Category Archives: Kingdom of Concrete

Alliances on Chico St.

For Maricres who moved to Chico St. and stayed to hold the fort 

Our street was named after a small sweet brown round fruit. It was seven houses long and innumerable friendships in depth. At both ends where the street bends, basketball rings stood and every square meter was a space to dance and sing and cherish childhood.

In the beginning, the lot across our house was empty. Until, one day, hills of gravel and sand began to sprout from the sidewalk and a dainty bungalow with a green roof that matched a green gate grew out of our makeshift jungle of banana trees and flowering weeds.

I was just beginning to discover the pain of knee wounds and elbow scrapes when you came to town.

It was also a time when I began to learn how important it was to create alliances with other human beings outside of one’s own home. You came at the perfect time.

You stood there in your fancy red dress with your quiet brother and your parents. I was looking outside the living room window while my mind tried to find different names to match with your face. Your name sounded like it deserved to be written in cursive and pink ink.

I called you by the last syllable of your name, enjoying how such a male nickname got redefined by such a pretty, dainty playmate. And how you owned that masculine strength with your graceful femininity so well. You biked like my brothers and danced like my sister. You held high scores in family computer games and crocheted the finest tabletop decor. You commanded an army in pretend street battles where, after the game was through, every ‘soldier’ of our street wanted to court you. You sang, and laughed, and played ball, and baked goodies, and took care of dogs, and comforted crying girls, and challenged older bullies, and created friendships that you intended to keep.

 

More than two decades pass and we are here. My family’s old house stands empty across your dainty bungalow with the colors of the gate and the roof now changed. There are more houses in the street and a lot more stranger faces. A new generation of rowdy children of the afternoon sun now run from one end of the street to the other, discovering their own alliances they can create outside of their parents’ homes. Their parents sit at the porch and watch their children with the allies they used to rule the streets with. You are among them and you still lead the pack.

I am not there anymore but I am with you. Because this alliance between us created outside of my family’s home has taught me that every friendship made and kept in whatever part of the world we choose creates a home we can go to. The bond remains strong even when memories begin to fade and the names of streets begin to change.

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Cutting On The Need to Brew Things In The Morning

It is an ugly truth, the necessity of overpriced coffee and the need to be away from the house that you keep wanting to change but are never able to. There are too many details about the rooms that call your attention that, instead of ticking off items from the list, they keep adding up to things that need to be done. The plans are all listed down in pieces of paper you keep under your pillow. You rewrite them in your dreams only to realize that dreams are meant to escape you when the alarm clock sets off. So, to get started, you take all your things and step out.  In this city, there is nowhere to escape to and everywhere to be. You walk into a place that serves coffee in fancy cups, hoping to find what you couldn’t keep under your pillow.  You will eventually learn that the value of being able to sit at a café’s corner by the window is the same as being able to walk from one point to another without just thinking of beating the minute hand to your destination. They keep talking about motion and stillness and inside and outside and finding the silence in all the noise. Everywhere, something needs to be changed but you don’t need to write them all down in your list. That was the first piece of paper you found at the turn of the light at the intersection. It is the beginning of the trail that the city has left for you. It includes an inconvenient detour to where the ocean laps at the edges of this island. The trail ends at the space between your bed and your pillow. If you had paid attention and strained to remember before putting the coffee pot on this morning, then you would know that the map was scrawled on your bedspread all along. But you could only think of washing the curtains and adding shelves to the wall while your morning coffee steeps silently in the mug on the table. You are always awake before you let it wake you up. The coffee was just part of a routine that, you now realize, maybe you no longer need. 

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washed over

i thought i could put myself to sleep but there you go rushing through side streets, rising from the sewers, catching the rest of the sky and taking it with you into the gaps between the doors and the walls. slowly you reach for the first flight of stairs, inching your way to the top of the fridge and the cabinets. scaring them away, pushing them towards the ceiling, higher if they could find a place to stay, to hold their weight, to keep them from you. restless you seep into every nook, every surface of the city. from the walls of the sea and the floors of the rivers, to the palms of hands that wait behind lit windows, and even cheeks hide under pillows to muffle the sounds you running across the roofs. the city is being cleansed, is it right? what else will be wiped off at the end of the night?

365 for 2012: (56) Rush Hour

There, where you should have been

standing five minutes ago, all at once occupied

and emptied by commuters chasing  buses  

that approach and leave. I place myself

precisely in-between distances

of come and go and constant transit.

 

Across the street, a waiting

shed: dilapidated. Waiting 

to be torn down. Will it be

replaced by another, a new

improved nook for passing time,

anticipating comings and goings.

 

Here, nobody wants to wait

too long. Nobody stays.

Yet hurrying away, they wonder

if somewhere, anywhere, somebody

takes note of their arrival. Hoping,

if they get there fast enough

they wouldn’t leave.

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The Things That The City Tells Us

Inside the train, the bodies are still. Everyone is rushing home, hoping to catch what everybody else will be watching on TV. Strangers avoid each other’s stares, thinking the same thoughts. Outside the tinted windows, large squares of imposed ideals are lit brightly. The same brand of age-defying cream sits inside an old woman’s plastic bag. The girl beside her wears the very pair of shoes that overlook the highway. She is thinking of the man in the picture. He smiles at her through the camera lens and poses for the rest of the world.

The train speeds past. Nobody takes note yet they all remember. The brand names go on the shopping lists, usually never tried nor tested. They believe the ladies that smile and the hunks that stare. They hold the truths, the ones who can afford the size and height over everyone else. These are the things that the city tells us, we take it all in and believe.

In a moment, everyone is exactly where they should be, thinking exactly what they should, knowing just about enough of the rest of the world. Their thoughts are to themselves, like everybody else. The doors slide open to give way for people to move in and out. The train moves through the city. One path, back and forth, never-changing. The same view blurs past empty stares. Inside, everyone is still. 

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Under Dim Streetlights

Here is something I copied and pasted from the notes section of my iTouch. Even during a cab ride from Makati to Quezon City, the city tries to get through past the tinted car window. You just have to catch it before it gets lost at the next corner. The journey provides the process, the thoughts become the story to tell. 

————

May 14, 2012 9:32pm

I’m inside a cab snaking through Manila, from a different city towards another city. The rain taps on the window I stare out from. I stare out far, thinking of what deep thoughts to occupy myself, internalizing the moment like a sequence from a film. Maybe something about families and the struggle with distance. Or how to get the kids off the streets. Or the problem of garbage. And water. And hunger. Or maybe just him. Maybe just hoping to hear from him before I sleep. Then the light will fall the way it does in the movies while in my head the soundtrack of the moment plays. Fundamental loneliness might fit it. Or that’s more like a song that will play while I’m biking to meet my lover at sunrise. The thing is I don’t know how to bike. Haha. And that’s the needle that pops the bubble. Im back in my cab. Now a lady sings in Spanish and the driver rants about men looking more and more like women. What’s the world come to, he asks. I think of all the men I did not choose and then all the men who didn’t choose me. Manong driver takes a sudden turn, a detour. It will be easier this way, he says. He chooses the way, I do not complain. The street we are on is called Sobriedad and the children play in the rain. It is past their bedtime. And I haven’t had dinner. Actually, no decent meal the entire day. I think of why I made my choices. The woman sitting under a dilapidated waiting shed reminds me of why I chose to leave a man who wanted to take me away. I do not know where we are anymore. The street names are unfamiliar. But we are moving fast. I think we’ll be there soon. I do not know the way but I’ll get to where I have to be. I am after all in a city that owns me. There is no running away. There is no need to run away. The driver steers clear of roads that can get us stuck. I let myself be taken away. Somewhere, the cameras are rolling. Another song, still  in Spanish: quizas, quizas, quizas.

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Kingdom of Concrete: Born from the Gutters

The rains have stopped but the city continues to sweat itself out onto the gutters. It flows down the drains. Down there beneath the paved streets where  the secrets pile up to give birth to the creatures of mud that appear at each street corner, arms outstretched, feeding on pity, living off chance. We see them everyday. And they see us. Their stares, awfully real and yet dismissively ordinary, pierce deep. They touch us with their frail fingers that always seem to be about to break. So unlike us yet parcels of our soul is what gives them life. They have no parents, no homes, no ancestry. They are the city’s children, belonging to no one but to the concrete kingdom alone. They form in the ditches and return to dust. We know them well yet everyday we forget. They are everywhere we look,  faceless in our memories. They wait to be born from the gutters.  They wait to fill our streets. 

———————-

The city has all these stories waiting to be told. Every now and then I hear one from the fire escape, or it comes to me as I walk through a dimly lit alley. I’ve told a few before. So here it is, words coming together to create the world of the Kingdom of Concrete

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Conversations with the City

I wonder what tonight will bring.

Polished nails, a decent dinner, another bottle of beer (or more), a cold breeze? Today there is no orange sky. What will I long for then, after the gray heavens stop rumbling, when Wednesday has sneaked up on me?  

The cars crawl through the city while the children smelling of afternoon sweat rush through the dimly lit streets. My hours of work are finished, the reports pile up on my desk. Outside the window, a horde of problems wait to be solved. There is no rest. I walk through the alleys wondering what  needs to be done. A motorcycle speeds by and I catch myself  swept off to the side, clutching a sense of reality that almost escaped me.

The sun is down. The ones in uniforms are on their way home, worn out books inside bags weighing down on their backs. The soles of their shoes crumble with every step on the concrete. The day’s heat rises from the ground, stinging tired feet. At the end of the street a mother waits, forgets about the rice boiling over the stove.  Her child cries in her arms. I hear these things from an opposite corner. The sounds bounce off other bodies, dragging with it another banter, squeal, whine, scream.

Tonight, the city brings me a new story. She whispers something in my ear. 

But I am still behind this window. Still staring at the lampposts light up one by one, illuminating the metropolis inch by inch. The sun has set. Another day ends. What am I waiting for?

Why am I waiting?

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Triggering the Rain

In the middle of a hot afternoon at the end of April, I am taking down notes about telling stories. The people inside the room begin to lose themselves in details of objects that hold the secrets of the character in the story. The story is about leaving.

The atmosphere around me changes. I begin to lose myself in a memory. 

—————–

I remember the rain. Drops fall from the gray sky and shatter themselves on the hotel window. Shards of water pass in front me and get lost in the puddles below. I press my palm against the glass. I feel the city shudder. I pull the blanket tighter around me. The cloth is soft against my skin but offers little warmth. I trace a line from my lips to my neck, and lower, to where his kisses lead and end. My fingers feel like ice. I shiver and the city shivers with me.

Inside the room, music plays faintly. The soft melody is drowned out by the patter of rain running after each other on the surface of the city. There are all these sounds and yet it is as if he breathes into my ear. The air in the room is still. Cold. Below, people hidden beneath their umbrellas rush through the streets. They do not look up. They keep on running, running away from or running to something. They all have to be somewhere else other than where they already are.

I feel him asleep on the bed behind me, in a room I do not own. I look out the window at a view I will never see again. I turn around and look at the man sleeping on the bed. The sun rises in the rain. I turn around and continue to stare out the window, waiting for when the rain will end.

—————-

Yeah. So I did get lost. But that’s just that. I’m back taking down notes from the workshop now. 

Maybe waiting for when the rain will come again.

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50 for 25th: Gray Area

Nothing stands between you and the city except for the glass walls. The rooftops of rust  pop out against the city’s gray, hiding between skyscrapers, dodging our eyes. They wait to be found beneath those crumbling roofs. The wall is easy to break, but are you ready to jump?

——–

March 24, 2012.

It was a building with a view. We had the luxury of the metro’s skyline punctuated by free-flowing coffee, cookies and leftover fancy lunch. To be able to see what the world looks like from that height, we’ll have to choose between the actual bigger picture or the dominant view. The details need attention, but they need first to be seen. Are our eyes open? Are we really looking?

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In The City In February

—this is what it’s like, being out in the city, in the frenzy of the anticipation for the 14th of February. All around me are couples of all breeds and buds. They either rush ahead or trail behind. Others stay still. I strain to see their faces, decipher the codes in their looks, find a message there somewhere. In the distance, I listen to the movement of their lips and wait to hear the truth bounce from their skins towards me. I could make out some affection, some real love, some pure desires, and occasional lies. I look at the way their skins touch. My mind magnifies the movement of their pores, breathing each other’s scent. I try to see which ones are ready to take on forever. I shake my head at those I see who couldn’t. I pity them. I shrug. I permit myself these moments of judgement.

Today, I gain a sincere understanding for the cynicism of those who used to put a countdown timer beside the label of my own romantic undertakings. I’d do it myself right now but I’d really rather not engage in anything pretty stupid at the moment. Kidding.

There will be couples that will fail the meaning of the word the next time February comes. Some will be strong enough to withstand a few more years. And there are those, gifted by the universe with such honorable values and magnificent timing in every circumstance (the minute he walked into the room, the moment she dropped her phone, when the train doors closed, when the lights finally came on), who will persist. For the meantime, let them all cling to each other and litter the streets.

It’s a tricky thing, the way people commit themselves and lose portions of the self to that commitment eventually. Eventually, they will be left alone figuring out where everything else went during the times they were so immersed in the fever and frenzy of it all. And they will have their days of non-belief, too. They will have their questions, doubts, fears, anxieties, apprehensions, spite, disgust — they will nurse the inner cynic, even for just a while. There is no definite measure of how long it lasts or how short it should be. Or of how brutal the truth becomes, albeit sometimes unnecessarily so.

Don’t worry, the phase ends. It doesn’t last forever. Cause you know why? Nothing does.

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