by Michael Caylo-Baradi
Prelude to a Beauty Pageant
The evening glows with expectations, dressed in butterfly-sleeved ternos with a history of high-praise on this year’s Fashion Week in London and Singapore, as though nights like these are flagships to promote national identity embedded in home-grown fashion. The former first-lady herself – eternal subject of contempt, derision, and satire – sits not too close from the stage, for the best vantage point in the house, where nostalgia of her pageant days will soon devour a fanfaronade of hips, hairstyles and pouty lips, all sure to delight eyes attuned to the pulse of unpredictability. Sighs of impatience raise the tone of chit-chats filled with excessive sweet-nothings, thanks to recent, successful rhinoplasties; facial and physical revisions ensure membership to an enclave in their economic class, ever convinced that the plasticity of nature is raw material for transformations, preferably by geniuses bred and honed in Makati, already gaining popularity abroad. On the row of seats reserved for judges, a hint of Igorot tribal tattoos on a man’s neck leers at other men behind him discreetly. He wears the glamor of muscularity with a bald head and a beard: a paradigm of symmetry and proportion, the kind of beauty that creates a conundrum in beauty contests, courtesy of beauty revealed by the organ inside the skull. Soon, the evening’s emcees grace the hall with mutual compliments about their outfits, and dimple the crowd with swirls of sporadic laughter and giggles. Indeed, the night promises to raise the stakes of elegance in the fabulous, starting with a parade of beauties from each province garbed in costumes dipped in wit and inventiveness.
Breathing Exercises at a Dumpsite in Manila
5am engulfs him with the usual hush that rides the velocity of smoke rubbing against heaps of detritus, buried over each other for decades. Time is irrelevant now, but he prefers the color of skies without the sun, a vast ceiling of things that glimmer, as though emptiness must submit to the invasiveness of punctuations. The sound of birds continues to lullaby volumes of stench, so self-assured to find new subjects to feast on. Sometimes – besides the hunt for plastic and tin cans – the silhouettes of their wings guide him to where a new find feels exciting: bags, clothing, or food recently expired, perhaps still potent with nutrients for an aging body. He often wonders how his immune system survives amidst viral mutations desperate for fresh hosts to hibernate on. As always, the past lords over the present, as green, bucolic landscapes in dreams exiled from memories of family. Their eyes often haunt him in decapitated heads he’d come across now and then, engorged in lacerations, ready to welcome ants and vermin for another period of gluttony. He imagines the quality of their complexion before becoming victims of psychopaths; they give him pause, often convinced that beauty once possessed their lives, a questionable quality for longevity. As the heavens resort to lighter hues again, the day submits to another commotion of young and old scavengers, now resigned to routines around these parts, quietly averse to the intrusiveness of outsiders equipped with cameras for academic and fund-raising projects. Indeed, the discovery of objects barely used or eaten offers moments of rest and satisfaction, as though something had dissolved, for once, of the unimaginable becoming tangible reality.
In the Theater of Lino Brocka’s Macho Dancers
Within these walls, the night aborts the reign of sadness glimmering in sweat on streets of perpetual protests. Breathing simplifies into fantasies of a desert island licked by clear, turquoise waters exiled from flags and flagpoles. Their white sands excite bodies athletic as Michelangelo’s David subsumed in Asiatic bone-structure and skin-tone smooth as the crucified being everyone loves to worship. They distill into a dance, of effortless, wave-like movements in fog-effect that simulates something opposite of an ascension, of lithe youth delivered from above for impoverished desires below, local and foreign. Backstage, gestures of camaraderie still breathes provincial hospitality, alien to shadows that saturate cities with excess light and noise; on-stage, they lather each other’s thighs and nights with soap and simulacra of love-making, to underline a brotherhood: the friction of pectoral muscles rubbing against each other awakens phantoms that inhabit sleep, ever attuned to the beauty and power of Narcissus. He anoints the names of pubs and clubs as repositories of myths, havens for perspicacities that give neon its romance for thrilling, endless midnights.