Tem Adlawan: A Poet’s Death

NOT many people know Temistokles “Tem” Adlawan outside of Cebu’s literary circles, but that does not mean his passing should go unnoticed. Tem had his Ernest Hemingway moment, choosing to end his life by himself. He was 79. No, he did not shoot himself with a gun. He was calm like Socrates after drinking the hemlock.

Januar, my fellow columnist and literary writer, rushed to a Cebu City hospital when he heard about what happened to Tem. The scene surrounding his death as pictured by his relatives was tragic as it was fiction-like. But he was already sickly, said Josua, cartoonist and literary writer. His eyes were problematic and he could no longer write.

For writers, the pen is a weapon against life’s tests. When I was under solitary confinement years ago, I asked my captors to provide me pen and paper. I don’t know if my sanity would have survived that ordeal without the things that I later referred to as “my crutch.” Writing helped Tem survive a lonely existence in his twilight years.

I met Tem for the first time at a University of the Philippines creative writing workshop held in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s landing site in Palo, Leyte in the late ‘90s. He was the oldest fellow and the most respected Cebuano writer in the workshop.

Tem was a widower and a part-time habal-habal driver and his folksy ways were noticeable. What I immediately observed in Tem was his love for anything creative. He told me how he would get a high every time he cracks a well-concocted metaphor in a poem he is reading. It caught me off-guard and made me re-assess the efforts I poured in writing my literary pieces. I realized then that I was dealing with an extraordinary writer.

But writing in this country does not pay our bills. Tem got national recognition for his Cebuano poems and yet continued to struggle to eke out a living in Naga. I once visited him in his small hillside hut in Pangdan and his sole cherished possession there, aside from his motorcycle, was the rickety typewriter that documented his genius.

Fellow writers, especially members of the Bathalan-ong Halad sa Dagang, will pay their last respects to a man whose works we appreciated, aptly through a poetry reading. I don’t know if I will be able to go there considering the schedules I have to meet. But personal presence won’t matter if homage transcends physical bounds.

To Tem, may your soul rest in peace now.

(I wrote this for my November 18 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

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