in the cafe of languages.

i.

Lately, I keep coming back to this question: why poetry?

What is it about poetry that I keep coming back to, for the past two years? Why… now?

Once, at the age of twelve, a then-close friend gifted me with a handmade notebook. “For you to write your poetry in,” she said with the sweetest smile on her face.

I didn’t know how to break it to her that I… am not a poet.

Still, I tried. How could I not? The crisp, blank pages were smooth to the touch; practically begging to be inked. I tried. The result: three terribly written poems. They had no rhyme nor rhythm, just a jumble of words put together in random arrangements, pretending to form meaningful proses. I disliked what I wrote so much that it took me many years later before I attempted again, this time because I had to, for a class. I’m still not great at it; I would never call myself a poet. I write sometimes, that is all.

ii.

These days another set of questions occupies my thoughts: what is it about Stanford that I dislike so much? What is it about this place that even now, still chews my insides and leaves me feeling uneasy, ridiculously self-conscious and reflexively, frustratingly mute? Why is it that I have to try, hard, to love this place?

iii.

It was fall, 2013.

On the grand scale of things, I know that what happened to me, what I’d experienced, is hardly significant. Hardships of the privileged, one could put it. I would neither deny nor hide that. But it struck me the other day that trivial though it may be in the grand scheme of the world’s sufferings, what I experienced was painful and crushing and heartbreaking and confusing and devastating because it was the destruction of self.

It wasn’t the bad grades that I wept for; it was the loss of self-confidence. It wasn’t others’ achievements that drove me to keep beating myself up; it was how I shrunk myself each time, accepting defeat without a fight. It wasn’t my small social circle that drove me crazy; it was the loneliness I kept letting in, swallowing me whole. It was not other people’s fullness that suffocated me; it was my smallness that choked me.

It was the destruction of myself that I’d experienced.

It’s the same one I’ve since placed a mental block upon, immediate and forceful. Winter, spring, then summer rolled around and each time I could not, for the life of me, remember. The human body however, is an amazingly robust machine; while the mind may have succeeded in forgetting, the heart stubbornly would not budge.

I may not be able to conjure images of what specifically happened but until today, I still remember the ache that violated my insides; an uninvited guest who took residence for days to no end. The emotions that spilled and flowed out from me in the form of fat, heavy tears and long days of silence and longer nights engulfed by the dark. Some nights I drowned myself in my pool of insecurities; other times I set myself on fire. I reveled in watching myself burn. I spat out, disgusted by the taste of my flesh.

I was on the verge of an apocalypse of my self.

iv.

Until today, to be honest, I struggle to put to words just what was it about that quarter.

“I had a rough start,” I would sometimes say.

“My first year was… difficult,” you might sometimes catch me admitting aloud.

v.

It was fall, 2013.

My self-loathing was infinite. Yet, for some reason, I could not stop writing. I would write for release with an anger that continually sharpened the edges of the words I used. Even when little made sense, I wrote. Even when I had nothing to say, silenced to a stupor, I wrote. Even when I felt nothing, numb and deadened, I wrote. Words, no matter how sharp and ugly and malicious; they became my saving grace.

Somewhere in that darkness where I fumbled helplessly, something magical happened.

Someone else’s word fragments, seemingly jumbled and randomly put together, reawakened my pitch-black insides, slowly letting light into the cracks. Sometimes they were long-winded and lengthy, more prose than rhyme. Other times they were succinct, no more than four sentences. They spoke with words, yet sounded and looked like feelings. They were sturdy beings, these set of words, yet lightweight amid gravity.

It was poetry.

vi.

It is spring, 2015.

My legs pedaled faster, picking up speed against the cool wind.

My destination? The post office.

The queue was surprisingly short at this hour; lunchtime. There was barely anyone today. I made it to the counter in five minutes and with trembling hands, handed the agent my orange slip. “ID please,” he muttered. “Oh yes, sure. Sorry about that,” I replied as I fumbled with the front zippers of my backpack, where my student ID card is stashed… somewhere. “One sec,” I said sheepishly. “Ah, here you go.” I lifted up my right hand, showing him my ID. “Okay,” he said and disappeared to the back room.

I held my breath, trying to contain my excitement.

A few minutes later, he came out with a flat plastic package. “Sign here please,” he said, pointing at a specific part on the orange slip. “Oh yes. I forgot to do that…” I mumbled.

“Here you go,” he said, handing me the parcel. “Have a good day.” 

Once outside, I seated myself on a concrete block right across the entrance of the post office. My class was in 25 minutes, but I cared little if I was late. Impatient, I ripped open the plastic package, revealing a brown envelope with a small pink note with my name on it attached to the string-tied flap. I held my breath, trying to contain my excitement as I untied the string. This took three weeks to arrive, direct from the Philippines.

It was a copy of Other Than Sadness by self-published tumblr poet, Kharla Mae Brillo.

Inside, she had left a handwritten note: “I hope this finds you well and happy, N” and signed off with “love and light, Kharla.” She recently released a self-published collection; when I found out, I knew I needed a copy on my bookshelf. I rubbed my fingers against the smooth cover of the book. It was sturdy, yet lightweight …just like the words that filled its 69-page body. I had 20 minutes left before class, but I remained where I was.

What perfect timing — on the day that marks exactly a month left of my time here, like coming full circle, this seemingly insignificant collection of poems made its way to me. I opened the book, smiling as I read through the table of content — I recognize some of the poems. I remember them well.

A little over a year ago, they saved my soul.

vii.

There, on an ugly concrete block across from the campus post office and huddled between a tall tree and the bike rack, I read the first section: A Biography in Metaphors. It was a cloudy day and the wind was chilly against my skin, but I was already transfixed to a different world. In this world, there is only warmth.

Most of the poetry were familiar because they had appeared in her blog, pouvoires, but one in particular stood out. I smiled when I realized that it had made it into the book; I wonder why she decided to place it right in the beginning. Here, Things I Tell Myself at 5:46 AM by one of my dearest tumblr poet, Kharla M. Brillo.

‟Even in a room full of people, want yourself first.
Not the boy who you gave you his sunset eyes 
the minute you enter the room with your hands tied
around your tongue, afraid you will say something wrong 
about the clouds and the weather in your lungs.
Just forget about your stomach, or how your shirt
feels like a belt around your waist for breathing
too many handheld hurricanes, you do not need approval
from mouths who have shotgun sounds for words, not those.
If you still think you are a bullet out of bounds 
this is a constant reminder that you were always meant 
to pass right through someone’s bulls eye,
touching parts of themselves they never thought 
was beating, breathing, healing flesh within flesh
too thick for those who thought they do not make sense. 
Please do not ever swallow yourself whole 
because you think the world will easily forget 
how you came in small but crying, eyes loud enough 
to scream your worth. You are both ends of a rainbow;
the feeling of skin against the creases of your bed; you are
the silence after a firework show. On days like these,
when you have a recurring nightmare inside your head,
take deep breaths, pull your hand out where your heart is.
Listen. There is an ocean beating. There is a story about to begin.”

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4 thoughts on “in the cafe of languages.

  1. You’ve come such a long way since 2013, Jan! Was I even reading you back then..I can’t remember if I started in ’14 or ’13 >_>. I do remember reading your post on your mental breakdown so maybe I was reading you in 2013? Anyways, just wanted to give you a quick reminder that there are many people who think so highly of you, even when you do not think highly of yourself.

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