LUGAR LANG| What Is Enough

WHEN writers die, we always say, “Your words will live on,” to comfort the bereaved but also to assuage our own fears of disappearing into oblivion. It could be said that each piece we write is a fist thrown in the face of death, as Dylan Thomas once (and always) famously advised. But why not go gently into that good night?

 July 2017 took two writers, dear friends of mine. On July 20, Carlos A. Arejola of Pili, Camarines Sur (born May 31, 1961) and on July 28, Francis C. Macansantos of Zamboanga City and Baguio City (born October 30, 1949), both succumbing to heart failure. But I cannot imagine how their hearts “failed,” as both showed in their work hearts that constantly raged against the human condition. News of their passing put me in a state of back-to-back grief, made more stark by self-reflexive questions, foremost of which was: “Have I done enough?”

 Carlo had his eye set on doing enough. I had met him in 2011 when I started serving in the National Committee on Literary Arts (NCLA). We became fast friends through his kind efforts to walk with me and listen to my side in the midst of committee politics. Meanwhile, he helped establish the Premio Tomas Arejola Para sa Literaturang Bikolnon, the Juliana Arejola-Fajardo Workshop sa Pagsurat Bikol, and the Pili Banwaan Ko, Padangat Ko Cultural Heritage Society, which have undoubtedly contributed much to the development of writing in the Bicol region. After he left the NCLA, he founded Teatro Ragayano in December 2015, and continued to help them grow as Artist-in-Residence. Members now fondly (and rightly) call him its father.

 Carlo published several children’s books, as well as a collection of his Palanca award-winning plays. His latest book, a collection of his poetry in Filipino, Wala Akong Bitbit na Sawiang Puso Tuwing Naglalakbay was published by Ateneo de Naga University Press in 2016. In the poem “Sa Bawat Paglisan,” he assures us “Buo ang loob ko/ Tuwing naglalakbay…” bringing nothing unnecessary except the self: “ang bitbit ko ay ang sarili.” Thus I would like to think that Carlo went gently, wholeheartedly into that good night, seeing it as only another journey he had to take.

 On the other hand, my friendship with Francis “Butch” Macansantos was an old one, having met him in 1996, at the beginning of my writing journey. He was a panelist in the Silliman National Writers Workshop that year, and quite possibly the only one who saw some potential in my clumsy poetry drafts. I didn’t see myself as a writer at that time, and every kind word meant the difference between going on and giving up. I am certain Butch didn’t have to make things up to encourage me; he only had to see. Later, when I had moved to Baguio City, we would have more opportunities to sit and talk about writing and the vagaries of living. In my copy of his book Womb of Water, Breasts of Earth. An Epic Poem (2007), which had won the 2003 NCCA Writers Prize, he wrote, “May you never forsake poetry.” By then I had shifted my focus to writing prose, which came more naturally to me, but as a mentor, Butch refused to give up on my poetry.

 As a writer and as a writing teacher, I know how important it is to have someone you respect not give up on you. I have many times wanted to give up on myself, plagued incessantly by fears of not being good enough. Even though our friendship was tainted much later by politics in the NCLA, for his confidence, I will always be grateful.

 All of us who have met Butch will probably remember his well of literary jokes and witticisms, from which more came the more he took. But his award-winning poetry was quite serious. His latest book, Balsa: Poemas Chabacano (2011) is only the second book of poetry in the language of Zamboanga by a Zamboangueño, albeit an estranged one. It is his last gift to Mindanao, where he was born and raised. In the poem “El Exilio” (The Exile), he writes, “El muerte ta espera./ No hay pa kita alla,/ Sabe ya kita que talla.// Cuando kita ta sabe/ Que kita exilio ya?// El corazon, el corazon sabe.” In his own translation, “Death awaits./ We don’t have to get there/ To know that.// When do we know/ That we are exiles?// The heart, the heart knows.” I want to believe that this book of poems in his first language is how he came home. Gently, with the heart knowing, not failing.

 Had Carlo and Butch done enough? Those of us whose lives they had blessed will not forget them. But who is to say, really? We do what we can with what we have. That is enough for now.

 Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz

Posted in Opinion