Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Tale of the Spiderwoman - poems by Merlie M. Alunan



Pyres of leaves burn away summer.

Cicada shells pile under the marsh grass,

still memorial of seasons past.

I’ve no words for these—

lean boys and slender girls pass by my window

drinking the sun on their golden skin.

Apple-breasted women with melons in their bellies

snitch sprigs of basil from my herb pots,

and curious-eyed strangers scan the veiled glass

for glimpses of my blurred face, but hurry off

with any stranger’s indifference.


How endless the mazes I inhabit,

layer on layer of silence shield me.

Odd monsters breed here, I warrant.

I myself daily grow smaller and smaller until

almost invisible. Fuzz on my skin, my eyes

multiply a hundredfold in this darkness

and split the light in thousand prisms—

and now I can see what’s before and after.

I become light as air, my sweetness distils

to fatal potency. I practice a patience

vaster than ten worlds. I wait.


`If, at last, the merest rumor of your scent

warms the air drifting to my door,

I shall shake my thin thighs loose.

My hair will grow back in the usual places,

my eyes regain their focus, my ears

will hear words and speeches again.

Cicadas will chirr live under the marsh grass.

Perhaps it would be June,

the green returning to the trees.


When your shadow crosses my door,

please enter without fear.

But remember not to ask where I’d been

or what had fed me in this empty room

curtained with fine webs of silk.

Ignore the seethe of all my memories.

Come, take my hand.

I am human at your touch.



A stranger lives under my skin,

an awful slob—I’ve to pick up after her,

mislays her own things all the time,

so now, hard to say what are hers,

and what are properly mine, aaiiee!

This bum knee, this cold in my back,

soreness on my feet, as though like her

I ‘m ready to trade in my shoes

for a corner in the house

where the high winds never visit—

hers, hers, I’d say, hers, all these.


She just happened. One morning,

there she was in my usual place

at breakfast, blinking at the light

with myopic eyes, acting for all the world

as if she’d always belonged at my table

and lived in my house, wondering too,

much as I would at that time of day,

what to cook for lunch, or why these days,

no one else seems to be at home but me.

Ungracious guest, ignored me completely,

shelling my egg, eating my orange,

and sipping my coffee.

Of course I didn’t press her to stay,

hoping she’d take the hint and leave.

Not her. She’d lived here ever since.


Dips her hands, she does, into all

that’s mine. Why I don’t like her, see?

So many things I’m losing these days,

Old recipes, old love letters, names

of things, of enemies and friends,

keys to treasures I’ve kept secret

that now I can’t put a finger to,

the twists and turns of familiar tales,

songs cramping their tunes in the throat,

their lyrics tingling on the tongue,

but no memory now to nudge them into sounds—

ayah, that’s when I most wish her gone.


This must stop, this sniffing around

my little dreams as when she learned

of my gentleman with a snake-headed cane

and a mask of gold and vermilion who

each night comes to the edge of my sleep

—“Shameless, shameless,” says the hussy,

making an awful face. If I could, I’d take her

by her heels and give her a smart smack

on the butt to make her cry, that primal yell,

as it were, to brighten a world grown slack,

to restore it to innocence and freshness

as in the beginning. “Go away, you old witch,”

I told her once. Ayah, she took me by the wrist

and pulled, laughing, running, running, crying,

And you, come with me, come, come, come!”

Aaiiee, could’ve dragged me off easily too,

she ‘s that strong. The pain of her grip

has lingered since in my bones.


Some nights, when my vermilion knight leaves,

and the crushed papaya blossoms reek

with the odor of longing and the smell of death,

I turn my back and close my eyes so

I don’t see her. But she’s there, I know,

this awful stranger sharing my skin

laughing silently, her mad laughter.

She’d never go, never go, never go, I know.

Never, never, never, until I do—


April 18, 1998





Everything I’ll leave behind of course—

clothes, books, the blue stone I bought

from the gap-toothed gypsy in La Paz,

bottles of perfume languishing unused

for years in dim closets where I’ve kept them,

the basil bush in its corner in the garden

where the sun is sure to find it everyday,

old wine vinegar scented with tarragon,

jars of jams, pickles and conserves—

how long, you think, will they last you?

Who will replenish them? Oh, but really,

should I care about any of these at all?

About the photos, can’t wash them white

or bleed the colors till they faint.

Time will oblige. They’ll breathe on their own

in the dark for a while, keep you company

some gray morning as you sip jasmine tea,

waiting for the cloud to clear. You might try

in that quiet time to gather in your mind

places, faces, words, perhaps my name

inscribed in the rusting empty mailbox.


As you sit in the watery light, a whiff of song

might float by, you might say to yourself,

“That one, I know that one, it reminds me of—”

and stop, your tongue unable to shape it,

the syllables crumbling, murdered by memory.

Then have I truly gone, my love.

Silence has closed over the space I have been,

even grief would not keep it.


Ozamis City/ April 25, 2004




For Rene Estella Amper


The hunting hawk loses the airstream,

falters and dives, a moment pinched from time

that allowed fish to hide among the bending reeds.

The nestling dreams of its nest crashing down

on the ant heap below, cowers, and sleeps

until wakened by warm beaks for food.

The trees in their green dance may pale a little,

and flowers shiver though no breeze blows.


As before, mimosa opens

and shuts its leaves as pigs and leopards

snaffle by, cicadas sing the hours of their love,

never stopping for any reason under heaven.

The treacherous and the true fall as ever,

and tyrants rule for faith as for gold.

Childless young men yield their blood to slake

the thirsty sand of Lebanon in a war without end.

Should the sky fall over Iraq, it would fall

on old and young alike, the guilty and the pure,

the evil and the good, sin and virtue both

confounded as some ancient law foretells,

no one, nothing spared, and thus,

a poet’s death happens as quietly

as any man’s, unannounced as a sparrow’s fall, is no more

ponderous than a beggar’s, curled in some ratty corner,

alone and unmourned. Felons and saints be among us still,

Mere vanity to say truth ends with him, or honor,

or joy, or even love. His breath has not the savior’s pitch

to save us from our fates. Words will go on assaulting us,

wanting to be said. And how unsay what we should have

vaulted in our throats? No matter, we will find means

to please tomorrow, we’ll get on somehow, despite today’s

raw deals. Learn forgiveness, no choice.


Now that he has breathed his last,

women who know these things, true to their duties,

will gather the little children at dusk and make them

kneel on wooden floors to pray for his peace.

Despite the massing of the dark outside,

their frail voices will seethe among the leaves,

and cross the silence where he lies next to stones

and the roots of weed and grass under the mold.


Should he hear them, he might, as they say,

turn a little in his grave. The candle flames might

flicker for a while, a bit of air stirred by his movement.

Think nothing of this. In our innocence,

we would pronounce to one another,

It’s only the wind, the wind, nothing more.


March 1, 2007






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