Peñaranda River

nueva-ecija

Nueva Ecija

He who does not look back at his past (where he came from) will not be able to reach his destination ~ Philippine Proverb

Tagalog Translation: Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa nakaraan, ay hindi makakarating sa patutunguhan

My father has been in my dreams almost every night for a week. I’m not really sure why, but there he is. Sometimes, he is with my children, but they are younger, and sometimes, he is with my mother, and it is almost like it was yesterday.

carabao-plowing-rice-field
Carabao Plowing Rice Field, Raissone 1938

I wrote a poem several years ago about my father’s hometown, a small village on Luzon, one of the northern islands in the Philippines. This poem is based on real events from the time that we spent in the Philippines as a family after my dad retired from the Navy, and then from before, during the beginning of World War II. Before my dad joined the U.S. Navy he was a guerrilla in the Philippine Army. He was only 16 years old.

A few notes of explanation: A caribou (last syllable like boo), which is a reindeer, lives in cold weather like Alaska. A carabao (last syllable like bow), which is a water buffalo, is the national animal of the Philippines. These animals are actually very gentle, even though they may not appear to be so. They are still used to plow fields.

42-15269002
Rice Paddy

Gapan, is the name of the town, and Nueva Ecija is the name of the eastern, landlocked province on Luzon. Nueva Ecija was created in 1715 and was named for the Spanish governor’s native town. The Spanish heritage is still in the bloodlines of those born in Nueva Ecija: my father’s mother was half Spanish. Nueva Ecija is the biggest rice producer in Luzon.

Cabanatuan is one of the four cities in Luzon. In World War II, Cabanatuan was the site of the infamous Japanese Prisoner of War camp; in 1945, Philippine guerrillas were responsible for liberating the Americans held captive there. 

Tagalog is the most widely-used language in the Philippines. Babinka is a sweet cake that is cooked in a banana leaf. Mangoes grow freely in trees in people’s yards.

The Peñaranda River, a narrow but deep river, is now part of Minalungao Park; however, years ago, there was no Minalungao Park.

Ang araw bago sumikat nakikita muna’y banaag. ~ Philippine Proverb (Translation: Early dawn precedes sunrise)

This particular poem is very personal, and I hope that you enjoy it.

sunrise-in-luzon

 

Gapan (Nueva Ecija), 1967

The women still come to Piñaranda River

in the early morning

to wash the family clothes on rocks

beaten smooth by many generations of use.

They gather at the bank, squat

along the muddy shoreline, and

pummel the fabrics of their lives

amid idle chatter of children and babies

and the lazy stares of carabao

that stand knee deep in the water.

 

Brown, hand-rolled cheroots dangle from

their mouths as they twist and

wring Peñaranda from threadbare shirts

and house dresses sewn by hand.

They can point to the places where

foolish young men have lost their lives,

testing their newfound manhood against

the swirls of the rushing water that swells

during the rainy season.  They

point to the place where the river, pregnant

with the rains of monsoon, swept

into the village and laid waste to houses

chosen by God for destruction.

 

My mother tentatively asks one woman nearby

about the time of the Japanese.  Her

brown eyes, hardened by time, drift

across the river to the rice fields

that lie on the other side, expanses

so green and fertile that the images

of famine that she speaks of

are hard to reconcile with the beauty

that is now.  She speaks slowly,

as if the memory is still too near,

“All gone,” she sighs as she points,

“only the okra left.”  As she looks

at my mother, it is clear that

the woman believes that my blonde

mother with light skin cannot understand

want and grief.  Later,

 

my father explains that the okra plants,

grown in hidden gardens behind the houses,

were the only crops that the Japanese

did not take.  The only rice the village had

came from the few grains spilled in the dirt

where the Japanese stores had lain.

Those desperate enough to steal rice

were beaten (or worse) if they were caught.

He tells me this as we near

the large house that was once the

fortress of the occupiers.  Two carved

lions still remain to guard disuse.

Through the gates, deep holes

dot the dirt yard where two Americans

have been digging for Japanese gold.

“Someone sold them a treasure map,”

my father laughs, shaking his head.

“If there were gold, don’t you think

we would have known about it?” he asks

of no one in particular.

 

As we walk down the dirt road towards the

ice truck that is parked at the end, I notice

the heat rising in thick waves from the ground,

and I long for ice cream and slurpees.

My father points to another house,

“That is where the witch lives.  She

has put a curse on your grandfather.  Now

He will not come to this end of the village.”

As we walk back, I pull the wagon carrying

the straw-covered block of ice, glance

back nervously at the witch’s house.

 

Once more we pass the two lions, and

and my father stops. “Right here

is where they shot your uncle for

taking a walk at night.  The bullet

went through his leg, so he lived.

We never knew why they didn’t finish him.”

He looks into the eyes of a lion,

pauses and then tells me painfully,

“It was a Filipino sentry.  He was

working for the Japanese.”  He spits

into the dirt and walks on.

 

That afternoon I watch my grandmother

wring the neck of a chicken from the yard

and clean it for dinner.  While she cooks

I polish the dark floors of their home

with the halves of coconut shells

strapped to my feet. My toes curve downward

as I half skate half slide across the tiles.

Afterwards I take a shower

with cold water poured from old

coffee tins carried from the river.

The icy water is the only respite

from the heat that has seeped into

every corner of the shaded house.

Only when I am called twice do I leave

the comfort of the stone enclosure.

 

For dinner that evening we have

roasted chicken, sun-dried fish,

sweet bread and fresh mangoes.

Only years later do I realize what a feast

my grandmother had prepared for us.

Later, most people visit in their front yards.

My father takes me to a stand where

a man sells babinka—sweet, steamed

rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves.

He stands and talks to the vendor

in Tagalog while I eat the cake with

my fingers, sticky grains of rice

sticking to my hands and mouth.

I ask for seconds.

My American generation does not know want.

 

That night, from the safety of the

gauze mosquito netting, I overhear my father

telling my mother about those days,

how his mother hid from the Japanese

with her twin babies in the mountains,

how she lost both to hunger, how

the villagers caught one of the traitors

and turned him over to the guerrillas.

They skinned him alive before

finally killing him.

 

 

More later. Peace.

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“It was a dark and stormy nightmare.” ~ Neil Gaiman

take-on-edvard-munchs-scream

My Take on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”

Nightmare: Vivid, distressing dream that lasts until I wake up or my head explodes . . .

” . . . it is sitting on your chest torturing you, giving you nightmares.” ~ Bhagwan Shree Raineesh

the-scream-maskI awoke again this morning from another nightmare. This state of affairs is becoming increasingly intolerable, especially since this time my awakening was accompanied by a migraine that felt as if someone was trying to rip out my right eyeball.

The fact that I am even writing about ripping out eyeballs should be indicative of my state of distress: I hate anything to do with eyeballs. I refuse to watch any part of a movie that has any kind of object within range of the eyes. I don’t even think that I could get laser surgery on my eyes because I am so timid about eyeballs. It’s amazing that I can wear contacts.

But that is exactly what this pain felt like. I was whimpering so much that the dogs became distressed, and Shakes crawled up my chest, with all of his Polar Bear bulk, and began to lick my chin. Tillie started whining, and Alfie jumped off the bed.

Need I say that this was not a pretty sight?

“I couldn’t awake from the nightmare/That sucked me in and pulled me under/ Pulled me under.” ~ Jeff Buckley

pink-floyd-screamIn this particular nightmare, I was working for the realty firm again, the one for which I was marketing director.  Almost all of my nightmares or anxiety dreams involve something about work or going to work or leaving work. (Could be that I still have unresolved feelings about being on disability, especially since I’ve worked almost my whole life?)

So in this nightmare, I was at some boring realtors’ dinner, and I needed to leave in time to pick up my daughter. Now this scenario does not seem to be the standard material for a nightmare. Seems pretty lame, in fact.

I won’t go into all of the details because they continue in the same vein. Nevertheless, turn into a nightmare it did, along with the accompanying feelings of helplessness, distress, and heightened senses. This particular nightmare would be classified as a perceived assault on my self-esteem as opposed to an assault on my person. Okay, whatever.

I just know that when I awoke, my heart was pounding, and I was breathing in short, shallow gasps. The bonus was the throbbing, pulsating pain in my head and the rotating spots in my eyes.

But the most awful part is that after I woke up and Corey shoved an axert down my throat, the nightmare continued once I was able to go back to sleep. Tell me this isn’t weird.

“Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ~ John Lennon

humancerebralcortex10xsmall1
Human Cerebral Cortex: My Brain in Overdrive

I did a little reading on nightmares, and apparently, they are most common in children, but adults do have them. The causes range from stress, real-life trauma, fevers, anxiety, bereavement, heredity, and reactions to medicine.

Since this onset of nightmares began when I changed medicine, I think that I can deduce the cause of these nightly forays into fright land. But I also think that the more that I have them, the more that they are going to occur—sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are breeding and multiplying in my subconscious like some amoeba on Viagra.

I want to send a cease and desist signal to my cerebral cortex: Stop with the creative nocturnal psychosis, please. I don’t mind if my cerebral cortex goes into overdrive when I want to be creative, but this is too much.

“This has got to be a nightmare . . . I haven’t woken up yet.” ~ Curtis Sliwa

zachary-goodson-scream
"Scream" by Zachary Goodson

There is actually something called “Nightmare Disorder” (of course there is). The criteria are the following:  

  • Repeatedly wakes up with detailed recollection of long, frightening dreams centering around threats to survival, security or self-esteem, usually occurring in the second half of sleep or nap period.
  • Becomes oriented and alert instantly upon awakening.
  • Results in distress or impairment of occupational, social or other important areas of functioning.
  • Symptoms are not caused by general medical condition or by use of medications or other substances.

  • I have the first three, but am not sure about number four. According to the Psychology Today Diagnosis Dictionary, a tendency towards nightmares can be inherited (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/nightmare.html). I remember when I was a child, my father used to have these screaming nightmares. He would thrash about and wake up wild-eyed. Unfortunately, sleep apnea can also be a cause for nightmares, and my father, being a Filipino, had a predisposition to sleep apnea.

    Sleep apnea is a very common occurrence in Filipino males; very often they stop breathing, and then gasp and begin breathing again. My father used to do this, and it was scary as hell to see when it happened. A few times, my mother would pound him on the chest to make sure he started breathing again. But being a stubborn man, he never saw a physician for his condition.

    The syndrome actually has a name: Sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome, and it occurs predominantly in Southeast Asian males. Filipinos call it bangungut, which is Tagalog for “to arise and moan,” the word for nightmare.

    Another symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring. My father’s snoring was incredible. Sometimes I would lie in my bed at night and just listen. The snoring wasn’t  just an inhale/exhale normal kind of snoring. It had tonal variations, and one inhalation seemed to go on forever. Apparently, well not apparently but decidedly, I too have an incredible ability to snore. It wasn’t always like this, but in recent years, I have begun to wake myself up with my snoring. The only being in the house who snores louder than I is Tillie (this according to Corey who must sleep next to my noisy self—now that’s love).

    “Dreams are often most profound when they seem most crazy.” ~ Sigmund Freud

    the-simpsons-homer-scream
    Homer's Simpson's "Scream"

    The number of theories about dreams abound. Freud believed that our dreams were a reflection of our unconscious desires. I don’t agree with that one. Some researchers say that dreams are the cortex’s way of  finding meaning from random signals that are sent out during REM sleep and then creating a story from these signals. Others say that dreams are the mind’s way of sifting through the detritus of everyday life and getting rid of the things that we don’t want to warehouse in long-term storage.

    Personally, I believe the third explanation more than the other two. When I try to interpret my normal dreams, often the randomness has a pattern formed from insignificant events that occurred during the day or the previous day.  For example if I dream about my mother driving a bus, I may have had a telephone conversation with my mother about nothing, and a bus may have nearly sideswiped me on my way to the store.

    “Everything in a dream is more deep and strong and sharp and real than is ever its pale imitation in the unreal life . . .” ~ Mark Twain 

    the-scream-by-dwayne-jensen
    "The Scream" by Dwayne Jensen

    But one thing is certain about my dreams and nightmares: I can recall most of them vividly upon waking, which can be very disturbing if the dream was particularly unsettling. The feelings aroused by the dream/nightmare carry over into my day, coloring my mood and attitude. For example, haven’t you ever dreamed that you had an argument with someone, and then when you awoke, you actually felt mad at that person?

    So you can imagine my state of mind when I have a nightmare: I am mad at the world or whatever part of it inhabited my mind during REM. Luckily for the other members of the family, my nightmares rarely involve them in a negative light.

    I told Corey this morning that I thought that one of the reasons I had a migraine was that I must have been clenching my jaw during my nightmare. My jaw has hurt all day, just like it did when I had TMJ and used to clench my way into a migraine either from anxiety or anger. Luckily, I managed to teach myself not to clench, especially after two jaw surgeries, and I have no desire to reacquire that painful habit . . .

     “Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

    dreaming-big-by-steve-roberts
    "Dreaming Big" by Steve Roberts*

    I don’t know that I necessarily have more awareness than most people, but I definitely have more nightmares than anyone I know. Maybe I have nightmares because I can’t deal with reality. Who knows?

    But one thing is certain: If these nightmares, vivid dreams, whatever, don’t lessen, I may never be able to look forward again to a good night’s sleep as I once did.

    “To sleep, perchance to dream” has taken on a whole new meaning, and that connotation is not particularly welcoming.

    There will be more later. Peace.

    *http://www.steverobertsart.com/images/dreaming_big–small1_a7sz.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.steverobertsart.com/Announcements.html&usg=__AmTOf15OSxc_AU1OLXoSe70hE50=&h=336&w=448&sz=16&hl=en&start=38&tbnid=EFoz060Yka4ePM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=127&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddreaming%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20

    My Father’s Hands

    My father’s hands

    are gnarled and time worn

    Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

    leaving his hands weak and small.

    They remind me of a monkey’s hands –

    brown and leathery.

    These hands that have tended to so many machines,

    fixed so many moving parts,

    these same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

    and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

    With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

    patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

    He has cast lines into many waters

    and unhooked his catch again and again,

    alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

    These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler,

    blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

    before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

    and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

    from my skinned knees,

    patched my wounds, only to let me go again.

    They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite

    that I had to have but could never get to take flight

    and taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

    and make a seam true.

    I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

    with the same careful tenderness

    as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

    And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

    from a deadly current

    with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

    A world away in another lifetime,

    my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

    in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind

    but never forgot.

    Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

    in morphine dreams,

    sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

    I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

    and knit them to and fro, over and over.

    In the few moments when they are still,

    I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

    against my beating heart –

    they are so diminished within my own.

    These hands

    that have labored and loved

    harvested and hewn

    These hands are the man he was

    and the life he lived.

    And now that his days are waning,

    I want nothing more

    than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

    when everything was safe,

    and nothing could harm me

    because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

    taken back to that instant

    when he held the fender of my bike

    and guided me on the path.

    touched me on the shoulder once

    before setting me free to find my way.

     

    May 31, 2001