Only a Boy

by Gonzalinho da Costa

In Memoriam Boyet Mijares

You might have seen my fresh face,
I was only a boy.
You’ll discover my velvety dark eyes in Batas Militar, documentary
About martial law in the Philippines
Under Marcos, watch it.
Black-and-white photograph from the sixties,
My father stands beside me,
Self-possessed…imperturbable, he looks it…
In his own way
Content as content can be,
Buddhic as his black plastic spectacles,
Old style, balanced on his nose, also old style.
He did not know…he could not know…
How could he possibly know?
What we both know now,
Now that we are dead,
His body disappeared,
Mine found,
Dead, too,
Mutilated, same way
Kitchen knives slice open vegetables, poultry…
Sledgehammers break apart tendons, bones…
Cabbages snap, fracturing into large pieces for your salad.
You would not want to see
What my father’s dead body looked like.
Souls…after they die…
They are not really dead,
Just not in the body.
Some natural process of disintegration,
Devastating mishap,
Murder, unnatural,
Damages the body
So that it is like the painting of a landscape,
Not the landscape itself,
Breathing plants, animals, living things,
Joined to a universe in perpetual motion—
Soul, spirit, consciousness,
Whatever you call it,
A soul can know, does know.
Only a boy at the time, I could not imagine
The pain, indescribable…yes, I can describe it,
As long as you understand,
Words do not equal the experience.
Have you ever stood in front of a high-pressure water stream gushing,
Your mouth agape,
And you drink and drink and drink
To the point you cannot drink anymore?
And then you drink even more,
You drown by drinking.
Pain fills you the same way, like a bicycle tire before it explodes.
A hot water bag before it bursts.
White light, pain has the capacity to inundate your consciousness.
It becomes who you are
Because you cannot think of anything else.
What happened?
You ask me.
They were grown men.
I had never seen them before.
I was still a youth.
They smashed my hands and my feet,
Household hammer,
No nails.
Next, they pried out my eyes
The way you dig up potatoes.
They used a blade to maim my genitals,
Castration first, severing the rest.
I screamed all the while.
My father, arms held fast,
Was forced to watch.
Stabbed 33 times in my torso,
I drowned in my own blood, gurgling like a sink.
A wash of emotional anguish…terror…disbelief…incomprehension…
I am going to die! In front of my father!
I may have known anger,
But I have never raised my arm against another
To disable or to disfigure,
Or to kill, certainly not!
Why is it my time now?
Swinging a hardwood bat, a soldier
Popped my skull, loud crack inside your head
You hear when you split hard candy.
This time I felt no pain.
Only 16 years old,
I had not lived at all, or hardly,
I barely knew who I was.
Who will remember me when even I hardly knew myself?
Will nothingness be the remembrance of who I am?
Now I am become a harvested fruit, disconnected forever.
Murdered, I was not yet a man.


Poets note on Only a Boy:

The poem is about the torture and murder of Primitivo Mijares and his son, Boyet, during the martial law regime of Marcos. They were killed because Primitivo Mijares published The Conjugal Dictatorship (1976), an expose of the abuses of Marcos’ martial law regime. The account in the poem is based principally on the affidavit of the mother, Priscilla Mijares, featured in, and on The Marcos Dynasty (1988) by Sterling Seagrave. Some artistic license has been used to recreate the torture and murders. References are attached (not necessary to publish with the poem).

The poem responds to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s expressed intention to bury Marcos at the Cemetery of Heroes (Libingan ng mga Bayani) on September 11, 2016. See:

Macas, Trisha. (May 23, 2016). Duterte: Marcos Burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani ‘Can Be Arranged Immediately.’ GMA News Online. Retrieved from

The poem protests Duterte’s action by inciting remembrance of the heinous crimes committed under Marcos’ command responsibility.


Editor’s Note on Only a Boy:

Only a Boy is not Gonzalinho da Costa’s first work to appear in Eastlit. His previous published pieces are:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email