Tem Adlawan: A Poet’s Death

December 8, 2009

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)


Desiderata (Binisaya)

September 16, 2009

(Ang mosunod nga prosa-balak orihinal nga sinuwat sa Ingles ni Max Ehrmann. Kini mao ang akong suway nga paghubad niini sa Binisaya.)

Lakaw nga kalma taliwa sa kagahob ug kaguliyang
Ug hinumdumi ang kalinaw nga naa sa kahilom.

Kutob sa mahimo ug sa way pagkaluya,
Tagda pag-ayo ang tanang mga tawo.
Isulti ang matuod sa paaging hinay ug tin-aw,
Ug paminawa ang uban,
Bisan ang bogo ug way hibangkaagan
Sila usab dunay ikasugilon.

Likayi ang mga tawong saba ug mapangahason
Kay sila maghatag og kahasol sa kalag;
Kun itandi nimo ang kaugalingon sa uban
Basin mahimo kang mapagarbohon o magul-anon
Kay kanunay, dunay tawong labaw o ubos kanimo.

Kahimut-i ang imong mga kalampusan ingon man mga plano;
Pagmadasigon sa imong trabaho, bisag unsa kini kaubos
Usa kini ka bahandi taliwa sa nag-usab-usab nga panahon.

Magmainampingon sa imong mga negosyo
Kay ang kalibutan puno sa lingla.
Apan dili ka angayang mabuta sa mga maayong gawi;
Daghang mga tawo buot mokab-ot sa hataas nga mithi
Ug bisan asa ang kinabuhi puno sa kamabayanihon.

Pagmatinud-anon sa imong kaugalingon.
Ayaw pagpakaaron-ingnon sa imong gibati;
Ingon man, ayaw katahapi ang gugma
Kay atubangan sa kauga ug kawalay paglaum
Sama kini ka makanunayon sa sagbot.

Dawata ang tambag sa katuigan,
Samtang andam nga gitahan ang mga butang sa kabatan-on.
Himoang lig-on ang kalag nga maoy manalipod sa kalit nga dimalas

Apan ayaw pagpasamok sa itom nga panghunahuna
Sagad sa mga kahadlok natawo diha sa kakapoy ug pag-inusara.

Labaw sa maanindot nga disiplina
Magmaaghop sa imong kaugalingon.

Ikaw anak sa uniberso
Sama sa kahoy ug mga bituon
May katungod ka nga magpakabuhi.
Ug bisan kun dili kini tin-aw kanimo,
Way pagduda nga ang uniberso nibuklad sama sa naandan.

Mao nga hinumdomi ang Ginoo
Bisan unsa man ang imong paghulagway kaniya,

Ug bisan unsa man ang imong gihimo ug gidamgo
Taliwa sa saba nga kalibog sa kinabuhi, atimana ang imong kalag.

Bisan sa mga pagpakaaron-ingnon, kalisdanan ug pakyas nga damgo
Ang kalibutan nagpabiling matahom.

Paninguha nga magmalipayon.

–Gihubad sa Binisaya, Septyembre 16, 2009

Poem: A Promise (For Cathy)

November 12, 2008

This feeling, friend

Is etched by the constancy of surf

Upon the solidity of rocks.

This, being in the heart

Mocks the moments

And defies time’s rigid rule.

Think not, therefore, of my intention

As mere scribbling on the sand

Of life’s shifting shores.

It is, I assure

As enduring as the outpouring of wonder

Painted in the caves

Of an innocent age.

(I found this in my folder for the Palanca Writers Workshop I attended in June 1996. I wrote this for a girl, obviously, that I courted at that time. Sadly, I never kept that promise.)

Poem: Sentry

July 1, 2008

When it’s your turn, you wait

Until the morning star

Is close to the moon.


You sit

Tap the trigger guard

Slap the mosquitoes

Squint in the dark

At the vast expanse

Of rugged land, gloomy air

That is Bocawe.


The eyelids droop

At times.


But Do Peryong’s hut

Is filled with a dozen snores

And the blackboard

Leans undisturbed

On the bamboo wall.


Then you remember you’re god

At least for the night.


And gods should stay awake.


–Candido O. Wenceslao


August 25, 2007

Call me corny, but I do like this Max Ehrmann prose-poem, Desiderata (roughly, “desired things”). It’s probably because the message reflects my attitude or what I want to be attitude in life. It’s a good guide in dealing with people, the world and adversities.

Don’t laugh, but I am serious. There are people who have taken Desiderata as a passing fancy, even scoff at its pretensions to being a poem. I don’t. I have a copy of Desiderata pasted on the wall of my cubicle to remind me of its message, or more appropriately to guide me. Why? Read on.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
I often am in a noisy environment, in work and sometimes at home. In the office, deadlines dictate our pace. That’s why I cherish the peace provided by silence. 

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.

Being on good terms with some people, we can do that, but with all persons, and without surrender? A mighty task, but good for the spirit.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Yeah, right. That is why I hate people who believe they have a monopoly of knowledge and look down on the less educated. Living with the peasants for some seven years, I have learned many things abnout life from them. And they don’t have doctorates in philosophy. 

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
There you go. If you find me steering clear of opinionated people, blame Desiderata. No, even before I read this poem, I have long detested the loud and the too aggressive.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
This takes away the stress of being overly-competitive. I know people who believe they are superior than others, then cry a river when they end up second best. Only God is all superior. So we just have to accept that while we are sometimes better than others, in other times others could be better than us, too.                                                                  

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.    
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
This is especially true in the Philippines where jobs are hard to come by. I may just have been fortunate that I am in a work that I love. So I am trying not to squander the opportunity.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.  

Have faith in people, that is important. But be wary too. Its a difficult balancing act, but it can be done. 

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
If there is any attitude one should watch out, it is being pretentious. If I don’t like somebody, I steer clear of him. And I am always confident I can find love everywhere. 

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
It’s accepting that we are but mortals. Age gracefully.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
I have always been a worrier. That’s why I always find this a timely reminder.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Wallow in the belief that we have a purpose in being here, that we play a role in this world we have. 

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

Yes, don’t forget God. I did when I was younger. Since then I have realized that we need God for our guide, someone to hold on to. 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Optimism is the better approach.

–Candido O. Wenceslao, August 25, 2007

Death of a Poet: Ana Escalante-Neri

July 25, 2007

Sorry to disappoint. This is not necessarily about poetry. Or mainly about Ana Escalante. Anyway, read on.

Ana Escalante-Neri committed suicided this month in her bedroom in Camputhaw, Cebu City. She was an award-winning poet and a fellow columnist of Sun.Star Cebu. Frankly, I am totally clueless about here. We must have bumped into each other in the lobby of Sun.Star building. But I certainly do not have an image of her in my mind.

Before I became a professional journalist I was into poetry and fiction. I attended the UP Writers and the Faigao workshops. I was drawn into literary writing until journalism sucked me away. But I still follow literary developments, especially by literary groups in Cebu. It now looks like I missed Ana’s works.

I won’t venture into analyzing her controversial death, the reason for suicides being complicated. I have read the blogs, including the praise from fellow writers and the fiery exchange on why she died that often deteriorated to blame throwing. What caught me in all these was how far I have veered away from the literary world.

My reaction to those who went too emotionally and intellectually deep in their praise of Ana was a smile. It must have been because as a journalist I am trained to be objective, to be real and, in a sense, to skim the surface. I now understand the comment of a colleague when he heard the literary-minded group in Sun.Star analyze poetry, films, etc. He told me we sounded pretentious.

That was not an insult, of course. It just showed that we literary types occupy a different world that often lift our foot away from the solid ground “ordinary mortals” are standing. It’s elitist, but that is what it is.

Candido O. Wenceslao, July 24, 2007

Death of a poet

January 26, 2007

Talk about giants among Cebuano poets and one eventually gets to Rene Estella Amper. As a writer, I got to know the man in a circuitous way. I joined The Quill, the student publication of Southwestern University, as a Chemical Engineering freshman. With me was Blanche, an amiable student who turned out to be Amper’s daughter.

But those were tumultuous times. Instead of concentrating on improving our craft, we got caught in the struggle for campus press freedom. I could not recall now whether Blanche was still with us when years later the school administration eased us out of The Quill. I quit college altogether and joined the bigger struggle outside the school campus.

The older Amper had made a name for himself then as a distinguished Cebuano poet writing in English. I heard stories about his stint in The Quill, that’s why I haven’t forgotten Blanche. When you are a young writer, there are works that catches your fancy, and writers that you end up idolizing. I read Amper’s published works and became a fan.

I didn’t get to meet Amper until I took journalism as a profession and ended up covering the Capitol beat. He had jumped from being a municipal health officer to being a mayor of Boljoon, the town of his birth. My admiration grew. In these materialistic times, it is not often that doctors like him would choose to practice in a rural setting. Read the rest of this entry »