Stranger Things Have Happened
These are true: In 2003, the circus came to Manila and an elephant
escaped. The eight-foot-tall mass of hide and ivory took a stroll
down EDSA, causing much traffic. In Olutanga Island,
there is a man who speaks to sea snakes. Their local nickname
is walo-walo, because their venom kills in eight days. They
do not harm him, but only live in his hut. Calamba
is native to a man who underwent 17 plastic surgeries
to look like Superman. Visit any karaoke joint in the country—
residents believe a certain Frank Sinatra single kills. My sister
has three moles precisely, which when aligned form Orion’s
Belt. When she first showed me this, I demanded: How
did that happen? North of my hometown a boy born paraplegic
stands up and walks at the age of ten. His mother says it was a gift
from a saint. Whenever I am kneeling to a Virgin of Miracles, I ask:
Is it you who writes this stuff? The devotees are a wave
of hands, reaching to grab your consecrations, the ironies
you have to offer. I’m at the back of the line, sick
of all these riddles. When I dig up all these bones, I’m sure
some femur or phalange will be missing. I’d stalk
a magician after the show, search his pockets
for rabbit holes. I am always waiting to be seized
by one more plot twist. God, just tell me how you did it.
2019 SPEAKS TO 2009
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Capitalism finds a way to make you pay for things you can download for free. You’re okay with it.
Borat plays a dictator. Then he fights authoritarianism.
Friendster and MySpace are dead. Do not trust their successor.
You’ve spent over 70 hours on a TV show that will disappoint. But you’d do it all over again.
Spider-man is black. He’s also monochrome. He’s also a pig.
The Jonas Brothers break up. Don’t worry, they’re back.
Mexico’s drug war is coming to your street like gossip on the galleon from Acapulco.
Pigs are still getting sick. This time, humans can’t catch it.
Mulan supports a fascist regime.
You’ll stand for hours in a protest all because someone wants to bury a dictator and a hatchet.
My Chemical Romance breaks up. Don’t worry, they’re back.
The feud between Kanye West and Taylor Swift doesn’t end.
A Filipino hosts Blue’s Clues.
There are only 27 endemic hornbills left on the island of Sulu.
Everyone is sick of Harry Potter now, mostly due to J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account.
The Amazon is on fire.
The Philippines is the last country in the world where divorce isn’t legal, after the Vatican.
People will clap for Kim Jong Un and boo Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
So many people you do not know are dead. The two prevailing causes are dengue and hitmen.
Polio was eradicated. It’s back.
At the airport, before their flight home, your nephews—you have nephews—will cling to your side, and ask you for stories.
The world is coming together. The world is coming to shit.
In short, the period is so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The excavation began in June. My companion
Billy is a scientist, so he only ever believes
in facts. I’d like to believe I’m a number one fan
of this artifact, so hard to come by since Pluto’s
on-and-off undeclaration as a planet cut short its
lifespan. Everyone on earth was minding their own
business when the Internet crashed into it
like an asteroid and jumpstarted the cretaceous
post-truth. Climate change makes for a good
deadline—what a great and terrible headline
that would be, if we ever get to release it.
But today we might as well be devotees
looking for their God. We had had many leads:
The space rover we cast gave us only rocks.
The Antarctic expedition was a bust.
The probes we sent to the Pacific came up
empty. We had heard that the Gobi Desert
was once a sea, so we pressed the shells
we found there to our ears: white noise.
Sometimes I worry: Have we been searching
for truth so long that we don’t recognize it?
What was the last thing it said before it left?
Do we even remember what it looked like—
a fossil? A papyrus? A voice? I’ve heard so many people
claim to hear him preaching in the Andes, his voice
bouncing off the back of a mountain. Only the other day
he was trapped at the bottom of a well in Egypt.
But you can believe no one nowadays. How could we,
since truth went missing? And once we found him,
how were we to present him? Would he resist
examination? Or was he lost somewhere, his leg trapped
in some canyon or cave, waiting to be found?
Some afternoons I’d tell Billy, he’s so close now
I could reach out and tug his sleeve. Or, can you hear
him? He’s laughing at us this very minute.
But at night when the tent is wrapped in the chirping
of crickets, I think of how afraid I am of chasing
the most sought after interview in the world.
When we find truth, would I be angry at him,
or relieved? Would I ask first how could you, or
do aliens really exist? or how many times
did you manifest in George Orwell’s 1984?
Sometimes I wonder if he’s off on a mission
to eat, pray, love in some Tibetan monastery
or Indian yoga camp. Sometimes I wonder
if he wants to be found. So many people
break their backs every day, waiting
for him to arrive: schoolteachers, private
eyes, criminals lined up on death rows.
One minute he is in a newsroom in New York,
the next in a birthing room in Kenya. Nowadays,
rarely ever in urban spaces, and almost never
in America. And what if I’ve been walking
on truth all along? What if truth had many surfaces?
What if truth was a sphere? Sometimes I doubt
even my companions, but trust is different from truth.
Billy is the most honest person I know, holding
the team’s shit all together. He tells us the earth
isn’t flat and we believe it. Once, on the way
to a campsite, our raw thanksgiving chicken
tumbled out of the icebox, exploding
on the mudtracked road. He told us the microbes
would kill us if we ate it. We were relieved
to have someone confirm our biases, but best believe
we’d have gobbled it up at the slightest pang
of hunger. So we roasted marshmallows
instead, on some forgotten backbone
of Canada, watching the ice melt.
He says when the truth finally occurs to us,
we’ll never believe what he has to say.
He says, we’ll probably think he’s a poem.
We’ll come up with all these adaptations of him.
We’ll cut him up into obscene lines.
No way, I tell him. Yes way, he says.
The truth can say whatever the fuck it wants,
and we’ll all still hear something else.
HERE AT THE END OF ALL THINGS
You would not believe how many people abandon
their pets. The pet store was clearing shelves, so I took a bone
and a dog and drove. The news delivers until it can’t—
a few hours before it happens, the last station broadcasts
its last goodbye: Thank you, and good night.
The end will be live tweeted, anyway.
At my office carpark, I call my parents
to tell them I love them. I hit the road
with an eighties playlist. But there’s a traffic jam
here, at the end of the world, so I get out and walk the dog
to nowhere. I thought that I would at least be busy
with paperwork, or sex. Instead, I am looking for my friends
in the last diners, the last gas stations, the last
Korean supermarkets. They are always in the last
place you look. I think of my bullies,
including the senile landlady who refused
to close the pipe when we blew off a tap by accident.
I think of my exes, even the one I never call my ex.
I think of the neighborhoods I have lived in, their flower pots
and stray kittens. I turn them over in my head,
empty their alleyways to walk my ghosts in them.
How must they be doing, I wonder, here at the end of all things?
I thought when it would arrive I would be angry; instead, I am
tired. But we have our afterlives for tiredness. Today
is for walking as far as you can. The orchestra played Autumn
right into the ocean as the Titanic sank. In the morning
we will all be frozen. I find my friends in our favorite picnic spot,
blanket spread, spreading strawberry jam on bread, overlooking
the end. I pull up a chair. The dog chases a butterfly.
Here at the end of all things, I am looking over the edge:
Everything is still. The world flickers, like a mirage—
or like a television channel, right before the static.
Regine Cabato is a journalist based in Manila. She is a recipient of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award and Loyola Schools Award for the Arts for poetry. Her poems have been published in Kritika Kultura, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Rambutan Literary, among others. She hails from Zamboanga City.