Jim Pascual Agustin

Ghosts of Sweaty Air

The first cold rain has pushed summer
into the past. And the fine hair
on my skin remembers home
is closer to the equator than this.
Two and not four seasons.

There, rain stomps dusty roads into mud.
Almost in an instant, on impact,
a scent escapes from the ground,
dances with ghosts of sweaty air.
Crouch and you will hear a hissing.

But that is not what I wanted to tell you.
Memory has a way of making mazes
out of lives once lived, paths I never thought
I’d abandon. Unprepared, I broke away
from everything familiar. I leapt

into the unknown. Here, now, I grope
blindly, far into memory for something
not much use to anyone but a child.
How to make paper boats. Yes,
how to make paper boats.

But the mind is weak.
I have to rely on my hands
to try and remember. Take a rectangle-
piece of paper. Make a horizon,
fold sky and land into each other.

Top corner to top corner
then open up again, like a book.
There I stop with the words.
Ah, it is impossible to describe
the rest, which was merely shown

by my mother one monsoon-
ravaged afternoon when school
was called off just as it had started.
I can still do it, make paper boats
with my eyes closed.

Just the leap from a rectangle
into triangles that get folded
into themselves again
and again is difficult to share
with mere words.

I am still struggling to tell you
where I come from, who I am.
Maybe one day I can send you
a paper boat. Something that once
held a little boy’s eyes in awe.

from Alien to Any Skin (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, 2011)

Jim Pascual Agustin writes and translates in Filipino and English. He grew up in Manila, the Philippines, during the reign of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and moved to South Africa in 1994.

His poetry has appeared in Rhino, World Literature Today and Modern Poetry in Translation, among others. His poem, “To be an Orc,” won the NoiseMedium Grand Prize, and his own translation of his poem from the Filipino, “Danica Mae,” won the Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation and Multilingual Texts from Lunch Ticket and Antioch University. In South Africa, he has won the DALRO Award for Poetry second prize as well as the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award 3rd Prize in 2014 and 2015.

At the age of 23, his first book, Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil Publishing, Manila 1992), was published, followed bySalimbayan (Publikasyong Sipat, Manila 1994). Subsequent poetry collections were released by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House: in 2011, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (shortlisted for the National Book Award) and Alien to Any Skin; in 2013, Kalmot ng Pusa sa Tagiliran and Sound Before Water; and, in 2015, A Thousand Eyes. In 2016, the same publisher released his first short story collection in Filipino, Sanga sa Basang Lupa.

Agustin’s latest collection of poetry, Wings of Smoke, was recently released by The Onslaught Press (Oxford 2017). He is currently working on a new collection that contains work criticizing the bloody war on drugs by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and commenting on socio-political events in his South Africa.

Drafts, literary news and random thoughts of his are posted on www.matangmanok.wordpress.com.

Link to ordering Wings of Smoke: http://onslaughtpress.com/product/wings-of-smoke/