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Spirituality and sexuality in verse

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 18, 2022 5:00 am

Enter Deeply: Poems by Niccolo Rocamora Vitug, published by the University of the Philippines Press, is the author’s debut collection of poetry.

Parallel distinctive features are spirituality and musicality. In a blurb, writer Aimee Morales adds another: “The poet skillfully combines music, religion, and the very physical urges in one ‘moist breath,’ and leaves the reader with an experience that is both familiar and new.”

The poems are grouped under section titles: “New by Breath and Moisture”; “Urge into Complexity”; “Something to Hold Onto”; “Song Behind the Leaves”; and “Where Sweetness Lies” — with the last two represented by only a lengthy poem each, concluding with the title poem.

I prefer the shorter lyrics, which are not that much embroiled in the occasional stand-off between spirituality and sexuality.

“Reunion,” for instance, simply relies on the unsaid visual image that is represented by another trope of bonding.

“No wonder the air is heavy. I cull/ what I remember best: you take/ your newly lit stick into my mouth/ and I push away at the bright/ fire. Dull bursts of smoke/ shade the gap between the stars/ and the two of us, this nook of silence/ amidst fire trees that shame me/ for distrusting your love./ In front of me, I see the thick veil/ rise and disappear like incense,/ the bright birth come closer/ with every suck of smoke./ You told me to dive into the red/ flame of risk. I know that you/ are ready for what I will say.”

Musicality is present in “Tuko” (“Master the gecko’s taps on plywood./ Silence silence. Crave other mates./ All arias end. I am left time,/ Less sleep, this most evasive joy.”) and “Chimes” (“Chime bells ring because they’re hollow,/ you remind yourself as he leaves you/ believing that you wronged him./ Chimes sway. You have not raised a pane/ to let the sweet discordance in. …”)

Sometimes the spirituality only seems to be a holdover from a deeply Catholic education, as with the similarly frequent throwbacks to a mother’s influence.

Sometimes the spirituality only seems to be a holdover from a deeply Catholic education, as with the similarly frequent throwbacks to a mother’s influence.

Several poems submit references to religious images, by way of epigrams following the title and crediting some artists, as with “To Peter, About His Chair—Cathedra Petri by Gian Lorenzo Bernini” and “To Paul on the Ground—Conversione de Sau Paulo by Michelangelo Merisi da Carravagio.

From the latter, an excerpt: “Troubled by blood/ you spilled for tradition,/ you lose it, back on dirt/ arms raised heavenward./ Silent, the darks holds you/ kindly as the man who stays/ your horse, he whose people’s/ bones, hopes you broke.”

There’s one part in the title poem that remains succinct and on point despite the serpentine arrangement of the long stanza’s lines:

“I read the epistle/ and follow your singing/ of the psalm,/ note per note gliding/ down my ear./ This is what I wait for—/ how the rostrum/ marble warms slightly/ to your touch,/ how the palm/ laps that all up/ despite the silences/ you throw in the lounge/ for volunteers./ I give myself, volunteer/ as sacrifice to you/ if you will take me,/ if each avoidance/ is like the calling of Samuel—/ veiled, insistent, strong/ as the rise of my blood/ inside my pants,/ straining to be/ your song rising/ to heaven.”

Here it’s fully achieved — the winsome grace of synthesis that Niccolo Rocamora Vitug’s verse strives for.

A fellow at three national writers workshops — Silliman, Iyas and Ateneo—the author earned his BFA in Creative Writing and MA in Literary and Cultural Studies from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he was given the Dean’s Award for the Arts (Creative Writing)