24 April 2013

"The First Night of Interrogation" (poem)

J., a friend of mine who runs a printing press published this collection of poems by the activist Axel Pinpin. Tugmaang Matatabil (Tactless Verses) is a powerful piece of prison literature. The exclamations of Pinpin’s poems lit and ignite one’s perception of the systemic and systematic abuses of power by those in power. It takes guts to convert this personal detestation of corruption into subversion and to fashion from it an indictment of human rights violation committed by the government. The poems renew the tradition of resistance and protest in the writings of National Artist Amado V. Hernandez. Here's an English translation of a key poem in the book. It's a revised version of the one I posted in my other blog.

The First Night of Interrogation*
by Axel Pinpin (translated from the Filipino)

Black. pale uncertain ash and dark.
Black. Black and dark the blindfold enfolding.
Leaked as mucus in the inky stink smell
of cover news smothering my head
just as the oily python crushed tight
the insomniac night's remnant light.

Cold. The coldness brought by the muzzle of armalite.
Thick sweat on my forehead. Cold in the skin
And so much sticky the plastic chair
rubbed my elbows in sweaty shudders.
I sensed dread from crooked voices and gazes
piercing the peasant’s unyielding fight.

Who are you who kidnapped and thieved freedom?
Who between us is the savior, who the victim?
Are you my fellow victims victimizer
of the saviors of the victim?
Why aren't we both injured by the gunshot
and truth spiked in my tactless verses?

And if we are injured, then to forgive each other.
But one need not forget if forgiven,
because the handcuffs bequeath an ugly mark on my forearms,
because the gun muzzle bequeaths madness on my temples,
because the cowed cover on my eyes bequeaths darkness
because Victim shall exact vengeance from the Savior!

Ah, then you are indeed the faithful Redeemer!
And you shall suffer our Forgiveness!
Oh, death! Oh, so sweet death!
Lay us in the arms of our fallen comrades,
in the rhymes and songs of loud reports,
in the anguish for revenge of my tactless verses!

* This poem was extemporaneously recited by the author at the end of his interrogation on the night of April 28, 2006, in an unidentified place in Metro Manila (near the airport and railroad tracks). The writer was challenged by unknown armed men to recite a poem when they learned he was a poet. He recited this while blindfolded, handcuffed at the back, and with a gun pointed at his head. The poet tried to recall the poem since that time and he first wrote it on the 9 November 2006 when he was already in prison.


  1. Yes. Thankfully the poet is already released from prison. But the fight continues!