Friday, February 26, 2010


Zeit Schinden 2: Why is there pain in this lullaby?

I wake up these days with an Ilocano duay-ya (lullaby) humming in my head. I could recall the title of the lullaby --- Dungdungwen Kanto (I Will Always Cherish You) --- but could merely elide through all the words I could not remember. Quite like Sinatra substituting do-be-do-be-do to elusive lyrics.

I suspect my mother must have sung this to lull me into slumber from the time she carried me in her womb and through all those difficult times when I would disturb the peace of our evacuation camp (WWII) with incessant colic wailing. Born asthmatic, I was neither easy to hush nor rock to sleep. Mother assured me, not even native cane wine would benumb me to la-la land.

Come to think of it, at almost my seventh decade, I crave for sleep --- a commodity I devoutly wish for. I have not found the switch-off button that all insomniacs can only fervently dream of if not earnestly covet from sleepy heads that were gifted with this facility they sadly could never share with needy ones even if they tried.

Hence, lullabies.

I must be regressing into senility, I auto-diagnose quite often. Or, putting a cyber spin to it, my brain must be re-booting! (I hope it won’t take forever, just like these infernal Internet thingamajigs!)

I have always known the melody line, always hummed it from youth, too. I would put my own children (now grandchildren, too) to sleep with the lullaby. There is a haunting melancholic tone to the lullaby.

Not able to rely on my flickering memory, I Googled the ditty, and even got the You Tube version of this venerable Ilocano lullaby. I have not been attentive to the nuances of the lyrics, but as soon as I got all of them from the archives of an Ilocano Song website, I was disturbed to realize that it is a sadder song than I have always thought.

Why would his Duay-ya (Lullaby of Love) also include a lachrymose refrain that speaks of crippling heartache and a supplicant’s prayer for nurture and caress?

Could this be the reason why the grandchildren I have sung to sleep preferred Edelweiss and Rock-a-bye Baby to this native lullaby that rings in my old head every morning now?

DUAY-YA (Lullaby of Love)

Dungdunguen kanto unay unay, (I will love and cherish you always)
Indayonen kanto iti sinamay, (I will cradle you to sleep in a soft-cloth swing)
Tultuloden kanto nalumanay, (I will swing you ever so gently)
Pagamuanen inkanto mailibay. (And soon enough you will be asleep)

Apaman nga inkanto makaturog (As soon as you have fallen asleep)
Iyabbongkonto ta rupam daytoy panyok. (I will cover your face with my handkerchief)
Tapno dinakanto kagaten ti lamok (So no mosquitoes would bite you)
Ken maimasmonto't maturog. (And so you would enjoy a good slumber.)

Apaman nga inkanto makariing (As soon as you awaken,)
Dagdagusen kanto a sappuyoten (I would immediately hold you)
Nga ililili kas maysa nga ubing (And dandle you like an infant)
Ta nanamem sam-it ni issem. (So you could see my sweet smile)

The Refrain:

*Annay, pusok, annay, annay, (O, my aching heart, it aches, it aches,)
Nasaem, naut-ut la unay. (It hurts badly, it hurts to the core.)
Itdem kaniak ta pannaranay (So, please, please your nurture give)
Ta kaasiak a maidasay. (For it is pity if I would die.)

The three stanzas followed by the refrain are sung by the persona who lulls the loved one to a peaceful slumber. But what intrigues me is the doleful refrain. Is this a lullaby that coaxes one to go --- to leave, to bid goodbye?

If it is, then the irony is quite palpably blistering. So much love is protested in the three lullaby stanzas, only to end in each refrain with a foreboding of demise.

Is it a lullaby that forebodes some trouble in a subsequent awakening? What is it that wounds the heart? What is it that injures the persona?

It is ambiguity like this which characterizes significant poetry. It is quite endemic then to the oral poetry that preceded the postmodern prosodic attempts at poetic utterance.

During those war years (1941 to 1945) when the Japanese occupied the Philippines, mother lost her first son, Francisco, who did not survive the rigours of birth in a time and clime of direness and uncertainty. She did not have the chance to sing this lullaby to my stillborn brother. In quite a serendipitous manner, this lullaby would have been the muted dung-aw (dirge).

When, in the midst of that war, I was born with a weakened heart (it was too big, from too long and strenuous a labour by my mother in a half-deserted hospital in the Mountain city of Baguio, then the resort city of the retreating American colonial government), and an uncertain viability compounded by asthma, this would have been the “appropriate” lullaby for a vigil to mark the undetermined days that I would live.

But I lived through that evacuation to the mountains of Baguling, in La Union, in the Northern Philippines, when the Japanese were involved in mop up operations before surrendering to the liberating allied forces (Americans and Filipino guerrillas). The Igorot tribes of Baguling sheltered us. My mother had no milk in her breasts, so our native brothers boiled camote (sweet potato) and used the broth to suckle me.

If our evacuation host, Juan Tuangan, sang this lullaby to his own children, it would also have been a recognition of their perilous lives while under siege from the Nippon marauders or even the allied forces for sheltering a family that had the Japanese surname “Casuga” (originally Kasuga).

The refrain of the lullaby must be the ache in my mother’s heart. Prescient, she would know what pain awaited her surviving son. Yet, at last count, I know there are more happy moments now.

In Canada, years later in the 1980’s, my first grandson, Julian Ashley Casuga-de la Rosa, succumbed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (at 4 months). This would have been the lullaby on my lips while I held him limp and lifeless in the emergency ward where my daughter, JA’s hapless mother, simply murmured over and over: I love you, Jayjay.

Why all these remembrances? It is my Zeit Schinden, (a playing for time) while prepping to write a lullaby for Louis Martin Casuga-Lalonde, because he has gotten tired of Edelweiss.

When I switch to Rock-a-bye Baby, it suddenly dawns upon me, that the same foreboding of Dungdungwen Kanto highlights the lullaby:

Rock-a-bye, Baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle, and all.

Why have our lullabies taken a grim turn? Or are we preparing our wee ones for the nasty world out there, and nobody is checking on our gloom?

But I must hie now and write that lyric for my unsleeping grandson.

Monday, February 22, 2010


In his blog, PAX VOBIS, Rev. Francisco R. Albano reminds us of how God's people have time and time again become the whipping boy of the devil when he failed with Jesus at that wily temptation in the desert.

But God's people have turned blandishments of materialism and secular contentment down to abide by Jesus' example. Indeed, as Lent is observed by Christians around the world, one is reminded of Robert Frost's "Desert Places" --- where the metaphor of nature's winter desolation cannot mean the nadir of the aspiring soul: "they cannot scare me with their empty spaces...I have it in me so much nearer home to scare myself with my own desert places."

Rev. Albano, a poet and seminary rector in the Northern Philippines, offers the source of the people's spiritual strength (the Filipino people particularly, who have been bedevilled by temptation from opportunistic leaders and corrupt systems of governance) --- the temptation of God's people must be the Final Temptation of Christ.

This blog is emboldened to publish Rev. Albano's homily --- the most optimistic and puissant testimonial (I have the good fortune to witness) to the true Church --- God's people who must trust in God's benificence and in the promise of the New Testament that shall prevail all the days of man's life.
The people shall overcome.

1st Sunday of Lent - C (2)
(Lk.4:1-14) by Rev. Francisco R. Albano

How can we not warm up to Jesus who shares with us a very personal event in his life—his threefold temptation/test/pagsubok by no less than the devil himself? And not just his temptations, but also how without compromise he vanquished the devil. Transform stones to bread he would not. Rule over the devil’s kingdoms he would not. Prove his divine Sonship to him and give a circus performance he would not. The devil left him to return some other time. But that is another story.

Since the devil failed with Jesus, he now turns his machinations on God’s people and you and me.
For our sake does Jesus share his secret that we may journey well in our personal and/or collective religious-secular ministries to build God’s kingdom on earth – a historical kingdom of transformed men and women and of catalytic communities of truth, justice and peace. Deal decisively and well with the sort of temptation I experienced, he tells us; other trials will be chicken feed. Remember, the devil comes in many disguises; but more often than not he uses his many instruments in his arsenal of goons, gold, and guns; local and foreign powers-that-be threatened by human and divine power coming forth from the deserts of developing and underdeveloped nations.

The tests come in many forms but the basic patterns are the same. Jesus’ test in the desert guides people of goodwill.

Again and again do devil and his ilk in big business, big politics, and big technocracy tempt the people: If you are truly the blessed poor, empowered by God, leftist organizations, progressive media, the ecumenical Church and non-Christian denominations, transform your rallies and protests and manifestos into food for all, jobs for all.

Again and again is Jesus pleased with the people’s answer: No proof do we owe you that we are God’s people. We care not to live by your stone-bread materialism. We claim rice and grace and a fellowship that are denied you. Besides, already our good earth produces food, and will produce more, if only you let it and us be to share with one another.

Again and again the devil shows the people kingdoms so under his rule (“the power and glory handed over to me”), and says: I will restore to you executive, legislative, judicial and military departments under my thumb, and will throw in monopolies and monopsonies, trading centers and banks for good measure, if you kneel and worship me and swing incense to my disciples.

Again and again Jesus is pleased with the people’s answer: Only God shall you adore; only his people shall you honor and respect, and their human rights shall you not violate. Besides, it is we who can and will create our own political, economic and cultural structures of care in the spirit of nationalism and international solidarity. And you shall be exorcised, as you were in history, through democratic means, from kingdoms you have usurped through loans, unequal treaties and wars of aggression.

Again and again the devil and/or his agents tempt the people: If you are truly God’s people, make us laugh and clap our hands; let all hell hear wonderful human laughter, for hell is a place without human and good clean fun. Fall from your faith and trust in God and in yourselves, and let us see if his angels or anything supernatural will raise you up from desolation, helplessness and despair, and return you back to him

Again and again Jesus is pleased with the people’s answer: You shall not have joy and good humor. These are God’s gifts to his people and shall not be taken away from them. These are proofs of divine presence in hard times and in good times.

Indeed joy and good humor are powerful weapons against the devil and his cohorts. By these gifts are they mocked and conquered. The devil is hell for his inability to laugh and enjoy the gift of life. He and his ilk are hopelessly given to mockery; hopelessly living in fear of coups, uprisings, revolution, and resurrection in Jesus.

The people’s story is spread throughout the world.

Lord, we also share with you our secret as peoples of the world, your people. We too have been tempted and continue to be tempted. By your grace we have not succumbed to the test you allowed to happen. Even as tests may come, we continue to struggle without fear for justice, peace and care for neighbor and creation. We have reached the point where the desert wasteland ends and humanness and divinity begin. To you, praise and thanksgiving!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


It is a poet's constant dread. The poem will be stillborn. So one plays for time. Wait for the surprise that creation is. One recalls the decapitated Orpheus nailed on the lyre, singing still. There must be a song arrested in his throat. The poet plays for time, a zeit schinden. Sometimes, the poem dies in the waiting.


If playing for time is idleness regained,
a game of dunking Orpheus’ head
in a pot of boiling water would indeed
buy us the song screaming to drown
silences that are midwives to poems.
Did not the head nailed to the lyre
sing still of the beauty that was Greece?
What does it matter that limbs are shorn
from limbs in prurient violence?
A paean in darkened rooms is still pain
that seeks its balm in threnodies
muted now as dirges for the final quiver
of the song arrested in his throat,
a stillborn sigh that could have been
the dying gurgle of our descending
into a sandbox of absent games
and players gone and quietness fallen.

Mississauga, February 20, 2010

(Drawing by Matisse)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010



(For my ballerinas: Chloe, Sydney, and Taylor)

“Adios, adios, abuelo. Te Amo. Je T'aime! Mahal Kita! Luv ya!”
---- Chloe speaking in tongues.

A glimmer of a sylph on the gossamer bay,
She pirouettes and is gone into her chrysalis
Not unlike the sylvan truants that waylay
The wary wanderer among the trees,

Or the papillon flitting from blossom to bramble,
Hidden but always there, some surprise grace,
A magical fairy light to dispel the creeping pall
Coiled on the winter ennui of fallen days ---

O, she dandles dearly with her ragged ragdoll,
Caressingly delicate in a wistful pas de deux
Of her shadow Fonteyn caught in a sudden fall
By a prancing Baryshnikov vaulting off the shadow.

Was that his pas de chat to snatch her from disaster?
Quickly now, urgently now, hold the hapless Dame
As would a cat curl on the legs of its Master,
Dream now of a demure pas de bourree of fame,

While dreams still enthrall, while the dancing
Is still your language of love, of boundless courage,
While the arguments of your young body moving
To the beats of passion are still the true language

Of the good, the honest, and the beautiful:
Until then, mon amour, these decrepit hands cannot
Stop the deluge of fear, of hurt, and of the frightful
That would drown us all, before our windows are shut.

Even now, as you wave from your window,
I know you will be brave.

Mississauga, Feb. 9, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010



Posted here for a wider circulation, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, Philippines, in February 2009 as part of the 400 books written by university alumni to commemorate the university's 400th anniversary. University of Santo Tomas is one of the world's oldest universities (established in 1611) and was at one time under the aegis of the Papacy as Royal and Pontfical Uniersity of Saint Thomas. It is now run fully by Filipino Dominican friars for more than 50,000 scholars from the country and internationally.

The collection of poems by Albert B. Casuga was to have been the other half of a volume featuring the short stories of Cesar Leyco Aguila and Casuga's poetry. The publishing house decided to publish it separately, and is Casuga's eighth collection of poems. Aguila is a Philippines-born Australian writer who came out recently with a novel, Between Two Worlds. Aguila and Casuga are graduates of the venerable unversity in the 60's.

(Click on Image to Zoom on Text: Pages 1-47 inclusive)

The author acknowledges the assistance of Dr. Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, UST Writer in Residence in the publication of this collection. Dr. Dimalanta introduced Casuga's first collection of poems Narra Poems and Others (San Beda College, Philippines, Publications) in 1968.

2010 February,Mississauga