, May 22, 2024

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Nonie Villanueva via Flickr
By Marne Kilates

Looking down from the rising foothills of the Sierra Madre,
I see the ghost of a city rising on the horizon,
A levitating specter of itself, feet not touching ground.
It can be smog or mist creates this illusion of weightlessness.
It can be the time of day, the noon sun’s heat, or the dusk
Hesitant to let go of the day―cleft vision of memory’s twilight.
Memory is ever the mind’s reason for illusion, like a river
Climbing down a mountain becoming stream or cataract,
Or my own waterfall of memory of the church on the hill―
Bending down to slip shoes on, I reach for the shoe horn
And get stopped by the marking on the plastic: it is a souvenir
From the Grand Hotel in Florence where like a wind
A conference brought me a long time ago. What comfort
For my sore heels the Café Picasso offered as I reached
The piazza near the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona:
I was the ignorant stranger who walked the lovely avenue
(All ten miles of it) to Gaudi’s spectacular cathedral from
My port hotel that looked like it was ready to sail out to sea.
The illusion of distance―or the foreshortening of it―
Is one more liminal memory, the mind’s will-o’-the-wisp,
The Saint Elmo’s fire of long-grounded sailors like me.
Before waking, or making sense of the carnage in Kyiv,
In Putin’s insane war, memory brings back the warmth
Of the samovar tea on a train en route to St. Petersburg,
Where the afternoon awaited us for a whirlwind tour
Of the Hermitage, where after gawking at the galleries-full
Of Masters and all the European art looted by the Tsars,
At an outdoor café, our guide, the ever-smiling Muscovite
Vladimir, brought out his leather attaché and took out
His prized snack: a green and ponderous Cavendish banana.
Back home I sit back to listen to gypsy music on a CD
Bought in the basement café of the Prado in Madrid,
After Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and Goya’s Majas…
The deepening dusk brings me strains of solfeggio
And finger exercises from the late classes
Of the High School for the Arts in Makiling, before
Our shuttle bus takes us back, the Visiting Faculty,
To the clamorous streets of the City―all in their
Fading states of insubstantiality at the mind’s fringes.
A shoe horn from the other side of the world,
A brown twig from the Kaamulan forest in Bukidnon,
The college students’ ululating chorus imitating
Birds and beasts―the trysts and thresholds,
The dreamtime of our Self buried under the dross
Of the centuries summon all these vibrations
Of recall, transport me back to my hometown
Streets: The agonías bells ring as I, wayward ghost,
World-weary, arrive: The cantor pedals his reed organ,
The priest swings his censer, waves his wand
To sprinkle holy water at the catafalque materializing
In the slanting shadows, and outside the world turns
Purple. And the night train to Manila hoots,
A slow-moving glowworm crawling up the foothills
Of Mayon, bearing our dreams and gifts through
The thin membrane of past and present, between
Our past and the City of Our Affections, and the dark
Continues to descend over the Church on the Hill.

About the Poet:

Marne Kilates is an award-winning poet, freelance writer, editor, and translator. He has published six books of poetry and translated works by leading Filipino poets such as National Artists Rio Alma, Bienvenido Lumbera, and Lazaro Francisco. He has won the Philippines’ Palanca Memorial Awards, the National Book Awards, and the SEA Write Award given by the Thai royalty.

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