Loss. When all that’s left are the fleeting memories of tall cups of coffee and literary exchanges, an intertwining of passion and hunger for experience. That thin recalling of how your eyes glistened with pride as you displayed your autographed copy of James Tate’s poetry collection, how you managed to earn an afternoon with him.
My hands fumble when writing about loss, but when have I not fallen in my attempts to write? Those pages filled with poems on themes I didn’t understand then, those lines wrought with pure angst and sexual frustration. They wither in my hands as how I withered when I read the notice:
“If you would like to send flowers, we request that you please send white flowers.”
Read and re-read. Read and re-read.
My eyes lost control and I let go of the whisk still dripping with leche flan mix. I keep composure before my in-laws could notice the difference.
The lit, air-conditioned classroom. I was well into my second trimester. A dear friend and I stopped mid-sentence when you entered the room, your left eye painted a blend of dark blue and purple. I tell myself, do not stare.
You started the lecture, your eyes locked to the floor, your head bobbing to the prosody of your understanding.
I pay the price for my silence.
They say, “Life must go on, you will eventually move on,” but no one disclosed that to move on at the peak of finding feels impossible, like a bottle cap glued a bit too well that you just can’t open it.
Life turns into a standstill. You lose control of your breathing. You think you can keep a dry face until the words roll out your tongue and the heaviness spills through your chest.
It turns out that the first feeling is numbness, a limbo. Second, heaviness. Like I lose my footing and fall into an endless dark pit where air thins and light dims. I think of my poetry, those days in the air-conditioned classroom, your wisdom and advice for three aspiring poets.
A demand for an explanation. My mind, for some strange reason, combs the recesses of Memory for the athlete of A. E. Housman.
The glory of your passing is a pale yellow, like paper stained and aged. Light, true and tender, has gone out.
Mark Strand, at 80, recently passed away. I remember my final day as your student. The term has ended and papers have been marked. You read “A Piece of Storm” with passion vibrant in its subtlety to us as a send-off. This is the beauty of your teaching.
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed.
That’s all There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
‘It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.’
Your mannerisms come to mind. The phrases “so much so” and “inasmuch as” are songs I keep on infinite loop. Your absence still hurts, and it will probably throb with every poem I read and recite.
It pains me to not be able to visit you today as your loved ones return you to the earth. I wish to burn a path just to be able to say goodbye. But it may be better this way, for I would have no better words to offer—a broken dam of tears and regret. Instead, I’ll let pleasant memories of our poetry sessions keep my head afloat.
I took some time to look through Mark Strand’s poems yesterday. It’s funny because even back then, I’d catch myself mixing your names and regard you as Mark Strand. The voices of your poems are similar in rhythm, the depth of your knowledge and experience reflecting. It explains why reading “Lines for Winter” I hear your voice reading the lines aloud:
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself —
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
I searched through my bundle of photocopies for remnants of your discussions. Robert Hass’ “Listening and Making,” “Night Vigil” by Shen Zhou, “Prosody as Rhythmic Cognition,” Osip Mandelstam.
I keep thinking about how I’ve so much to learn and appreciate, to yet master the art of listening, of incorporating music and rhythm into my own poetry. I keep thinking how I’ve yet to understand these lines, that my mind is still untrained to fully grasp their implications. With you gone, I’ve somehow lost my hold on what’s left of the direction to get to that point.
But even when I’ve still a long way to go and there’s much work to be done, I will keep writing, reading, and living. You would’ve wanted that for all of your students, especially those that love the craft of poetry as much as you did.
I shall keep close to the clown-faced woodpecker (4–5) and how it pecks at the dead sculpted trunk of that black birch (5–6). I’ll try to internalise the wisdom that a word is elegy to what it signifies (11) and remember that longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances (24–25), to treasure that tenderness, those afternoons and evenings, and in the thick of dusk the trailing of blackberry, blackberry, blackberry (30–31).
As the lamp post that lit my first path to poetry, thank you for everything.
Professor Francisco Roman Guevara was my professor in Writing for Poetry 1 at De La Salle University — Manila, one of the first to teach me the craft of poetry. He died in a motorcycle accident on November 28, 2014 and was buried today, Dec 2, 2014, which is also when this piece was written.