BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, January 24, 2010

back inside the bell jar*, gasping for air

I was wearing a black haltered top with straps tightly wrapped around my neck. Black is the color of death, so others say. I had no idea when I woke up that morning. The sun was out, the sky, clear blue. Lou Reed pulled me out of the checkered bed sheets so I thought it was going to be another perfect day. I just grabbed the shirt not knowing it was a portent of things to come.

But the waves moved so fast, faster than my ability to run. They just came and their sound was deafening, louder than the dirty crickets buzzing in my head. Their crests were as high as mountains and the anger, larger than life.

The only solace is this piece of laboratory equipment that is shaped like a bell. I can fit inside but I can barely breathe. It's been a while since I was here and I didn't think I had to go back.

I am gasping for air, my drunken head spinning again and again.

But from now on, wherever I am, be it in mine or in somebody else's car, in his or in somebody else's arms, in her or in somebody's else's embrace, in my room or in another's, I am in the same glass bell jar, alone with my dreams and nightmares.

Nobody can get me out of here anymore. Not this time.

*apologies to Sylvia Plath, author, The Bell Jar

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

five minutes in my kingdom

You go up through a very steep wooden staircase to get to this place. You have to hold on tight to the steel railings or otherwise you will slip. You then enter a dark, windowless room to get to the door that leads to this space. Oh but you have to carry all of your weight so that the rickety floor does not make a sound. The slightest squeak will wake the world downstairs of this age-old apartment.

They are usually still asleep when I go up to this little balcony of mine.

Somewhere in the corner of the dark room, there is a tiny door that leads to this. You have to bend to go through the door just like in the movie "Being John Malkovich" or in the story "Alice in Wonderland."

Everyday, I take five minutes off in this paradise with nothing but freshly-brewed cappuccino. The smell of crisp morning air greets me as soon as I open the door. I sit on the concrete slab and rest my back on a dilapidated wall. I get a perfect view of the clear blue sky. The leaves of the neighbor's Santol tree provide some shade. This space looks anything but blissful but it is my haven.

Welcome to my kingdom. Let's hold hands, close our eyes and see how far this rabbit hole goes.

Friday, January 1, 2010

my notes on Jes Aznar's Under the Lord's Shadow

I could not, for a long time look away. And when I finally did, I could still see their blank stares in my inner mind's eye. Yet, I was not even there. I was in the comforts of home, in a compound in Metro Manila. I was not in the makeshift evacuation camp in Maguindanao where hundreds of innocent civilians try to seek shelter as they fear a looming war between warlord clans.

I was just staring at every piece of Jes Aznar's Under the Lord's Shadow, a photo essay on Maguindanao. The black and white photographs are brilliant, brazen testimonies of the remorseless fury of conflict and its impact on the lives of ordinary people.

One particular photograph pierced right through. The imprint wouldn't go away. The woman's weary expression is as dark as the hijab she is wearing. Beside her is a little girl and a little boy. An oversized old shirt on the little girl and on him, a striped sando and maong shorts. They are sitting in a crude, tattered temporary shelter -- sticks of bamboo put together to serve as walls with a floral Persian carpet hanging on one side and a plain one behind them to protect them from the elements. A worn-out mat on the cold damped earth is luxury. There is no food. No heaps of extra clothes.

There's just the three of them, sitting in a row -- the woman, the young girl and the little boy. The girl, with straight, shoulder-length hair, rests her hand on the woman's lap. The boy's eyes are portraits of deep, profound pain.

Two pairs of children's slippers are neatly arranged outside the mat -- this is the only semblance of order in their lives. And all because they and many others like them happen to be under the Lord's shadow.