Questions For The Bakunawa

I saw you in the pages—

crumpled, your figure contained inside a cross

and your crisscrossing crown

by your head wherever it lies.

They said you devour the moon,

and that every year you return

to demand that magnificent radiance

which saves the heavens from darkness.

Your head and your tail

decide the seasons,

the multiplicity

of our fate.


And still, my questions:

Bakunawa, my friend, what is there in the light

that you consume it time and time again?

What force forged you

that you can easily entwine

malice with the face of goodness?

My friend, I want your answer

and your explanation

to those of us who witnessed up above us

the disappearance of the light.

At night, we wait again

as the moon gets ready

to avenge

her endless demise.



If Poetry Was Born At The Foot Of The Mountains

If poetry was born at the foot of the mountains

would I be able to unravel the riddle that it carved

on dead stones and on withered branches

beside the well so as to drink from the cold spring of its heart?

Or maybe I would run to fetch the healer

to cut its umbilical cord and the placenta

that connect it to the source and nurturer of life,

just as the sun sparks life in the elements of the world.

Would poetry appreciate it if I sung it lullabies

or is it maybe waiting

for the greetings of

crickets and cicadas that, when it first spoke,

narrated their life in the dense forest?


If poetry was born at the foot of  mountains

what would it have to do first?

Plant seeds in the fields,

or make love with the moon high above?

Pagpakigsugilanon Sa Bakunawa

Nakita ko ikaw sa mga pinanid sang papel -

ang imo dagway nga nasulod sa lukot nga krus

kag ang imo korona nga nagabulubaliskad,

nagaupod sa kon din ka mag-ayon.

Ang siling nila, ginakaon mo ang bulan,

sa tagsa ka tuig, nagabalik ka

agud sukton ang kalangitan sang maanyag

nga dagway sang kasanag sa kagab-ihon.

Ang imo ulo kag ikog

nga nagatugda sang panahon

sang nanuhay-tuhay nga buas-damlag

sang amon ti-on.


Ang akon lamang mga palamangkutanon,

Bakunawa, abyan, ano ang may-ara sa kasanag

kag sulit-sulit mo ini nga ginapalong?

Ginpasad ka bala sa kusog

kag mahimo mo nga isabod

ang dagway sing kaayo sa kalaot?

Abyan, luyag ko mahibaluan ang imo sabat

ang imo pagpaathag,

sa amon nga nagatangla

sa pagkadula sang kasanag.

Sa kagab-ihon, hulaton namon

ang pagpakigsumpong sang bulan

nga magatimalos

sa iya walay katapusan nga kamatayon.



Kon Ang Binalaybay Ginbun-Ag Sa Tiilan Sang Kabukiran 

Kon ang binalaybay ang ginbun-ag sa tiilan sang kabukiran

mahimo ko ayhan badbadon ang paktakon nga iya ginpagkit

sa patay nga bato kag laya nga sanga sa kilid sang bubon

agud makainom sa matugnaw nga tuburan sang iya kasingkasing?

Ukon basi magadalagan ako agud sugaton ang surhana

nga maga-utod sang iya pusod nga nagatabid

sa nagapasad kag nagabatiti sang kabuhi,

kaangay sang adlaw nga nagabuhi sa kaunuran sang kalibutan.

Luyag sini ayhan nga akon ambahan sang ili-ili

ukon basi ginakalangkagan niya ang sirumsirum

kag kikik, nga magtamyaw sa iya nahauna nga pagtingug,

kag magbantala sang kabuhi sa masi-ot nga katalunan?


Kon ang binalaybay ang ginbun-ag sa tilan sang kabukiran

ano ayhan ang una sini nga katungdanan?

ang magpanggas sang binhi sa kapatagan,

ukon ang makighilawas sa mataas nga bulan?

Translator's Note

Orland Agustin Solis was born in Negros Occidental to a family of farmers, his upbringing informs both the subjects and themes of his poems. His home province houses vast sugar cane plantations created during the Spanish and American colonial periods and produced crops for local urban centers and imperial capitals abroad. Peasant life in Negros is characterized by economic hardships due to the decline of the sugar industry in past decades, aggravated by the lack of state support, landlessness or tenancy as control of the majority of land remains among a handful of rich clans, and an enduring armed rebellion matched by the state’s brutal counterinsurgency tactics.

Solis’ poems focus on procedural details of peasant life but they do not forsake the ironies and indications of the often fraught experience of agrarian life. Noticeable is the role of various overlapping myths in his work, some familiar to English readers like the promise of treasure at the end of the rainbow, to more culturally specific ones like that of the bakunawa, a dragon-like creature said to eat the moon during an eclipse. Several Filipino creatives, usually younger ones and those based in cities, have been inspired by the mythical creature in crafting their own stories that aim localized the fantasy genre. Solis however, retains the bakunawa in its context in geomancy. When he writes “Your head and your tail/decide the seasons,/the multiplicity/of our fate,” Solis refer to annual forecasts published in Almanaque Panayanhon. The slim publication was established as early as the 1870s, and continues to be patronized by readers like Solis both as a farmer’s almanac and for its literary section where earlier versions of these poems in Hiligaynon first appeared. In the other translation, Solis treats poetry as part of the rural landscape, both ecological and social. He narrates looking for a community midwife “to cut its umbilical cord and the placenta/that connect it to the source and nurturer of life,/just as the sun sparks life in the elements of the world.”

A big challenge in translating these poems is Solis’ long rambling verses, which at first I thought should be chopped down into shorter sentences or phrases. Instead, I tried my best to keep the original arrangement of subjects and objects, as they also convey the strong oral quality in these poems. They read like stories casually being shared by a friend or a relative. Solis’ work, in form and in content, exposes an ongoing agricultural crisis, without loosing a keen sense of wonder.

Eric Abalajon


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