On Smoking

The first time I smoked, I was in Los Banos, partying with college friends. I was 22 and felt like I was no longer doing anything new with my life, and I wanted new, I craved new. So I went to the biggest, baddest smoker in the group and asked to be taught.

That night, I had seven cigarettes.

The habit didn’t kick in until a month later. I was living alone in a room for rent that smelled of cat piss, overlooking the damp, gray city that was QC. With melancholia seeping through my brain, and with loose change in my pocket to burn, of course I found myself knocking at the window of the nearby sari-sari store. It was sixty pesos for a pack of Marlboro blue.

And for the first time ever, all alone, I lit one up.

And I puffed.

And blew.

And puffed.

The smoke was icy air going down my lungs.

I blew.

I held the cigarette between my stubby fingers the way any 1950s femme fatale film character would. I was not wearing makeup but I had red lips and a cat eye. I was not trim, but goddamnit, I was gorgeous.

Today, some 20 months later after I lit my first one, I am tentative about quitting smoking. For a few days now, I’ve been having difficulty breathing and the doctor had already asked me to get an ECG and a chest x-ray. It’s a bitch to be sure, not being able to breathe and all that, but I am hesitant about drawing the line between my pack of Marlboro blue and me because I don’t want to give up something that made me feel—


I remember creating a character who talked about why actors smoked in scenes during dialogues in movies. I got the idea from a professor in playwriting back in college, who hated characters who smoked. I gave the script to a friend and he said it reminded him of Ayn Rand, whose female characters all smoked because it was empowering.



Those were the words he used.

Pair that with the stereotypical image of the Western European artist, with deep-set eyes, full lips, and a cigarette between his bony fingers. It must be my fault for watching too many French films, that I’ve held in high romance for so long the image of the smoke-inhaling, crisis-plagued, self-destructive, madly creative and yet constantly misunderstood artist. But in my mind, it was everything I wanted to be.

I want to be.

I want to look.


Like art.


Your Name (noun)

Your Name (noun) 1. The romanticization of a seconds-
long interaction beginning with your question, ending
as a knot in my stomach, a smile I swallowed

2. The bitter dawning of the impossibility
of having lips that will reach your ear, of having
stranger skins meeting under covers, accompanied
by the sweetness of becoming nothing

3. The disappointment that follows a minute of introduction
to the you stripped of my imagination;

4. The laugh ripe with disgust after landed feet
proving the foolishness of constructing a future, a poem,
a noun, after a spit of tired dialogue
from an unexplored tongue


The pain of being average is nothing comparable
To a gunshot to the foot, to losing a lover,
To the first realization of the certainty of death.
And yet, the self as most mediocre
Defying the very definition of typical
By virtue of being superlative, going the extra mile
To not nowhere, not everywhere, but somewhere,
The sting is ever true, barely tolerable, almost.

On Writing: Why not and why do it

“…let me, a 21st century struggling (if not starving) poet, convince you that there is no future in this field.”

I remember writing my first poem when I was nine. It was a half-plagiarized, sentimental ode to friendship inspired by a similar poem I came across in a youth magazine. But the idea of me being a writer, and consequently writing as a profession, only came to me when I was in high school*.

At 12, I began constructing metaphors based on “visions” induced, or so I believed, by too much caffeine. I began writing rhyming verses about my self, my family, and my feelings. After that, it was only a short matter of time before I became a staff member of the campus paper, believed I had writing in me, and pursued the study of writing came college.

Today, at 24, I call myself a writer-slash-editor. I’ve been working for a company that produces educational reading materials for three years now, earning just enough to keep myself in a one-bedroom apartment, eat two to three times a day, support a lover, and keep a cat. It’s far from a luxurious life, seeing friends on Facebook go on vacations, while I content myself with having an Internet connection.

Now, I know you’re here because you think you’re a writer. You want to be convinced that this career is fulfilling and you seek support in taking this road despite the words of caution you get from parents, friends, and significant others. If so, then let me, a 21st century struggling (if not starving) poet, convince you that there is no future in this field. Back away now, and take a different route if you still have the chance. Why?

You’re not good at it.

Sure, you get praises from friends and family for your writing. Perhaps, you’ve even been commended by a handful of professors back in college. But the world is full of people who’ve been told by inadequate critics that they are “good.”

Besides, do you really think you’re good? Do you think that you’re this generation’s Whitman or Neruda? Do you think you have what it takes to stand out from the millions of writers living today? I know I don’t.

Writing is an undervalued skill.

I don’t know about you, but from where I’m sitting, I’m of the impression that people don’t look at writing as a special skill. They think that having a good command of the English language is all it takes to write well. Hell, I even came across an online article sometime ago discouraging students from pursuing Creative Writing, Literature, and Communication degrees because it’s easy enough to get published in Wattpad. Now, if people do not have respect for the craft, why would you want to push through with this?

There’s no money here.

Take it from me, your chances of making a buttload of money through writing is as high as my chances of having an estranged grandmother who’s queen of Genovia. Unless you’re JK Rowling or George RR Martin, which you’re not, you’re never going to get published and you’re never going to earn a cent for the best verses or fiction that you will produce in this lifetime. And while you can always reduce your metaphors to Google search words and succumb to the trend of writing for marketing, that still won’t be anywhere near what your IT and licensed friends make.

So why write?

Why write?

In the end, you write because you can’t help it. It’s almost a predetermined inclination, a calling if you will. You write because stringing words and phrases is an automatic activity. You write because you unconsciously scribble. You write, not just because you want to, you write because you do.

In an article for The Atlantic, Mark Yakich says that a book of poems is a thing that exists for its own sake. A poem is “a thing made” and a poet is “a maker of things.” That is as writers, we do not write because there is money here or fame or what-have-you. We write because we feel that writing is a part of who we are or of who we want to be. And when you’ve found yourself fallen for words, there is no alternative path or future.

And in this regard, you write because you’re brave.

*High school in the Philippines before the implementation of the K-12 program in 2011 began at the age of 12. There used to be no distinction between junior high and senior high. Under the old system, I entered high school as a freshman at 12 years old and entered university four years later.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t have what others have.

We are not ruins, we told ourselves. At least not in the way most people imagine it.

It’s been three days since I last spoke to him. Three whole days, seventy-fucking-two hours. The last time I saw him, he walked right past me to the bathroom without so much as a look. In a house as small as ours, you’d think that the walls would push us to get sick with each other’s presence. Except he’s been cooped up in his studio for the past three days. The sink is half-full with dirty plates and I cannot be bothered with dish-washing when there are words, turns of phrase, that I cannot wrench out of my head.

He understands.

I understand.

There’d be days like this, we tell one another, when we would get lost in our respective worlds. There are healthy breaks for and from people sick with images constantly darting back and forth in their heads. We are balls of energy, too much exposure to which can cause nausea, mood disorders, and even mental derailment. This is also why we don’t keep too many friends.

One of these days, he would finish his art. I would know it when he finally summons me for a reason as to why the house is a filthy mess. I would crawl up to him with a piece of paper in my hands, three days’ worth of words that would never fit the proper meter. He would read it and kiss my forehead. I’d look at his work and tell him that it’s the best he’d come up with so far. We would never ever come to terms with our worth.

This is how we are.

We’re down to our last five hundred pesos with two weeks remaining till the end of the month. Money has never run stable in this household with the couple of us never really learning how to spend like proper adults. We splurge on sudden cravings, five-course dinners washed down with the finest merlot. The following week, we’d hoard the cheapest noodles and the cheapest cans of tuna for the charity case that was ourselves. There are times when I feel like money is the root of the evil that will eventually lead to our ruin.

We are not ruins, we told ourselves. At least not in the way most people imagine it.

There are nights when he would come home to silence and consequently find me in fetal position on our bed, my arms a crisscross of red lines and my skin a patchwork of black and blue. A number of men had left me to die but he would look at me as if I was the most beautiful piece of art to ever breathe. I look at his ability to hold me despite my constant breaking as tragic. He would make love to me like our lives depended on it and they did. A few hours later and we’d be laughing over plans of moving to India or Brazil.

Sure, there’d be days when memories of childhood dreams and the mainstream definition of the words “happiness” and “success” would eat at his heart. He would cradle my neck in a choke and would curse the day he says I destroyed his dreams of becoming something else. I’d scream my own frustrations into his ear and share with him the horrible adjectives I reserve only for my self. His mouth is cruel, seeking to pain, but the fire in his eyes would assure me that we’re good and we would be moving to Cambodia or Cuba. This is our music, our art, our lives, ours.

One Christmas eve, I got him the present of a black eye.

He sent me to the hospital with a broken wrist.

We spent the next week apologizing with sheets upon sheets of love letters. My mother, she worried over the bruises, the unpaid bills, and the absence of a grandchild. I laughed and told her that she could never really read me even as a kid. When I smiled, I wondered if she thought me as beautiful as I felt.

If you had asked me at fourteen what I wanted to be when I turned thirty, I would have told you that I wanted to be a respected journalist. If you had asked me at twenty-two, I would have told you that all I ever really wanted was a home. If you’re going to ask me now if I think I made it, I’ll just tell you that I feel like I finally understand everything I sought to understand. From where I’m sitting, the words are clear on my notebook in the exaggerated loops of my handwriting.

“Let love be the name of their lie.”

Hey there, gorgeous.

Unhappy pretty girls with languid eyes
lusting behind long lashes, their lips stained
with purple and smoke, last night’s kisses
and vodka. Unhappy pretty girls, in love
with both men and women, longing
for the same brand of misery.

They sit in bars gleaming with glass goblets
of gin and tonic, breathing in the gaiety
of strangers in the dark, lives ungraspable
after a distance of two feet. Unhappy

pretty girls who will never
grow flowers in their lungs despite a protest
of menthol cigarettes. The night

turns weary of your sorrow.
The dawn is sick of your solitude.
Morning shies from your breath of coffee.

But you’re a beautiful mess, aren’t you?