• Jose Luis Pablo

Selected Poetry by Jose Luis Pablo

Photo Souce: Tim Sullivan

Hidden Island

Remember the island I couldn’t see

past its cover of fog? Instead

I recall the sharpness of your arm,

your finger pointing to the smoking Atlantis.

Remember the jellyfish sting,

the sparking lash and pink rings?

The cloudy water hid the tentacle,

unwanted souvenir from the depths.

You smiled at my question of scarring.

Remember how I lost

my golden necklace in the sand?

I try to remember the moment I bowed

and it slipped off my neck.

But loss is more than flashes like this,

it happens when our eyes are averted.

Like the time I thought you missed the jumping fish -

hundreds of silver coins pelted the wavecrests,

teased us with their small, lithe bodies

before they disappeared.

Remember the heavy clouds

above the beach? The mass roiling

and spilling out of sky’s edge,

an angry god ready to smite the floating land.

No storm signal stopped us from returning home.

The rain never came.

Only two things remain with clarity:

A starlit sky hidden from our city,

and underneath,

the starkness of your arm reaching for me.

Memento Mori

the reminder we hear tucked

behind every fold of a rose

is a fold of the papered verse,

What has been given shall be taken away.

I have heard of tales of people disappearing:

a father entered a door, shimmering,

babies swept up in a monster’s wing,

the record stops and she is dancing

with someone else.

Stories, like our shadows, are omens

for the length of ash we leave.

When you love me, you cross

the ash on my forehead

and one day I will forget

softness of stained-glass memory.

All will be taken in black swill.

This is my only recourse:

I take you

grail in my hands

and drink to the last drop,

drink till I taste emptiness.

Karaoke Afterglow

Like chameleon shiver,

you shift

from drunk blush red

to sunset pigment,

when the glow of the screen falls

on your face. You sway

to the crash

of tinny synthesized beat,

but like moth wing, you

always furl back to radiance.

The lyrics of the balladeer

you sing are of the everlasting

kind, his art having

failed his life.

When he croons of godly love,

I wonder why he escaped

the seminary, imagine

the doubts coming at night

crowning him with thorns

of fame and hope.

When he promises eternity

and the whole world,

I am reminded of the ring

absent from his finger.

His vow launched,

and received in an empty altar.

He reteaches me catechism,

ex opere operato,

which means grace is grace,

unsullied by its vessel.

All this is to say

that when your voice

carries his song or

some wave of its distortion,

I always believe the words.


Ocean across us -

refraction, question of

which ascendant magic

created our nature.

Are we like driftwood, rigid resistance

of flesh against sungaze?

Or are we of seaweed and kelp,

growing in brine with

no need of forgiveness?

Perhaps we are the machinery of the human body.

We slice through the sheet of water,

headfirst, separating its warmth.

If a cage of bones can turn the tides,

and swim against a sea of agony,

so too must I lack guile and gills

to dive, emptied of desire

to chart histories impossible to revisit.

Or maybe form itself is failure.

Remember, we are also spirit.

I am invisible, air and light,

I wrinkle your water with specks of me

but the ripples will remain liquid around you.

Be certain then that we are matter,

transmutable, except,

I will keep returning

even as your brown back

recedes again and again.

Jose Luis Pablo or "Nico" is a queer Filipino poet and communications manager for a non-profit. They are currently pursuing a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Their work has appeared in several local and international publications, as detailed in joseluisbpablo.wordpress.com. Nico was awarded by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2018 and was a finalist for the 2020 Peseroff Poetry Prize.