Judas Iscariot's kiss is on the 27th float.
It is him whose lips are frozen
inches away from the Messiah's face,
scrutinized close by a soldier
who held his torch as if to burn
their wigs, or hit their heads,
his angry frown made theatrical
by the sculpture's dark carapace.
Between the two main statues,
the kiss never really happened.
There is just the traitor's hand
casting a shadow on the back of Jesus,
not touching either, just a gesture
like that of a gentleman
inviting a lady to dance,
and it's hard to tell if Christ was stiff
or taken aback. Their robes glow before
the hot spotlights, much like those
in the other staged apparitions
wobbling above their cartwheels
(with the pockmarks on the roads
making for their pattern of rigid sways).
The first time I saw them was in Santo Cristo,
one night outside a granduncle's house
which itself looked dominated,
or built around, the life-size image
of Our Lady of the Rosary.
In her presenceâ€”barely more solemn
than moroseâ€”one is prompted to pause,
look into the marble eyes
and disregard all other corners.
We come there every Good Friday,
when the golden showers finally shed
their leaves, cornfield mud turns to dust
and find their way between
slippers and feet, and the whole
lineup of more than seventy tableaus
exit their mansions and chapels
into Baliuag's narrow streets.
Some choose to watch, others assemble
in the church, pick their karosa,
trail along the procession by foot
or by hitch. Only they can tell
why they follow the mummy
that is Lazarus Raised from the Dead,
or one of the three Gethsemanes
and their signature rocks and ferns.
In this town whose only tourist event
happens when all others
are on vacation somewhere else,
up the mountains or down the beach,
sirens on these nights can never be
mistaken for nearby fire.
They only mean that the rooster
is coming, with San Pedro,
he who is on the first float
because he holds the key of heaven.
The procession follows below them:
the competition of signature shirts,
the alternation of fans and candles
in hands, the red generators, the black
wheels, the brown wooden floats
smothered with plastic flowers
and angel wings. I watched them yearly
since I was a small boy clutching
my father's collar, my heart
beating fast against his chest
as the prayers thunder from the speakers,
the interludes of generators tremble,
and the big, unblinking eyes of Romans,
Jews and Galileans parade above me.
I was even more afraid of the donkey
mechanically moving its feet
and all the other moving statues
in the climax of the parade.
When these statues and people
face the light, they make a shadow
on their backs. It was here where
I learned how light can be edged,
without a phase for transition
but an abrupt boundary. Here, on this
street alone, are the many kinds
of shadows. There's the sepulchral
slideshow of windows, as seen by those
on procession, the corners of robes
that elude the eyes of spotlights,
the feet of cart-pullers, the trench between
my father's chest and me
when he carried me in his arms.
It was here where the dark claimed
from my young eyes
a place upon every face, wooden,
phantom or flesh, and upon each float
is a fraction of blindness. As I stand here
watching, I only become aware
that like the tradition itself,
nothing has changed. Look,
it's the bright coffin with Jesus inside.
After our patron saints trailing behind,
only the streetlamps will remain.
Montage Vol. 10 • December 2006