Only Lyrically

Month: April, 2013

now playing the Playbook

I just found out that the following are some of the music played in the film Silver Linings Playbook (a copy of which has been sitting inside my Ottoman box for some days now):

“Unsquare Dance”
Written by Dave Brubeck
Performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Courtesy of Derry Music Company

“Girl from the North Country”
Written by Bob Dylan
Performed by Johnny Cash and company
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

“What Is and What Should Never Be”
Written by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
Performed by Led Zeppelin
Courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp.
By arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Written by Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin
Performed by Frank Sinatra
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under license from EMI Film & Television Music

– not to mention Stevie Wonder and Jack White and Leonard Bernstein and more.

Alright. Let’s have the couple dance and the boys sing. After supper.

To Beer Or Not To Beer (Or A Scene From The 24-Hour Kalantiaw Corner Bakery)

Ext. Evening. Right beneath another pretty boat-of-a-moon, extra yellow this time, and I’m not even drunk yet. Jeniper approaches the front counter of the bakery, attended to by one of the youngest from the all-female bakery clerks team.

Me: Pagbilhan po.
Girl clerk: Ano po ‘yon ate?
Me: Beer. (Places beer bottle on the counter.)
Girl clerk: (Opens mouth in amazement.) Sino’ng iinom ate?
Me: (Half-laughing.) Ako.
Girl clerk: (Half-smiling, looking bewildered, takes the bottle and gets the beer. Still bewildered, half-smiling when she returns to hand over the beer.) Bakit?
Me: (Laughs. Pauses. Smiles as payment is handed over.) Kasi (another pause)…  masarap uminom ng beer kapag (Tones down voice as she gives an unspeakable information to the kid.)
Girl clerk: (Opens mouth in amazement again, even wider this time.) Talaga po?!
Me: (Smiling like hell, half-laughing, nodding.) Subukan mo.
Girl clerk: (All smiles. Nodding enthusiastically.) Sige po!
Me: (Laughing.) Thanks! (Takes the beer and leaves.)

Can’t blame the kid, she’s used to handing me Gatorade every Sunday after my runs, or Coke when I’m feeling it’s a hassle to boil water for the coffee and there’s still work to finish. Funny kid.

But come to think of it, though I may have been the one laughing at her, it was the kid who got me there. As much as what I told her was true and the real case, I can feel what she was really wondering about, and I should have just said straight in the most maternal or elderly sister tone I can muster , “Don’t worry kid, I’m alright, I’m just thirsty and want to give myself a treat after long days of work. Girls can do that too, even when alone, you know, and that’s perfectly fine.”

But I wanted to get back quick to the apartment to finally decide: Y Tu Mama Tambien or The Princess Bride? The explicit or the gentle? All the same, all the same. All good. And I got to choose.

Funny kid, I can still hear her going, “Bakit?”


Was looking for a poem about a song, or singing, and this is the one I found the nearest, for the moment.

Oh lord, oh muse, oh forces of life, of creation, forgive me for weeping like an idiot just because I read the word “boxer” and remembered I am a namesake of a fictitious one. She wrote, “not to be a boxer but a poet”. In the ring of this poem, I cannot be both.


[by Wislawa Szymborska, from Poems New and Collected 1957-1997]

To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds? 
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare –
it’s time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining, 
the rest are relatives. O Muse.

The women here would love to rant and rave,
but that’s for boxing. Here they must behave.
Dante’s Inferno is ringside nowadays.
Likewise his Paradise. O Muse.

Oh, not to be a boxer but a poet, 

one sentenced to hard shelleying for life, 
for lack of muscles forced to show the world 
the sonnet that may make the high-school reading lists 
with luck. O Muse,
O bobtailed angel, Pegasus.

In the first row, a sweet old man’s soft snore: 

he dreams his wife’s alive again. What’s more, 
she’s making him that tart she used to bake. 
Aflame, but carefully – don’t burn his cake! –
we start to read. O Muse.

Reader, did you feel those quick hard ones right through the chest, from stanza three? Lines 1-2-3-4-5-6. I did. Voice broke, left me, I was almost a mute mouthing the rest of the words. It was hard to breathe. My heart ached. I’m still reeling.

This is how a poem can beat up a reader. The poem is the boxer.


In the house I grew up in, it was not always peaceful, as in other houses. It was quite noisy too. The apartment stands in Sampaloc, and we got used to waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of kids rioting or drunk men cussing and fighting. Sometimes the men fighting are inside the house.

But there has always been music in that house. Everyone who lived there loved the music they grew up with. Nanay loved her Petula Clark and The Lettermen, Tatay loved his Santana and disco, my brother loved his Joe Satriani and Green Day, and I loved Tori Amos and The Pixies and all the rest of the sonic soldiers of the 90s. There were occasional arguments on who gets to play what in the lone twin-deck cassette player. I remember not being able to handle it when my mother had her Backstreet Boys phase. I would gather my notes and pen and go over to my cousin Aizel’s to write there. Sometimes she played Backstreet Boys too, so I’d march off to the old public library in Instruccion. Only now do I appreciate the simple wisdom in “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me.”

We unanimously agree on one thing, though, when it comes to music – Beatles. When someone plays one of the three vinyl records we have of the Beatles (yes, we had a phonograph, and we had Sgt. Pepper and a double LP of the hits and the love songs), nobody complains, and peace reigns, at least for the whole duration of the record. Even Aizel loves the Beatles, McCartney in particular, and she had a soundtrack tape of Give My Regards To Broadstreet even before I did have it later in video (she loved No More Lonely Nights).

These songs are ageless and eternal. I can feel I will be with a man who loves the Beatles too (or if he does not yet, he will love them through me). I can feel our children will love their songs too. I can feel we’ll all listen not to keep the peace, but just to feel the songs.

And this:

I want to write about the song, in verse, but I feel small, too little before the task and the desire. Then again, I hear it and I feel a jolt of strength pumped into my heart. And on every occasion that it gets me weep, it’s as if it’s for getting cleansed, for things to be washed away. And the song just overflows with love – marked by words, dripping through spaces in the piano for every key stricken, carried by the singer’s kind voice. Must be the same thing the composer wanted the kid he wrote it for to feel. What do I know?

I can only feel that what’s little grows, all the time, grows in strength, all the time, feeding on the kindness that has defied time, no little thing my heart, it swells and blooms, all the time, within the seven minutes of the song.

my laundry, his rhapsody

Walking outside earlier for some errands, and thinking of my laundry bin which seems to have a life of its own, never ceasing to pile up monstrously though I’m living alone, I remember this poem I read somewhere, with laundry in it.

Clothes were described as hanging on the clothesline and weeping. I forgot who the poet is,  but I do remember he is either Pessoa, Borges or Neruda. Hispanic for sure. And I do remember the book from where I read it – my plastic-covered The Western Canon, bought from National Bookstore Recto back in the late 1990s, when that NBS branch still did not have the bridgeway yet.

So as soon as I got back home, just a few moments ago, I went straight to the bookshelf, dug the book, and looked for the poem. It turns out the poem is called “Walking Around”, a Neruda, and that what’s in the book is just a fragment from a translation by W. S. Merwin. I cannot find anywhere in the web a beautifully laid out version of the same Merwin translation, so I will just re-type the fragment here:

For this reason Monday burns like oil
at the sight of me arriving with my jail-face,
and it howls in passing like a wounded wheel,
and walks like hot blood toward nightfall.

And it shoves me along to certain corners, to certain damp houses,
to hospitals where the bones stick out of the windows,
to certain cobblers’ ships smelling of vinegar,
to streets horrendous as crevices.

There are birds the color of sulfur, and horrible intestines
hanging from the doors of the houses which I hate,
there are forgotten sets of teeth in a coffee-pot,
there are mirrors
which should have wept with shame and horror,
there are umbrellas all over the place, and poisons, and navels.

I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness,
I pass, I cross offices and stores full of orthopedic appliances,
and courtyards hung with clothes hanging from a wire:
underpants, towels and shirts which weep
slow dirty tears.

And that’s all, how walking around led me to Walking Around.

And there truly is always a poem in everything, or when it’s not that manifest, at least everything leads to a poem. Just look at the laundry.

It Is Written

From REKTIKANO 9’s upcoming Straight Up! Section:

We got a lot to learn from winning our first UAAP general championship.

One, that constant hardwork, even in the face of the elusiveness of the things we desire, is always worth it. It builds us strong – it steels us, until it becomes a habit, and it has for our dedicated athletes. Their bodies have acquired the language of hardwork to a point that what they do no longer is work. It has grown into passion. And when people are passionate, good things eventually, inevitably flower.

Second, how there can even be no such thing as elusiveness, just things unseen. Our athletes, I bet, did not nag themselves every training second with the thought that we have never been general champions. Athletes, when they are in the heat of their physical exertions, see only the moves they are making – the sharp spike that can cut through the opponent’s raised arms, the opening towards the goal, the finish line. Perhaps a few already hear the cheers, see the falling confetti, or the glitter of the golden trophy. Point is, the best athletes do not have their eyes set on what they do not have. They are too much in the moment, too strong that they can see glorious possibilities. Champions trust. Winners believe that more than being capable of winning, they are already winners, from the start. Their truth is this – victory is here, it’s happening.

And what does this first general championship further signify, apart from all of us being champions from the start? It stands for a beginning. If there’s a first, we can now begin counting. We are at the gateway of more, unimaginable good things to come. I see a long, infinite line of championships.

*  *  *

I beg for the indulgence of my fellow Lasallians as I take some space in thanking the DLSAA.

A few months ago, after a series of some major life-changing personal and professional decisions, and during a moment of realization yet again that in my life, my greatest gift is my writing, I sat down to work on four essays which I fielded under the creative non-fiction category of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. The workshop is the country’s premier creative writing workshop, the oldest of its kind in Asia, and has produced a great number of the country’s leading poets, fictionists, essayists and playwrights which includes Lasallians. I have applied before and have been rejected, so the latest application felt casual. I was no longer giddy and excited, and all throughout my writing, I just felt a calm surrender. And without neediness and with just sheer joy that I was able to write, I actually recognized the possibility of earning the fellowship.

At the same time, I knew I had no immediate means of reaching Dumaguete. I did not even have anything to buy plane tickets. But it did not matter. I guess just as in the case of an athlete focused, what only mattered to me was I had to write. I knew that as long as I wrote, somehow, all the rest will fall into place.

And it did. I earned the fellowship. I am grateful. But I soon had to confront the question: how do I get there? I was advised to buy tickets right away to avail of lower rates, and to have just-in-case funds for food and extra transportation for three weeks, especially since fellows are only given a partial reimbursement of transportation expenses and a decent stipend. And because I had to do something fast, and since all I can really do is write, I wrote to my fellow officers and asked for quick-paying writing projects, so that I may raise the funds. In just a few hours, instead of the work I was asking for, my roundtrip ticket was sponsored, and I received pledges of an amount enough to feed me for a whole month. It was as if I earned a writing grant, a grant from people who trust me and who see the worth of what I was striving for. I felt overwhelmed. How can these people exist? And how can I even ask such a silly question? Perhaps it’s from my not being full-bred green – I have not been raised to trust and have only recently discovered it, trust, after having been immersed in the company of Lasallians.

In gratitude, I commit that we will have our first ever Rektikano writing workshop, for free, after I come from Silliman. I hope to share with my fellow Lasallians all that I can and which would be useful in our improvement of Rektikano. It will be open to all Rektikano writers who wish to improve their writing, may they be from our professional or volunteer pool. And our doors will be open to alumni who wish to sit-in, listen and learn.

I look at my gift of a ticket. In it I see not only the big heart of the man who gave it, but how life works for a Lasallian: giving begets giving. So as much as I am happy to have received the support of my fellow officers, I want to be giving too, in any form I can. It feels better to be giving, I guess. Recently, I even read our editorial board head Tony Atayde say something along the lines of no one has too little to not be able to give, as he was raising support for our dear basketball hero Lim Eng Beng. I can only hope that in my own little way, as your editor, I am able to give what I can, and I hope what I give enriches, especially as my being Lasallian has been a grace to me. Thank you.

In the meantime, I present to you Rektikano 9, the DLSAA’s offering to all Lasallians, and to our lives that infinitely give.

Yours in St. La Salle, in fierce and flowing animo,

Jen Balboa
Editor In Chief

editor’s note

I am the editor of a magazine that serves Filipino Lasallian alumni. It’s a family I feel blessed to be part of. And every issue, the task on it I look forward to mostly is writing Straight Up!, my editor’s note, my address to these people.

This issue, at this point, I have not written it yet. In the past, I am the first to turn it over to the art director. I am that excited about it. Now, I am the last. No worries though, the art director is still busy applying corrections on the rest of the pages. I guess that buys me a little more time.

Not that it has been difficult to write, I simply have been feeling through myself and I want to be in the ideal space as I write it. I take these notes seriously because I know I am addressing a group of men and women who are passionate, who give of their hearts generously all the time, and care about what they will read in the next pages. I want to be telling them, “Let’s stay this way, let’s not tire, let’s keep at it. And thank you, thank you always.”

I love these people I serve. I want that love felt in my words.

Alright. Lunch, bath, and then love.


After the verses on the courthouse, after I have put them in protest song music, after they have been turned into a musical that shall see my countrymen singing, this is the next project: ekphrasis. I am singing about songs. And so it is written. Inshallah.