Home Petrochemical Depot
Ang lakas ko ay nalipat,
Sa puso’t dibdib ng lahat;
Kung nais ninyong akoy mabuhay,
Pag-ibig ko’y inyong ibigay.
–Nicanor Abelardo, “Mutya ng Pasig”
Praised be You my Lord, through Brother Sun
Petroleum fumes burn my eyes, my lungs
It hurts when I breathe, it hurts when I don’t
Praised be You my Lord, through Brother Air
High from inhaling gasoline vapors
Headrushing’s made me a junkie
Praised be You my Lord, through Sister Water
I bathe in her, I drink her tears
Collected in cisterns, poison rain
Praised be You my Lord, through Brother Fire
I erupt in bleeding ulcers and boils
My body, a cancerous tree in bloom
Here’s another spot along the Pasig, a petrochemical depot in which nearby residents describe chemical and gas leaks, noxious fumes, and report all kinds of skin and respiratory ailments, cancer even in children. The title of this poem (or the title of this section of the poem) may be too clever, but I am using it until I think of something better. So here, I am working from residents’ testimonies, as gathered and transcribed by a community organization called Global Community Monitor.
I should also mention that yesterday’s disease and pesticide details came from a study on Manila’s waste water and biosolids management done by the Manila Water Company, Inc.
“Mutya ng Pasig” is apparently a kumintang (I would have thought it a kundiman), as per Ramon P. Santos Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Composition and Theory at the UP College of Music, in his essay “Language, Poetry and Drama in the Art Music of Nicanor Abelardo,” here. I am not sure exactly how to excerpt the song for my epigraph, because there’s some lovely stuff at the beginning, but these last two lines particularly are important: “if you wish me to live, / give me back my love.”
Last thing on this series of poems. It’s really more like one poem to be comprised of many numbered parts. It’s easier to be writing shorter episodes and hence chipping away at this totally too large thing that is Manila, the Pasig River, and my ambivalence about/for it.
Addendum: I’ve just read that the Patron Saint of Manila is San Francisco de las Lágrimas, as reported by the NY Times on Wednesday July 31, 1898 (article preview and link to PDF here), and as written/recorded by John Foreman in an ethnography called The Philippine Islands (1906). San Francisco de las Lágrimas was a weeping statue of one of my favorite saints, Saint Francis of Assisi. So hence the weaving a Saint Francis of Assisi prayer, the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.