A black blackening
Stirs in the brain of the man.
It is the hatred
He bears for other brain-burdened men

Like himself.
His lips peel back comically
To reveal an impeccable row
Of bristling ships.

Dreadful sounds jam in his mouth
For a moment,
And a shudder runs through the city.
His bones rattle like rusty sabres,

His sockets eat his eyes
As he strikes his political enemy to death.

A bull is loose in the well-arranged streets,
He is knocking over the statues
Of the dead generalissimos,
He is goring the beautiful mannequins,

He is tearing open their dresses,
He is violating their navels.

The streets are now a disarray of fallen hyacinths,
And the man and the bull have
Taken over my city.
Tonight I will mourn ten thousand cats,
I will begin to bury the massacred flags.

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The Tiger

I was magnificent,
the perfected mane
of a dark and menacing wind,
a fierce love that
stalked in the tall blades.
Nothing was more perfect
than my hunt,
the prey that fell to me,
like devoured kingdoms.
And though I killed,
I bore no grudges,
because in me
the recurring seasons of blood,
returned,
in me all striving remembered itself,
and life attained its
burning form.

When the Tigers are Gone

No one mourned the passing of the tiger
in the expanding towns
that lay heavy like a carcass
on his old hunting grounds.
And now there are no more man-eaters
and no more gods,
and hollowed of their ancient fears,
the townsmen are slow and sad.
The festivals of hysteria are all gone,
the nights when women told stories
to terrified children are all gone.
When the last one fell
in the dust of a dying world,
the stripes burned to the souls
of all the people,
fled to the lost grasslands,
unseen forever.

Tigers in a Circus

Under the glaring lights
of the big parade tent
the tigers seem larger than life,
arranged on pedestals
like giant wind-up toys.

And some growl
beneath white-plumed chests,
and some gaze off, that way,
bored by the arrogant tamer’s antics
for the popcorn munching crowds.

A crack of the whip
and one tiger rears up on hind legs,
makes a praying gesture,
while little boys in sailor suits hiss
as a tigress leaps,
through her flaming hoop.

The kaleidoscopic pageantry
of sparks of orange and black,
the white of bared teeth,
the amber of sullen, ferocious eyes,
revolving round the black figure’s
outstretched arms,
as though he held a
captured fear by its strings.

But suddenly, one breaks ranks
and lunges, swipes,
roars the untranslatable rage,
and in a split second the whip
cracks down.
The unspoken, wished-for thing
flashes on the watchers’ faces

like a gasp,
and a little girl,
clutching cotton candy,
buries her face in her mother’s blouse,
terrified by this freedom
made to dance for
these tamed souls.

Corazon Aquino

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They came in their millions
to Epifanio de los Santos,
and in their hearts was a woman.

They came with an angry prayer,
from the slums,
the neighbourhoods sunk at
the foot of horrific mountains of wretchedness.

Or they came from
the peaceful, palm-bedazzled barrios,
where anger simmered
for the shackles of the people’s song.

Rich or poor, in their hearts
there was a woman.

Twenty years under the dictator,
long pillaged years,
during which slums grew up
in the hearts of the people,

when the furtive promise
of the young nation
became the rot of the dead martyrs
exhaled from the murderer’s white palace.

And when her husband fell
at the door of the city,
a bloodied envoy of that almost forgotten thing,
freedom,

the housewife rose
and put away her gentle years,
because she understood, at last, his fatal love,

because she grasped now
how her grief seethed with an immaculate justice,
and the rage of a burning archipelago.

In the people’s hearts was a woman,
who they dressed with their songs,
the chants they hurled against a crumbling regime.

Against her, the tyrant had no weapons.
American tanks, American jets, American guns
could not wound this woman
clothed by the people.

He fell, beleaguered and afraid,
while the two million on Epifanio de los Santos
were crying, Corazon, Corazon,

for in their hearts was a woman,
and they surged around her
and lifted her up on their joyous shoulders
and carried her like an unchained dawn.

A Sudden Sky

There is a point in the city
where I take a bend in the road
and suddenly emerge to sky.
There, the city slopes down, away from me,
to dip its morning feet in the sea below.
And it is all the more surprising,
because, until that bend,
I have walked huddled amongst the smoking hills,
the close, coughing buildings
of the human hive.
To arrive there, out of a tunnel of sleep,
and see that sky, endless, untethered,
it is as if someone had poked a hole in the suffocating day.
And I breathe, or it feels as though, at last I do,
or it feels like my lungs expand
with those slowly trotting clouds,
while the tendrils, the discord,
the discarded cans and loves of this city loosen from me.
And I realize, how I was never a single thing,
a voice against another voice,
or a blue flame lighting my own dreams.
I realize under that blueness
which surpasses every animal thing,
that there are birds of sleep, who without our asking,
weave such skies behind our closed skin.