21 April 2010
"Isang Dipang Langit" (Amado V. Hernandez)
An Arm’s Length of Heaven
I was incarcerated by a cruel leader,
asking for the price of my crushed spirit,
the body is weak, so I must surrender,
if spirit is defeated it embraced defeat
I was cornered in a fortress of brute gallows:
stone, steel, bullet, guard’s enmity, the constant knife;
I was spewed out from the entire world of sorrows
And taken for dead when life has not escaped life
In a tiny window, all one can penetrate
is an arm’s length of heaven full of bitter tears,
selfish panorama or a wounded heart’s gate,
flag of my wantonness, kerchief of sneers.
As knife the thunder of guardsman’s rolling eyes,
Fixed on locked door no body dares the length;
A prisoner’s yell in the adjacent sty
Was as a cavern animal’s trapped in its strength.
The entire day was chained to the entire structure,
Dragged as steel ball by shod foot pulped and bloody;
The entire night is a tent of grief and injure,
by the casket which was the only sanctuary.
Once, simple steps trace the cordoned blockade,
The hooks of steel chains are scraping concrete;
under pale sun put out to dry and to degrade,
a thousand shadows spat out by darkest pit
Once the night was suddenly brought to a scare
by an alarm – an escape! – gunshots were flying;
Once the old bell was pealing out in black despair,
in the death chamber, someone’s breath is escaping.
And now this is my only constant universe -
Interred in prison, graveyard of the living;
a decade, or two, or all of the coming scores
of all of my life here consumed while I’m fading.
But my spirit shall conquer fear, ordeal
My blood veins shall still run, my blood flow’s still a stream:
A prison is but part of dealing with evil,
To be imprisoned is to crush surrender’s dream.
Gods and men are not forever asleep
the oppressed shall not be the oppressed of every chance,
this grave injustice has a battle cry to keep,
As long as there’s Bastille, a country exacts vengeance.
And tomorrow, in the same window, I shall see
from the arm’s length of heaven without a single tear,
the provident sun shall rise a shining victory ...
my freed self shall come down to greet my self free!
Muntinlupa Prison - April 22, 1952
(translated from Filipino)