By Pax Maghacot
Requiem at the Churchyard Across Our Elementary School
Many occasions during recess our games were interrupted by the blessing of the dead at the churchyard just across the street from our elementary school. We stopped playing, rushed to the low wall and watched the spooky scene time and again – A wooden casket laid on the ground, a candle on each corner, ladies in black, men in faded-white shirts, kids clutching parents’ protective hands, a priest with a prayer book, a sacristan holding a silver aspersorium with holy water and an aspergillum. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, Requiescat in pace. We heard the familiar refrain for the dead as we sniffed the pungent, sometimes putrid, air coming from churchyard. Could be the fresh casket paint, could be the corpse. Or both. The priest sprinkled holy water on the casket amid the chorus of wails and sobs. We watched, rather, we wondered: Is the dead a man, a woman, young, old? What was the cause of death? Will the soul go to heaven, purgatory, or hell? Men carried the casket secured by manila hemp dangling from two bamboo poles. We witnessed the procession head for the cemetery a mile away. At a corner the entourage disappeared, but not the smell of the paint, or the corpse, or both. The church yard was empty, eerier now. The bell summoned us back to class. After school, as we headed home, we avoided passing by the churchyard across our elementary school.
Nine Useless Things
An empty rice pot Gathers grime on the stove. The children are hungry. A useless rice pot! An empty manger Rots on the pig pen. The swine is dead. A useless manger! An empty wallet Buys no roof, no bed. The family is homeless. A useless wallet! A guitar without strings Hangs on the wall. The troubadour is old. A useless guitar! A moon without brightness Blocked by thick clouds. The dark night is eerie. A useless moon! A spoiled child Defies the elders. Misfortune lurks. A useless childhood! A witless head Drifts aimlessly. The future is bleak. A useless head! A life without dreams Petrifies in drugs. Living like dead. A useless life! An empty coffin Decays on the stockroom. The dead is cremated. A useless coffin!
Cadena de Amor – Chain of Love
(Scientific name: Antigonon Leptopus) Perhaps intended more for the dead, the vine invades their resting place— My parents’ tomb wrapped in by the pink flowers of the cadena de amor. My father, my mother, their love. Alive as the heart-colored flowers arranged in a chain, a chain passing love from one link to another. I watch others destroy the chain, removing the vine from beloved tombs. I wonder--what now will remind them of love? The fragrance of the flowers is beautiful, though pungent— Like a suffocating romance, intense, as love is meant to be. I’ll leave that vine alone.
I am admired for the artful lines I make on paper, I am cursed for leaving permanent stain on a white shirt pocket. I have a faint recollection of being carved at the tip of an eagle’s feather, dipped in dye. Oh! Regal feather signing a royal edict or an audacious Declaration of Independence. And splendid were the days when I was a metal tip of a fountain. I loved the gentle way my lip discharged pigmented liquid – blue or black, red or green. But sadly, all of that is lost – the feather, the fountain, the pigment liquid. I’ve shrunk in size. Now I’m a tiny brass ball rolling at the tip of a plastic tube waiting to be pushed – gently, roughly, no matter how. I write till the tube runs dry, and when it does, my end is nigh.
Pax Maghacot was raised in a remote village in the Philippines where the provincial ambiance was conducive to artistic potentials. He started writing in high school but published only one article in a national weekly magazine. After retirement he took short courses to enhance his writing craft. During the pandemic he spends much of the day writing prose, essay, nonfiction and memoir. Poetry is a new genre for him.