I’ve always known that my Nanay is a “makata.” As a girl of four, I may have memorized the first ever poem she taught me. It was entitled “Ang Palo ng Ina”—a poem composed by my uncle, a writer and poet we fondly call Kuya Usteng.
Tunay nga ba anak na ikaw ay nagtampo
Dahilan sa aking pagpalo sa iyo
Nagwalang-kibo ka’t nang kausapin ko
Ay patak ng luha ang isinagot mo
Halika nga anak sa aking kandungan
At ating limutin ang mga tampuhan
Di kita pinalo upang ika’y saktan
Ang hangad ko lamang ay iyong kabutihan
Kung alam mo lang na sa bawat palo
Ang puso kong ito ang syang nagdurugo
Bata ka pa anak, di mo natatanto
Pagpalo sa anak ay di gawang biro
It was probably why I never took it against her whenever I get a scolding—and a palo—for being makulit, which was not really often.
I have vivid memories of my Nanay writing poems on pieces of yellow pad paper, or on notebooks about significant life events. I remember her getting invited to barangay gatherings—wakes, club meetings etc.—to be the intermission number. For which she would whip out a poem old or new.
How did my mother become a poet?
She told me it was really life events and experiences that attracted her to the written word—poems in Filipino to be exact. Nanay is the third of eight children. She was born and raised in Brgy. Aplaya in Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite. But when she was 11 years old, their family—the Aquinos—decided to move to Roxas, Mindoro. Lolo Crisanto, a fisherman, was able to purchase a hectare of farmland there. But in a twist of fate, Lolo would find out the land title had been transferred to somebody else. The Aquinos found themselves landless. And homeless.
“Noong una, nakitira lang kami sa kamag-anak. Naging pasampid-sampid kami doon,” Nanay recalls to me. “Kinalaunan, nagpatayo ang Tatay ng isang dampa.” And that was when the poem she read in some book, spoke to her.
Ang aming tahana’y maliit na dampa
Ang dingding ay lusot, ang bubong ay sira
Gayunman si ama, si ina at ako
Ay maligaya rin sa tahanang kubo
Ang tahanan nila’y magara’t malaki,
Animo’y palasyo ng hari at prinsipe
Gayon man ang doon nagsisitahan
Sa ligaya’y salat, sa luha’y mayaman
Palasyo man pala kung walang pag-ibig
Ang tatahan doo’y luluha tatangis
Kahit pala dampa kung may pagmamahalan
Daig ang palasyo sa kaligayahan
My Nanay’s family stayed in Mindoro for three years and moved back to Brgy. Aplaya. Lolo went back to fishing. But even when times were tough, Nanay and her seven siblings never experienced hunger. “Ang tatay namin, kung ano ang pinakamagandang lamang-dagat na nahuhuli nya, siyang ipinakakain sa amin—lapu-lapu, kitang, samaral,” she recalls. “Ubod ng sipag ng Tatay.” This inspired her to write a poem for her folks.
Mahal ko ang nanay at tatay
Utang sa kanila yaring aking buhay
Sila ang sa aki’y nagturo’t umakay
Sa wastong paglakad sa landas na tunay
Ang lahat ng aking mga ninanais
Sa kanilang hirap aking nakakamit
Hindi mamumulat ang bulag kong isip
Kung di sa kanilang mga pagtitiis
The bay in Barangay Aplaya used to be rich in marine resources back in the day, my Nanay says. It also used to be so beautiful—which was why she wrote the poem “Ang Dagat.”
Anong gandang pagmasdan ang lawak ng karagatan
Lalo na kung lumulubog ang araw sa kanluran
Ang alon ay lundo-lundo, na parang kumikinang
Na labis na makapawi sa pusong may kalungkutan
Nanay was born in 1940. But she has vivid memories of the Second World War. “Doon sa Aplaya, mula sa aming batalan, tanaw namin ang Philippine Navy. Nakikita naming binabagsakan ng bomba at nag-aapoy doon,” she recalls. She remembers, too, hearing the sound of sirens, though she didn’t really understood what was happening then. It was when she was in grade school when she wrote the poem “Digmaan.”
Ang digmaan ay lagim, dusa at ligalig
Na nagpapayanig sa buong daigdig
Paano’y sa lupa at sa himpapawid
Ay lintik na kidlat yaong tumutulig
Back in the day, there was balagtasan on the radio, and she loved listening to Ofelia Angeles and Antonio Raymundo. Except Nanay’s family didn’t own a radio, and she had to go to a neighbor’s house to listen. “Natatanim sa isip ko ang mga tula doon,” she says. Sometimes, whenever her older brother, Kuya Usteng, would chance upon her listening to the radio program, he would tease her, and challenge her into a balagtasan. “Pag ako’y tumula, kokontrahin ni Kuya Usteng. Parang nagbabalagtasan na din kami.”
But Nanay says the biggest influence in her poetry are the Psalms in the Bible. “Hindi ako nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral. Hanggang Grade 6 lang ang natapos ko. Ang karunungan ko sa pagtula ay galing sa salita ng Diyos,” she says. “Sa kakabasa at kakapakinig, nakasaulo ako ng 150 verses sa bible.”
This inspired her to write:
Bawat butil ng aral mo sa isip ko’y itinanim
Bawat salitang galing sa ‘yo sa puso ko’y tumitining
Bawat pintig ng buhay ko ito’y sa ‘yo nanggagaling
Alam ko at nababatid ako Yahweh ay mahal mo din.
To people who wonder why she likes to write and recite poetry, she penned a poem for that, too.
Merong taong nagtatanong ako’y bakit tumutula
Ang sagot ko’y tanong din, ‘ang tula ba ay masama?’
Sa anumang panitikan at lahi ng mga bansa
Ang tula ang pangunahing sa dambana’y tiningala
I’ve always known Nanay is a poet but all these stories I only found out of late. Since leaving the house after getting married, we don’t always get to spend time together. But she’d read to me when I visit and I make sure to be all ears. It’s how I know how she’s feeling. It’s how I find out what she’s thinking. Whenever there’s a new poem, she grants me the privilege to hear it before anyone else. She’d recite them when the urge comes—whether I’m ready to listen or not.
I could go on and go on telling you about my mother and her poems. She has a bagful of notebooks with verses she’s composed, collected, remembered or read somewhere—all lovingly handwritten. There’s a poem for every joy, sorrow, or pain.
When my father passed away in 2008, Nanay did question our family’s fate.
Bakit ito itinadhana ng Diyos Amang mapagmahal?
Bakit tayo pinaglayo sa landas na daraanan?
Bakit tayo sinubok sa ganitong mga bagay?
Bakit ikaw ay inilayo sa di abot ng pananaw?
To Nanay, life is a poem. It’s how it starts and how it will end.
Ang lahat ng mga ito sa Iyo Ama ibinibigay
Ang lahat ng naisin mo, wala akong pagdaramdam
Pagkat Ikaw ang gumawa ng aba kong kasaysayan
At Ikaw rin ang tatapos ng lahat kong karanasan.