracelet of the glutton for bright things.

This is the pot filled with the finest sand.
This is the vase from a house that refuses to let light through.

This is the sword that would fit right in a chest.
This is the mask of one who looks like everyone.

This is a book of instructions in a dead language.
This is the spirit that drives visitors to our land away.

This is the postcard of a city you can never come from.
Take what you want and you will be left behind.


The trellis sags with grapes and maggots.
            If so, pick the grapes, pick the maggots.

The maggots are ripe; thus squirm the grapes.
            If so, fill the basket with both ripenesses.

My garden, fount of wine that can satisfy the angels.
            If so, squeeze the grapes, squeeze the maggots.

But what is the fruit of it all: the maggots or the grapes?
            Intoxication rebelling against the fruit of endless death.

Would you fetch for me from my bounty, friend,
            We sow what we plant. You own your own tragedy

                        Even just a taste?
                                                To the last drop.

In Case I Run Out

In case I run out of words,
I will enclose a whisper in an envelope

and I will hide this in a crack in the wall
of the room where I will die.

One by one I will deny the words I once
released: I loved her before the reason

for loving. Or, I will only forget then.

In case I run out, I will speak
into a vase what is left on my lips.

I will fill this with water, stake a rose
that has bloomed from folded paper.

I will then finally learn to stay quiet.
These are not the words that will save me.


In the twilight, there is a woman I cannot stand.

I am not ugly, I am merely sad.

My embrace snags on an exhausted breast,
a sinking rib, the crest of a scar.

I am not sad, I am merely hungry.

I prepared dinner for her
yet she has not raised her utensils once.

I am not hungry, I am impatient.

But what do you want, how can I share in what you feel?

I am not impatient, I merely have no patience.

I have made love to her all night
but not a drop of sweat fell to the sheets.

You are not useless, no. There is just nothing you can give.

translated from the Filipino by Ben Aguilar