How to Take a Walk on a Seawall
By Miro Capili
We tried to write.
We had positioned ourselves where our bodies would be able to cleave the wind, hoping perhaps to intercept what occult lore its salty tongues would carry; to entrap the utterances of the afternoon in free verse, realist fiction, villanelles, sci-fi, prose poetry. What precluded the wall, of course, was the pure verve of sea, that bladder of the warm earth, an unruly and irreducible reminder of timelessness. Everything else, among them the wispy periphery of sky, seemed simply to be what had happened to occur around at the time of creation.
From time to time one of our poets would offer to read aloud what she had written, only to realize that the sibilance around us silenced both sound and subterrain of her imagery. The wideness of the sea, she began, and the sea was wider still. Waves making love, she tried, and it became impossible to ignore the sultry impassioning of water folding into water.
We had tried, as fools do who trust in the glib promises of syntax and metaphors and line cuts, to discipline the dance; the lissomeness of the water, into written entry. But no theory instructs the mastery of seas. Memory cannot temper a rolling patch of sky. A rogue splinter of peach dusk explodes with too much ebullience to hold the grace of a poem. An afternoon offers its own syntactic patterns and resonances.
And how do you dilute a sea, the near painful clarity of day, a summer of literature and noise, to ease into a story?
I imagine it would take the same pains required to grow old and confuse home with memory, as the wise are able to do who’ve culled their lives carefully. Keep in constant vigilance. Take long walks. Accept that falling spectator to the inaccessible rituals of waves, at times, comes at the expense of wordlessness. Grow a habit. Kick it after the second hour. Arrive at an awareness that a seawall in Dumaguete city has more in common than you think with the lamppost at the corner of the next street—it is a time, a place, an atmosphere, a parable, a tumor; a sweet kind of terror, something to despair over. Set store by William Stafford when he says, “For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream.”
You are surprised. How difficult it is to still the imperative of bodily experience, of wanderlust, of energy and movement, as you develop with age a skill for ordinary life. How rare now those images of brute, fervid illumination. You quit trying to make small talk in line for your passport application. The laundry waits in the hamper by the door. You find a quicker way to remove the dribbles of pumpkin soup from last night’s dress. You find yourself most displaced in yourself. You wake up, wanting to follow the sounds of the morning.
So you slip quietly out of the soul for some fresh air. Take a walk. Find a curious other Elsewhere, other Elsewhen, lying in the gutter, or warm in the outstretched hand of a beggar, or stowed away among old tickets in the compartment of a bus bound for a place whose name you can pronounce but can’t remember. Pick it up. You decide that this, what you have just found, could derail you. It could be a useless divergence you’re afraid to admit you have all the time for. You’re afraid it will rain for a million years within you, forming new seas; sail you away to a purer shore. Could usher you back into the discrete homicides of squat, ordinary life.
But let’s say you’ve run into a profound enough moment of tenderness—your first awareness of how great of this world the Negros Sea seems to annex, for instance, when you reach a certain hilly point of Siquijor. You get wind of this possibility while top-loading a jeepney, and a year later you are still suspicious of where the ride had ended. You spend weekends at beaches within the proximity of Metro Manila, wondering why no one else notices that the “white” sand the ads were so proud of more closely resembles gravel, or that the milky waters have forgotten how they had themselves once seemed to dream up the color cerulean. You arrive home and greet your mother ma’ayong hapon (your family hails from Batangas). Obedient to a warning you once heard about vampires in Siquijor leading human lives by day, you avert your gaze from men wearing reflective shades on the way to school. And you have been breathless so often from the dressings of strange plants sprouting from the lawns of random neighbors, from the grain crackling all over the corners of old silent films, from the word decadence and how it sounds like the butter melting in the cleavage of your morning pan de sal. You become difficult to please.
Your wife, your lover, a classmate, will at some point harbor suspicion from your attachment to precious little instances of life. They will doubt the triumphs you find in a can of soup, a better edition of The Shipping News; of lying on a seawall, observing a lamppost. That they will declare your sanity upended and recommend a good psychiatrist is a possibility. Live with it.
Stuff the new wonder in a place whose sound and silence only you understand. Often your thumb will seek it out and attempt to stroke it, reacquainting itself with the rough corners and willowy indents in reverent little gestures. Let it. A tacit smile, in turn, will find a way to seek out your face when this happens. Let it grow.
Now begin the walk back to where you remember your old house was. Lose your way. Find it eventually, in a place between the tagline of a slimming tea ad you once read while taking a piss during a stopover, and the second name of the man who sold you your first harmonica. Try to act surprised when you find yourself unable to walk right back in.