Pull that trigger

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By Sharline J. Bareng

Many poets of this age tend to indulge in their own personal conflicts through their poems to satisfy their need for self-expression. Fortunately, there are still a few who are able to form poetry from the experiences of other people, particularly those wounded by the pain of bitter realities.

Journalism alumnus Mike Maniquiz writes such kind of poetry in his collection, Revolver (University of the Philippines Press, 1997), where he reflects not just on the significant happenings of his life, but also on events that have already been forgotten by most people. His poetry reveals the depth in seemingly common realities reported by media and translates the emotion in memories long kept.

Such is the case with the poem “My Girl,” inspired by the Ozone Disco fire tragedy in 1996, where many teenagers celebrating their high school graduation perished. Three personas—the father, the mother, and the lover of one of the victims—express their grief through heartbreaking vignettes, which capture the pain from three different perspectives, resonating in the memories of the dead girl while they try to cope with their loss.

Maniquiz also reflects on man’s role in choosing his fate in “Revolver,” where the news of a man who shoots himself triggers the persona to remember other shocking deaths—a man who “stepped/ on the gas and raced to meet the devil/ on the other side of the cliff,” and even the lineage of murder from the story of Cain and Abel. Such deaths, caused by all sorts of pain, elicit a kind of vertigo that draws the living to consider doing the same thing, “depending/ on what knocks on our soul’s door and we let in:/ a hand that squeezes the trigger/ or one that holds back and says enough is enough.”

In “Bus Driver Blues,” Maniquiz assumes the personality of a bus driver who is tired from the travels of the day and longs only to go home to his wife. Such reflection on the feeling of a common person that most choose to ignore is remarkable, for the poet is able to say such sentiments effectively even as the persona waxes poetics about the contours of his wife’s body.

The poet also echoes the sadness of homesickness and alienation through his poems about his family in the United States. In “The Season Has Again Come When He Loves You Most,” the persona describes his father’s longing for home, but fears losing his way in his homeland’s streets. “Sister Asked One Night If There” tells of his sister’s longing for the night sky back home, even when only there are only “a handful scattered across the sky.”

But Maniquiz also lets the reader into his own pains that, nevertheless hit hard—even when the emotion is universal—by expressing them uniquely. In “Nanay,” he recalls how he witnessed his mother’s deterioration, which killed “the dancer in her soul”. Later, however, he chooses to remember the stories she told, the good memories of which remind him “to keep in step/ with dear life’s music.”

The same kind of protectiveness and attachment in “Nanay” is felt in “Rain,” where the persona expresses concern for his sister who is coping with the failure of her marriage in faraway Washington. Here, the difficulty of coping with change is subtly told in the lines, “I heard Washington/ has very uncertain weather, changing/ each time someone becomes attached to it.”

Maniquiz’s ability to evoke such emotions lies in his handling of language that, according to premier poet Cirilo F. Bautista, “creates a poetic explosion” that jolts a reader awake to the beauty of it. This holds true in the powerful last lines in poems such as “Revolver” and “The Season Has Again Come When He Loves You Most”: “when he tells me of the land where/ dreams and mothers die and where/ it is believed to live is to find a way out.”

Still, the poet’s reflections on the inspiration of these poems, personal and otherwise, reveal sensitive insights about realities that most people choose to dismiss after some time. Through them, the memories of such happenings—good or bad—keep the soul going through what is yet to come, be it sweet or bitter, happy or painful.

Montage Vol. 9 • February 2006