No moment further could we have wasted
I gave the orders, my men assaulted.
It was all over in half a minute –
The bag of crackers we all have finished.
It was only last year that I was introduced to Axel Pinpin’s prison poetry and I must say I was blown away. I told myself, that’s the way to do it. I wonder what he’d make of this pitiful poem above, my very first under detention and also in eight months. I wish Ka Axel could write me a letter and just tell me exactly how he did it. Here’s the story, meanwhile, behind the bag of crackers, and more.
It has become a ritual of some kind for about a month now. Every time I would re-enter the cell coming from the dalawan, I would, at some imagined exact moment, give the kakosas the GO, and just like that, selda dos becomes a mosh pit. The kosas would spring from their tarimas straight into the narrow and slippery aisle, and in a few seconds of heavy, potentially injurious banging and grabbing would all try to outmuscle each other just to get a piece of my pasalubong – hopia, mani, (no, not popcorn) but it’s usually that jumbo bag of pork crackers or chicharon. They would so uninhibitedly – almost desperately – get themselves involved in the ruckus that you’d think famine had just hit Calbayog City.
But they would all be so in it not exactly out of any urgent, gnawing hunger. The idea, rather, is simply to shake off numbness; or in a highfalutin sense, to assert a more real existence. Buryong, self-pity, or any of limbo life’s damning feelings can be such a formidably creepy adversary, that to give it a good fight would at times require a coming together of some pent-up raw energies or whatever is left of each one’s juvenile compulsions. It’s a collective kind of tripping basically, which the kosas resort to however spontaneously; especially when individual diversions or coping schemes such as crafting flowers out of plastic straws, reading the bible, or even masturbation seem to have already reached their numbing and damning levels themselves.
The brawl over chicharon, however, is only the ritual’s pasakalye. As soon as the melee subsides, we would set ourselves up for our brief daytime educational discussion (ED). From primal adrenalin surge to political analysis – an outrageously sudden shift really, but it gives you an entire range already of human and social possibilities; try to think of it in reverse and you’d find yourself contemplating history and revolution.
We have previously set our EDs at night owing to the oppressive heat during the day. But since the third week of March, when access to materials on current issues became more regular through the efforts of my visitors, we have found a way to maximize a few minutes in the morning or in the afternoon for short sessions of balitaan. Last week, for example, it was about the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani issue; and the commemoration of International Earth Day, which both had a very pronounced angle of human rights. This morning, my visitors brought me an envelope containing copies of statements and messages read during last April 15’s launch of the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign (FEAC), and so I thought of giving the kosas a FEAC progress report.
First up was the FEAC press release entitled “Artists, Journalists, Academe Call for Release of Detained Cultural Worker.” I was just starting to paraphrase it in Filipino when Kosa R politely interrupted:
“Ka Eric,” he said, “Ingles ba ya’ng nakasulat d’yan o Tagalog?”
I told him it’s in English, and he at once followed up with, “OK, sige basahin mo ‘yan sa amin sa Ingles.”
A back story is here needed. Yesterday, I was lying in my tarima trying to re-read Elmer Ordonez’ essay “Dissent and Counter-Consciousness in the Academe” from the book Serve the People (which was sent to me by Renato Reyes, Jr. on day three of incarceration). Extreme heat and buryong made for this strange impulse which suddenly pulled me to sit up and pushed me to read the essay out loud and in Shakespearean flourish. I finished the act and it felt as if I was relieved of something. I was a bit concerned though that the kosas, my audience and all, might think that I had finally flipped out.
But no, they were just so amused, smiling and all praises for what they thought was a splendid performance. They asked me, in fact, to do another one. I thought it was definitely all about Hollywood; it was some aural cinematic enjoyment that they experienced hearing someone, a kakosa at that, sound so convincingly, authentically Anglo-American. I told them maybe next time.
This morning, I found it necessary to oblige to a belated encore. The impromptu plan was to read all the English statements first before I translate or explain them. I read the FEAC press release and I thought it really sounded like Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List. This sort of gave me a boost, and so in reading the rest of the statements, I thought I could do some conscious character-pegging.
I delivered the fiery CEGP statement of support, “A Definition of Fascism,” with Samuel Jackson in mind, particularly in his “righteous vengeance” monologue in Pulp Fiction. The brief message from Baguio of the panelists and fellows of the 50th UP National Writers’ Workshop I did in Jude Law fashion. It was screaming Hollywood all throughout. But no matter, I thought I really had their attention.
In fact, by then selda uno, selda tres and selda cinco had all joined in the audience (although only the kosas from selda cinco could see me since it’s the cell opposite that of ours). I also saw a group of pasilyo boys (inmates who are allowed from time to time to roam around inside the compound) peeking in from the corridor.
It was the most opportune time to balance things out, I thought as I began explaining in Filipino, the contents of what I had just read. I guess I gave a good account of myself in my attempt to exude that distinct militant flare of a 1990s Nathaniel Santiago. The pauses were particularly effective and in one of them, an obviously agitated kosa from selda tres shouted, “Palayain si Ka Eric!”
The proud stage-kosas of selda dos gave the loudest applause. The heat was as harsh as the high noon sun of Liwasang Bonifacio – it all felt like Mayo Uno.
There were two more messages, both in Filipino, which I decided to present in style as well. The one from the Kilometer 64 Poetry Collective I approached with the plebeian stance of Pen Medina. Rody Vera’s definitely gave me the goosebumps as I read it, imagining how Tito Rody himself would do it in Rajah Sulayman.
What we just did in fact – from Neeson to Vera – was basa-talakay, a rather dated and usually perceived to be boring form of educational discussion. But this one certainly was a blast.
Finally, I updated the kosas about my legal defense fund. I told them that a poetry group called High Chair had donated to it recently after a successful sale of their publications. Another group of artists, the Neo-Angono, had done the same by holding an art auction.
Kosa R said, “Ang dami mo palang pasasalamatan.”
Definitely, I told him, as I pulled out from the envelope a long list of supporters who had signed up for the FEAC.
Kosa D took the list from me. He looked at it intently. I knew he was not reading. He actually can’t. We’re still working on it though; he’s one of my students in our on-and-off literacy class in the cell. What Kosa D was doing was counting the lines on the list which filled up three sheets of long bond.
“Ganyan,” he finally said, “dapat marami ang resbak at nagkakaisa.”
(to be concluded…)