At the time she painted this image, Tita caren told me that all she could see was dark. She said this when I saw her in 2011, when she gifted me this painting. It had been a dark time of illness for her. Recovery was not a realized reality yet. It had also been the 1-year death anniversary of my maternal grandmother, an anniversary I had gone home to the Motherland to celebrate and honor. Before family celebrations were to take place in Cubao, I had made a quick visit to see Tita caren in Bacolod. Tita caren and I go way back as she served as my mentor during my volunteer months at a women’s health organization in Quezon City where she works as a development and outreach worker and nurse. She had completed her road to recovery by the time I saw her in 2011 – her hair voluminous and her skin vibrant – so when she said she only saw dark during that time in her life and commemorated that darkness through this painting, I saw otherwise. Her painting was beauty and mystery and long forgotten dream.
I originally wrote the following poem in October 2017 shortly after the Vegas shooting claimed 58 lives and injured 851; during the fires in the North Bay, the ash that had permeated the Bay Area air, the stunning but mournful atomic sunsets of the fires’ aftermath; and the constant war being waged against women’s bodily autonomy by an administration who would rather shut the door on flood victims, fire victims, and fallen soldiers. I see now what she meant in her obra.
Since October 2017, this country has yet again witnessed another mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. As Tita caren lives in the Motherland, she witnesses the daily slaughter of the poor, the death toll now surpassing 12,000 since Duterte came to office in 2016, all in the name of his drug war. You can say it’s been a struggle keeping up with what is going on in my adopted country and the Motherland at the same time. There is a massive trench of bloodshed on both sides of the Pacific.
As Tita caren and I talked about her painting that alluded to darkness past and ongoing, she recently said of her painting: “The obra meant dark because that was the time when I was under chemo treatment. But it can be dark now with the ongoing harassment of women, particularly prominent women such as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senator Leila de Lima, VP Leni Robredo, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Rappler investigative reporter Raisa Serafica. What they have in common is being women expressing their principles and views against Duterte, and he is after all of them.”
So I think of trenches and her painting.
Crawling on elbows and belly and knees as Lolo did more than 70 years ago in La Union paddy trenches of
pulled from wombs of women who tell forgotten stories of kitchen tables and hangers and newspapers all over the floor and warm
pressed under Gerri Santoro, crouched over in a pool of her blood, dying while born a symbol of a movement to save women’s
over 800 of them enjoying a concert in the sweet Vegas night
spreads across Northern California with wildfires spewing ash in the sweet October
folds our lungs while my cousin and I walked down the Avenue to dinner on the same night a man on a 32nd floor shot rounds of
of our soldier-grandfathers who marched in the same Death March, not knowing each other then, but two generations later their granddaughters would have dinner together after they spied a big fat rat scamper into a restaurant like tunnel rat in
never seems to leave our DNA this current
against women through fists-catcalling-rape-victim-
our uterus carrying the mistake of a marble from a stupid one night stand to rule our entire
dictated by men who know nothing about the female anatomy but think they can save unborn
whom they claim no responsibility over once the bombs are dropped and the walls are built leaving behind little
crawl on elbows and belly and knees – the trench
a foreshadowing of what I hope isn’t their future to defend an ideology in
of what kind have you been in?