Fort Santiago & Vigan

by Gonzalinho da Costa

Fort Santiago

To Jose Rizal

I visited your cold stone prison,
Bereft of your spirit,
Empty of your words.
Your cell rang like footsteps

Inside a bell. I could not
Imagine you alive.
Supine, you lay
Motionless, a pigeon

Strangled by the hand
Of forces greater than
Your idealism, stronger than
Overpowering sentiment—

Your love of country exceeding
Your love of life, a pearl.
Yes, you penned poems, essays,
Two novels. You wrought

Drawings, paintings, sculptures—
One famous piece:
The Triumph of Science over Death.
Buildings, cities, towns, streets

Today carry your name.
Yet you are not deathless.
You are dead,
Slain by migrant necessity

Born of want, poverty
Pulling grubs from the soil,
Nailing down rusty iron sheets
To fashion flimsy shelters

Soon blown apart like paper
By tornadoes, locusts
On annual rampage.
But wait—now I see you rise,

Arms bound, marching off.
As if on stage, players assemble.
Your back is to the firing line.
At that moment of volley

I see you transformed.
You turn—shot as a traitor,
Dying as a martyr.
Despair spinning into hope.

Originally published in Philippines Free Press (December 31, 2011)



Let us go to the dry land where hundreds of years ago, tobacco leaves broad as parasols hung from the dark rafters of wooden sheds riddled by sunlit rapiers.

Let us visit the town, your hand in mine, touring the passage of time, nodding inwardly toward our own thoughts as if they were pedestrians, as the sun gradually sheathes his sword and dusk heavily casts a shadowy blanket.

Let us enter the house of old stone and weathered wood, greeted at the doorstep by sharp complaints of aching hinges and grousing floorboards, as in the fronting street tiny whirlwinds of dust and gravel and bits of leaves explode like fluttering insect wings.

Let us ascend the gleaming stairs, shuffle off our shoes, one after the other, lean forward above a window overlooking a wide boulevard lined with cobblestones hot as bread and, shutting our eyes to slowly turning fans of radiant heat, inhale sumptuously, our nostrils stung by cooked air like ground pepper.

Let us make our way to the window of the house in the town in the dry land where hundreds of years disappearing, hardy fields flourished like shining children of the day watered by the tireless sun.

Note on Fort Santiago & Vigan:

Apart from Fort Santiago & Vigan, Eastlit has published the following work by Gonzalinho da Costa:

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