MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Form of Babaylan Poetics

The Foreigner in My Blood

I forgot any reason for you to hold my hand as a day unfolded

I forgot how your eyes always reached for me when I passed the threshold into the home we carefully shared

I forgot memory’s fragments which deserve to be the ones in the forefront of my attention

I forgot how my mother chastised, “Your grandmother’s home may be meager to Western eyes. But, once, it housed invading generals waving foreign flags.”

I felt a tingling as I wrote down these lines last night. It felt uncanny, maybe even a bit eerie. I chose the numbers of my birthdate — 9+11+19+52 to generate a poem from Eileen Tabios’ MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION or MDR, project’s 1,167 lines. I did it for the second time; this time using my son’s birthdate — 3+11+19+72:

Sometimes Love Laments

I forgot why lovers destroy children to parse the philosophy of separation

I forgot how your eyes always reached for me when I passed the threshold into the home we carefully shared

I forgot memory’s fragments which deserve to be the ones in the forefront of my attention

I forgot fingertips smoothed to black velvet from constantly rolling leaves of tobacco.

___

On the sideline of my notebook, I had put exclamation marks on the first and fourth lines of the second poem because they speak to a literal truth. Again, I was seized by a bemused and awed feeling…something almost akin to the incredulity of the rational mind that refuses to bend to the seduction of the mysterious. But I know that lurking in the shadow of my psyche is a curiosity and affection for that which is hiding from my plain sight. Poetry always does that for me.

I have friends who believe in numerology, astrology, tarot readings and other similar phenomenon. My interest in same is peripheral to this day because, while I find it fascinating, I haven’t really delved into these things studiously.

However, I have been reading Arnold Mindell’s books on transpersonal psychology, processwork, social change and spirituality. When he writes about “second attention or secondary reality” I resonate loudly with the concept because this speaks to the intuitive way I have carved out a path for myself that turned into an academic career/vocation. This is also at the heart of the methodology of Pagtatanung-tanong (literally asking questions repeatedly) in Filipino Indigenous Psychology. This methodology is embedded within the concepts of KAPWA (shared self) and LOOB (shared humanity).

Filipino scholar on indigenous philosophy, Fr. Albert Alejo writes that the concept of Loob is similar to the concept of the TAO in Asian philosophy. I don’t have the space here to expound on the comparisons of these concepts but those who are familiar with Taoist philosophy may have a tacit understanding of what it means to flow in the way of the Universe, to be in process, to being in “Wu Wei” — no forceful action.

All the above comes to mind as I engage Eileen Tabios’ latest book, Murder, Death Resurrection — a poem that is 1,167 lines long culled from 27 of her earlier poetry books. She explains that the “murder” comes from putting to death these earlier works, so to speak, so that she may resurrect them into new forms. She assumes that a reader can select any number of these lines and the result would be a new poem.

She has faith, she says, the new poem will be aesthetically pleasing to the reader who engages the Generator because she believes in the practice of Babaylan poetics. Eileen is the only poet I know who is audacious enough to claim this power. Babaylan — the precolonial figure of the shaman, medicine woman, healer, folk therapist, chanter, ritualist, mediator with the spirit world in the Philippines — has long been buried in the cultural memory of modern Filipinos in the homeland and in the diaspora. But this hidden figure is also being resurrected by the Center for Babaylan Studies. Since 2009, the Center has offered conferences, symposia, retreats, workshops, books and other publications, projects supporting indigenous communities in the Philippines and in the diaspora — all in the spirit of wanting to Enliven us again, heal our colonial wounds, and return us to the Beauty of our indigenous heritage.

English has wounded me/us. In spite of my academic creds, I am acutely aware of how English limits me and how my native tongues (Kapampangan and Tagalog) would prefer to chant or sing than theorize; or how my body would prefer to do meditative qi gong than bend my brain trying to explain in English what my bones already carry and understand.

So in a way these “I forgot” poems rescue my imagination and allow me to appreciate English; perhaps be more tender towards my self’s distance from it. In the hands of a soulful and skillful poet like Eileen, these poems can be the vessel of Beauty.

Babaylan poetics is a practice in immanence and transcendence for me. In the CfBS circle, we claim our Babaylan-inspired indigenous spirituality that manifests itself in the forms that we create as a community of scholars, activists, healers, teachers, artists, culture-bearers who are learning how to decolonize and re-indigenize. Spirit/Creator/God/Tao/Loob is not some external heaven-ward presence that we invoke when in need; this Presence is in our midst in all forms, human and non-human, seen and unseen. Poems, too, when born out of faith and trust in the flow of the Tao, bear the mark of the Babaylan spirit’s presence.

This Presence is also in the cover of Eileen’s book that bears Pacita Abad’s art work. Babaylan poetics begins in the cover page…and before that and beyond. It is all connected.

As for the lines above in “The Foreigner in my Blood”, I am reminded of how entangled I already am with my “others” and everyday is a practice in honoring these relationships and making no room for spiritual bypassing when it gets challenging.

So sometimes Love Laments but Love Always Is. That is Babaylan Poetics. That is Kapwa.