Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Conquering the UP Medics' Poetry Tilt

So... I won both first and second prizes in this year's UP Medics' Poetry-Writing Contest, with the theme "Code Blue: Verses of Survival." Very thankful. The competition was open to all students of the UP College of Medicine and had two categories (English and Filipino) with separate sets of winners for each. There was no limit as to the number of poems one could submit, so I sent in four. As the saying goes, "winning once is great, but winning twice is greater." (I just made that up, yes.)

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Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in Verse


When you said I was dying,
I thought you were talking of liberation
from lust. I thought you were talking
of permanent escape from one-night stands,
musty motel rooms, rubber condoms; I thought
‘dying’ was my new lease on life.

When you said ‘dying’ as a vague certainty,
like blank canvass and oil brushes, or blank stares
and oiled bodies, I was thinking of thought;
I was thinking of possibilities – those which can be,
which can only be – in mundane semantics.  

For what else could you have said; what meaning
could have hidden behind the vagrancy
of your sentence? That I was dying
must not have been among them.


I would like to do a million things.
Slaughter sheep. Break some boy’s bones.
Drown ducklings. Cripple kittens.
Shoot an arrow straight at the nurse’s neck.
Strangle the doctor with his stethoscope.
I would like to do these things and a million more.


When you said I was dying,
I thought of giving away the garden.
The orchids on the trellis, ceramic pots,
pliant bamboo straight from Sichuan.
I thought of giving away the dog.
the kitchen. the marble counters.
The parquet floor and Roman tapestries.

When you said I was dying,
I was ready to hand death over
in exchange for something smaller,
less grandiose – say, a new lease on life.


I would like to bury myself beneath bags
of sand. Fill my guts with gravel, grind my flesh.
I would like to swallow the sea, and be swallowed.
I would like to burn, to bask in the false glory
of flames in a pyre. To play with fire, to turn
to ashes. I would like to sleep, and wake up
one with the embers.


When you said I was dying,
and you said a million other things,

I picked up my suitcase, my somber delusions,
and a dandelion, dead, fallen on my feet;

I strapped on my sandals, steadied my staff
to part the swirling sea of sickness and sanity;

When you said I was dying,
I headed for the door, out to the garden,

and there, on the bushes, the first blossoms
of morning – my new lease on life.

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A Journey by Train
I would like to step on a train that will take me to places
teeming with people from the tip of a painter’s brush.

Such as sidewalk cafés swirling with strangers’ sweat
and stench, and cinnamon and cheese and coffee cups.

Such as boulevards by the bay and their emptiness
come evening, carefully cradling a city’s craggy coastline.

Such as galleries guarding a million murals, statues of naked men,
and sculptures scavenged from the sundried soil of Spain.

I would like to sit by the windows and see the countryside
fade to a blurry smudge, like pastel colours tainted with tears.

Meadows shall melt to muddles of green and yellow,
and sunflowers will be specks of sawdust in the air.

Trees will turn to wooden tinsels lined up in rows,
or toy soldiers, browned from battle, with wreaths on their heads.

I would like to let the tracks carry my carriage ‘cross stone bridges,
into verdant valleys carved from the bosom of mountains.

I would like to feel the shaking of steel beneath my rested feet,
as if I were in some bustling town, ‘stead of rustic country.

As if office buildings were made of stone and fertile soil,
and restaurants sat beside streams, and disco bars beside pasture.

Come sunset, the sky would burn a brazen, blinding orange,
and clouds would calmly drift like shiftless sheep in the field.

Come nightfall, the rain would gently wash grit and grime
off the silent, tired ground – gruff like the listless labourer.

I would like to capture more photographs in the camera
of my mind, but then the train would slowly come to a halt.

There in the heart of the woods, or the stone pavement of a station,
I would get off, bringing only my limbs, some pieces of luggage,

and the dreamy vividness of the journey. And soon wake up,
midnight, back on the coldness of my hospital bed.

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