Selected Poetry by Jose Luis Pablo
Photo Souce: Tim Sullivan
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,
the starkness of your arm reaching for me.
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.
Like chameleon shiver,
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,
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.