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Alfredo Navarro Salanga

His political faith.
The years of struggle demanded of him by that faith.
The years in prison demanded from him by his detractors as a result of that struggle.

These are what form and frame the metaphors and the images that stud the poetry of Jose Maria Sison. In this wise is this poet essentially honest for when we sum it up, this is the triad that makes up his life.

I am tempted to refer to his being instead, but I am held back by a niggling doubt – as to whether or not his politics allows him a metaphysics. Those who do allow it in their lives, however, should not be faulted if they see vegetations of it in his poems. That may be why some of us tend to conjure his politics as a kind of faith, giving to it even, some kind of a religious dimension.

Heresy that may be to some, but how best describe the honesty of his humanity?

For a deep sense of humanity it is that informs each and every poem in this collection, a deep and personal and even (again heresy this) mystical humanity. Surprising that may be to some also, particularly those more familiar with his prose (militant, methodical and to others maniacal) and more so with the prose written about him (in the main damning and derogatory). A prose of extremes then is what we’ve had mainly of this man and on him – but that’s to be expected for controversy is, but certainly, almost of the essence of his and work.

But detract from the prose we may, for here Jose Maria Sison is a poet.

This isn’t saying, though, that he’s any different as a result or that what he has here is a different face. The full integration of life and work (and one must count here his creative work as well) remains.

Only the telling of it, or the saying of it, is different – for poetry is, most assuredly, different from prose.

And different not only in the manner of it but even, in a way, in the sense of it – for though one may quibble with the motivation and the underlying honesty of prose because direct and to the point, one may not do so with poetry.

Poetry assumes a different dimension in that it is another way of telling or speaking the truth. And while truth is pure and indivisible, the telling of it and the speaking of it comes differently with prose as it does with poetry.

Poetry is the crystallization of it and therefore hardly utilitarian.

Therefore we say: if Jose Maria Sison lives simply for his politics he could very well have been satisfied, he could very well have been content, to limit himself to prose.

But there is an honesty to this man as I said and that is the honesty of his humanity as unveiled through these poems (we use veil here to underscore this aspect of him that has been shrouded over). Moreover, it is an honesty that should be acknowledged, whether willingly or grudgingly, precisely because it is human and acknowledgment of the human in others increases our own humanity.

Therefore, because human, there is love here as much as there is anger, for these are our most elemental (though hardly elementary) passions.

Again not elementary, they talk about friends and enemies – the metaphors of them and the images of them carrying in power and intensity, in reach and in grasp, as the nearness of them to the poet and the distance between them and the poet change. Still, whether close or whether distanced, they are never abstract.

This is so because all is real to the poet.

His wife is real:

In the old poem of our youth eighteen years ago
We walked hand in hand through the Diliman cogon.
We’ve gone a long way from then and there;
Not only cold nights have we braved but storms.

His children are real:

Across the blue waters
We smile to each other.
For us to embrace and kiss
We dispatch the waves.

His friends are as real as brothers:

Among green leaves my brother fell on soil.
On his forehead was his faith marked red
By a bullet above sight, reaching brain,
Bringing blood below to his mouth agape
Kissed at last by the bride of hunger fond of delay.

His enemies are real in their peculiarity:

Cast away he who talks of himself
Across the table
While men die in battlefields
For those who have long endured
In silence and who have found their voice
Deafeningly sure
While all along the coffeehouse charlatan
Loudly essays his opportune grace
In every period
Within his crammy precint.

Prison is real:

They call the prisoner an ant
They can fool and play with
No matter how tight the cell
It is an arena of struggle

The heroic prisoner is like a giant:
He draws his strength from the masses,
His spirit is like a bird looking down:
Oh, how small are all the monsters below!

And, too, his own freedom:

A spirit as active and free as mine
Can never be entombed in a cell.
I shall continue to rise
In defiance of the somnolent bell.

All, indeed, is real to the poet.
And all is real to this poet. As it should be.

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