poetry and other works

Merlie M. Alunan worked for her Masters Degree in English at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, majoring in Creative Writing and studying under Edilberto K. Tiempo. She was a writing fellow of the Silliman University National Summer Writers Workshop and the UP Creative Writing Center. Most of the poems collected in this blogsite are from her first book collection, Hearthstone, Sacred Tree. The other works have also been published in local newspapers and other publications.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poet travelling over water

befriend the wind
let it ride easy
in the hollows
of your bones
open your bosom
for wind to go through
storm rising
fron the abyss
could pitch your
on the rocks
blow the skull apart
for darkness and sun
coldness and heat
to flow in without staying

salt-caked and split
your tongue will breed
secret words
of the wind's singing

now then
will the wind
command the billows
to bear you
the tide to lay your bones
under the moon
to bleach wothout rancor
without bliss everything forgiven
your name that wind spells
on water the syllables

so very kindly
very gently leave
where it will

Late wind, leaf and moonlight

Tonight I spread thin moonlight
on a young leaf and leave it
at your door.

It may be that while you sleep
Wind will blow it away
Leaving no trace.

The wind's a fickle bastard, though.
It may forget, and then the leaf
Will stay. Waking.

You may find on your doorstep,
Sunlight, the moon gone,
And a leaf fading--

To the fire, to the fire with it,
Lest the late wind returns
To haunt your sleep.


You hideous fatal monster
I have fled you long enough,
scared of your sleepless snakes
writhing without end, your stare
stone-cold, mortal and afraid,
fleeing your bones endless craving
for a song's magic rage.

Medusa, how should I know
I would be driven instead,
back to your lair,
clasping to my bosom,
my sharpest fear--love or doom,
how could I tell?
But yes, you old crone,
I will sing your beauties yet
your dark lays of guilt,
of joy or despair.
Medusa, fatal sister, I will.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The night bird swept
over the rooftop shrieking.
I rushed out. I saw it
turning its wing feathers.
It gleamed in the moonlight.
"What news?What news?"
I called out as I lost it
among the trees.

Today your father called,
"We got her! A girl!"
"I know", I told him.
"I got news."

Across the miles of skies and sea
between his island and mine,
I heard him chuckling.
He might be thinking, Intuition,
all mothers's boast. I wanted to say,
Night bird told me, but only said,
" O yes, I got news."

Months before i see you,
Months before i hold you close,
to smell your newness.
Over the days you will sleep,
cry, feed, grow, learn the shapes
]of your first words about this
tired old world--child, it will be
to our ears new again with your lisping.

When I look at last into your eyes
maybe you'll smile, who knows?
Night birds don't say much i guess,
but they don't lie, do they?


stone i hold briefly
in my hand and gratefully
return to the sea.

in this far country
the crows speak the same language
that they do in mine.

Amina Among the Angels

July 29, 1994,
Three years after the Flood.

Not by your old name I address you,
no, not by the one you went by
when living in the midst,
Mamang, name that kept you bound
to cradle, washtub, sink stove and still
your back bent and all your singing
caked into silence, your dreaming crushed
like fishbones in the traffic of daily need.

Your own name, then. Amina.
Cold letters etched on stone in Ormoc's
graveyard hill, the syllables gliding still
all music and glod upon the tongue of memory.
Amina. Back here, no news you'd like to hear,
or that you wouldn't know: One day at noon,
in a year of war and famine, of volcanoes bursting
and earthquakes shaking the ground we stood on,
floodwaters broke the mountains.
Our city drowned in an hour's rampage.

But you've gone ahead to this hill earlier,
three years, you weren't there to witness
what we had to do among the leavings of the water,
mud, rubble, debris, countless bodies
littering the streets-- your husband among them, a son, his wife, their children--how in a panic,
we pried and scraped and shoveled from the ooze
what had once been beloved, crammed them
coffinless without ritual without tears
into the maw of earth beside you up on that hill.
Amina, what have the angels to say
of that gross outrage?

You must know I keep my own name,
times, I feel myself free
to chosse the words of my singing, though
in my own woman's voice, cracked
with too much laughter, or anger, or tears,
who's to listen, I don't know,
admitting as I do no traffics with angels.
I htink of your beauty fading and this,
what's left for a daughter to touch-- your namestone
mute among the grass greensinging,
your name i raise to the wind like a prayer.

If you hear it among
the lift and fall of angel wings,
oh please send word somehow.
Please let me know, have they given you back
your voice?Safe among the angels,
what can a woman sing?

Duwa-duwa, Wititk-Witik sa Hangin

Sa bata pa ta, ato ang kalibotan sa dula.
Tanang matang sa dula.
Ginokdanay. Bulan-bulan. Siatom. Tatsi.
Luto-luto. Pusil-pusil. Tagol-tago. Munyika. Yoyo.
Gikan sa pagsidlit sa adlaw ngadto sa pagsawop.
Bisa’g sa atong damgo nagduwa lang gihapon ta.

Sa kita nagkahamtong, magaduwa lang gihapon ta.
Basketball, football, tennis, ug unsa pa diha.
Sa nagkagulang na, mausab ang atong pagaduwaan,
unya usahay di ta kahibawo kun tinuoray ba gyud
ang atong mga gipangbuhat o duwa-duwa ba hinuon.

Tungod sa kalisod sa kinabuhi, tungod sa mga kakuyaw,
kasakit, kabalaka sa mga panghitabo sa inadlaw-adlaw,
makalimot na tang mokatawa. Di na ta kahibawo makighagwa.
Sa atong kaugalingon ug sa atong mga minahal.
Moaslom ang atong pagbati, masakit ta.
Ang makatambal niana usahay, duwa.
Di nato hikalimtan nga naay gamayng bata
nikuyog gikan sa atong kagahapon, ug karon
nagpahipi luyo sa mga kunot sa atong nawong,
nagtago ilawom sa atong mga uban.
Kining bataana mangita gyud ug lingaw,
Ug kun malingaw siya, malingaw sad ta.

Ang arte usa ka paagi sa pagduwa.
Tihol-tihol, ambak-ambak,
Kuris-kuris sa papel, witik-witik sa hangin,
Duwa-duwa ni Kiti ug ni Merlie.

To Play, To Shoot the Wind by Merlie Alunan (translation)
When we were children, our world revolved in play.
All kinds of games.
We played chase.
From first light to last light we played.
We played even in our dreams.
We never stop playing even as grew older,
The games changed.
And sometimes we cannot tell
When were doing serious things
Or we’re just playing.
Life is hard. We face all kinds of fears,
all kinds of pains, so many things to worry about
every minute of the day.
So we forget to play.
We forget to pleasure ourselves,
even those we love.
Love sours. We become sick.
Sometimes the best cure is play.
We must never forget the little child
Who traveled the years with us, who now
Is hidden behind our lined faces,
Secreted under the white hairs on our head.
That child needs to play,
And when that child is happy
You’ll be happy too.
Art, too, is a kind of play.
The leap of the dance.
A whistled song.
Lines on paper.
Shooting the wind.
Kiti and Merlie, at play.

Bringing the Dolls

For Anya
Two dolls in rags and tatters,
one missing an arm and a leg,
the other blind in one eye—I grabbed them from her arms,
“No,” I said, “they cannot come.”

Each tight baggage
I had packed
only for the barest need:
no room for sentiment or memory
to clutter with loose ends
my stern resolve. I reasoned,
even a child must learn
she cannot take what must be left behind.

And so the boat turned seaward,
a smart wind blowing dry
the stealthy tears I could not wipe.
Then I saw—rags, tatters and all—
there among the neat trim packs,
the dolls I ruled to leave behind.

Her silence should have warned me
she knew her burdens
as I knew mine:
her clean white years unlived—
and paid my price.
She battened on a truth
she knew I too must own:
when what’s at stake
is loyalty or love,
hers are the true rights.
Her own faiths she must keep, not I.

Ondoy Wynn

Unsa kaha to nga nangakimaw man ming tanan
dihang mitungha ka? Nangabakikaw among linihokan,
sayop sa kumpas bisa’g sa mga naandan namong buluhaton.
Mura mi’g nakalimot og hai’y tuo namong kamot o wala.
Nagkayabo-yabo lagi ang init tubig, nangangtod ang linung-ag,
nangapagod ang sinugba. Si Tatay Tonyo nimo
nagkatusok-tusok sa alpiler sa imong lampin.

Ug nangabuhong mi sa imong kahumot,
alimyon sa uhay nga nagkahinog sa tutok nga adlaw inalisngaw sa yuta sa gabing
bag-ong panglin,
ang kaamyon sa tagoangkan sa imong Nanay June.
Baling pangatawa namo, uy!
Kalit nakalimtan ang among mga bun-og, opaw,
piay, rayuma, pangag, punggod, pirat, pati na
ang among buhok nga sinagolan na gyu’g lanot.
Mura kaha mi’g nangabanhaw, nahimong ambongan.
Naalahig sad intawon mi sa imong kabag-o.

Apan way aninipot nga mikidlap sa imong pagsangpot.
Hingudtohon na man gud, hayag na kaayo,
nag-alipaso ang hangin. Hulyo, nag-angat pa lang
ang tingbitay sa iro. Ulan-ulan pa gani, naghulas ang yuta, kamig ang kaadlawon.
Ang abokado sa nataran ni Lola Juliet, nanglamurok, puera buyag. Di pa hinuon
angay pupuon.

Way duda nga ikaw gipaabot.
Ipanghimakak man gani ni unya sa mga tamsi,
unggoy, kabog nga kawatan og saging,
ug sa mga gangis nga tabian kaayo, ayaw gyu’g tuo. Motakilid ug motakilid sa
makadaghan ang kalibotan,
ang imong inahan di gyud makalimot sa imong pulso
nga unang ningpitik duyog sa iyang kasingkasing.
Gidamgo ka namong tanan sa mga gihaysa among kaunoran.
Sa lim-aw sa hayag ug sa ngitngit
nga bulan, karon, ug hangtod sa kahangtoran
ang imong tawag alingawngaw
pagadunggon kanunay sa among kadugoan.

Ang bongalos nga aninipot, pasagdi lang una sila.
Inigmata nimo unya, panahon nga mangitngit na,
basin manungha ra na sila, tagak nga mga bituon,
makab-ot ra sa imong kamot ug mga mata.
Hadlaon ka nila, Ondoy, sa ilang mga siga.

Little Wynn by Merlie M. Alunan(translation)
Why we got all clumsy upon your arrival.
Bungled up everything, our most daily chores,
couldn’t tell our right hand from the left,
scalded ourselves with the hot water,
burnt the rice, the broiled fish turned to charcoal,
your Tatay Tonio, poor fellow,
impaled on your diaper pins.

Oh child, how your fragrance drenched us,
scent of grain ripening in the noon sun,
fragrance of the earth in fresh-dug yams,
perfume of her womb, your mother June’s.
Oooy, our laughter laded the wind
We forgot our bruises, balding pates, the limp
in our steps, the rheumatism, lost teeth, squint eyes,
even the abaca strands in our hair.
We seemed handsomer again, reborn,
Freshened by your newness.

No fireflies flashed when you came though.
It was midday, the sky too bright.
The wind was blowing warm, July at the threshold,
the dog days impending. Random rain, the earth
damp and nippy at dawn. Lola Juliet’s avocados
were fattening on the trees. Still too young to harvest.

Oh you were much awaited.
If the birds, the monkeys, the bats who steal bananas,
and the gossipy crickets say we lie,
don’t believe a word they say.
The earth may turn and turn countless times over,
your mother will always remember your pulse beat
that throbbed first to the rhythm of her heartbeat.
We had dreamed you in every shred of our flesh.
In the pool of light, in the black of the moon,
your faintest call, now and ever after will echo
in the deepest runnels of our veins.

Don’t mind those faithless fireflies now.
Later when it’s dark and you awaken,
they might come then—chips of a star fallen
your hands may reach for, and your eyes.
They will beguile you, child, with their light.


Dinhi ang utlanan sa Cantubo'g Cantil-i
Sa inyo manggahan, sa amoa, lubi.

Ondoy, idaplin nang kabalaka.
Tabok sa sapa, lig-onang huna-huna.

Waksiang kataha, naay kabaw,
Guyura, palunanga sa lam-aw.

Kanang mga punong namungingi,
Naghulat ra na sa taong mokugi.

Sak-a. Koprason an lubing
Igo na gyud sa kalahing.

Motugot lagi si Nanay, si Tatay,
Labaw pa gyud si Inday-