WILFRIDO NOLLEDO: PHILIPPINES WRITER

RICE WINE

by Wilfrido D. Nolledo


I

They sat there—"los grandes"—the aficionados of the Lost Republic, both flaming in their piety, burning the marble epitaphs, correcting history, fumbling, precise, rigid, restless, whole, divided; the future of the past.
"Remember how we used to read Carlyle?" sighed Palma.
"Remember the Mayorca?" chorused Santiago.
"The ayuntamiento?"
"The Fort?"
"The Mauser hidden in the mind?"
"The Treaty?"
"The Domecq?"
"The Zorilla?"
"The Pasig?"
"The Yanqui?"
"The carriages?"
"The Binondo?"
"The theater?"
"The opera?"
"The assignations?"
"The Cause?"
"The secret literature?"
"The parks?"
"The puņal?"
"The rogues?"
"The women of salt?"
"The fandanggo?"

II

"Have you abandoned the faith too…"
"Faith?"
"That is what we fought for."
"And is that not faith? Was he not, is he not, religion?"
De Palma spat. "He whistles in the dark, incumbant in a hospital, mended by young doctors who exhaust their scholarship reviving the loneliness of the past. There he reigns in a wheelchair, waiting for the day, longing for the night.You and I, we have forfeited him. He is nothing but the weakness in my limbs and the whiteness of my hair."
"The greatness!"
"And the failure. They embalm him there; the Promise, sheltered, shuttered, analyzed, aestheticized; a relic in a museum that has forsaken its heritage. This (points to the asphalt) is our heritage: a retailer's bin that has squeezed the rice out of our land to bleed our people. Are you blind? Do you not see the hunger? Are you deaf? Do you not hear the thunder? And you sit there moaning about the Man whose blunder has led to this! Is this your grandeur?"

III

"I just hate everybody," Ruben said.
"Do you not love anyone?" Santiago asked.
Ruben guffawed.
"Look around you and see the inequality of love. Love your best friend and he was the other man. Love your industry and it retires you to the gutter. Love your dog and it bites you. Love your God and there is a flood."
Bristling, Santiago wagged an imperious finger.
"Love your son, and he grows up."
"Don't feel like Job. The prophets deserted the Bible long ago."
"Just because you are an underpaid clerk in the backroom of some terminal, does that give you the gall to dislocate the anatomy of this government?"
"The government? The government is a brat that cannot even feed the malnourished child outside the door. The government is blind when it cannot see the blind dying like flies in front of the Quiapo church. The government is lame when it cannot walk to the cripple on Avenida and lead him away. The masses must be removed from the wound."
"But do you not see, Ruben, that the wound is you?"
"Poetry! Three hundred years of losing our corn to the West and we celebrate a man and his two novels written in Europe.You cannot liberate the slave with a metaphor! So dance the zarzuela; I will take my rice in a mug, not in the harvest!"
"I do not know what you are talking about," Santiago mocked. "But in my time, there was Spain, there was The Treaty, there was The Man. And that was enough. In my heart there is a statue of him so tall only my love can reach it; so soft only the guitar can speak to it. Por Dios, young man of today, you with your present that has no future, only journalism, you are trampling on the last petal of the garden. You are adding to the water when you should be turning the sea into the bridge of the armada! Oh, country that never was, that was to me my name, my sword, my armor, my pendant and my memory; I am surrounded by absence! By a worship that has descended into a whore! By the voice, not of my harana, but of the jukebox! Adios!…"


IV

"The Bomb is in that house where your Elena—she that your shrunken hag of a wife danced into life one summer—lies naked waiting for the possession of the world!"
"Hold your tongue, old man!"
"Naked in that tall house with a balcony *** I should have told you but you are so stupid.!"
"My Elena teaches the son of a rich man to play the piano!"
"Your Elena teaches the song of lightning to play on her body!"
"Ask (Ruben) why he drinks! Ask the store here where she passes every night.… Ask the beasts on the corner who whistle at her. It seems the earth knew the fragrance of your daughter before she ever touched the keys of a piano. She is no ivory, Santiago."

V

There, outside the middle door by a landing, stood a piano, a weird box with a mantle; and leaning on one of its legs, was a red umbrella. Santiago snatched it, and running downstairs, fell on top of the woman with the whip, sending her careening to the floor. Santiago slipped out of the curtain, ran out of the caves, still unlocked, fled out of the castle; chased by the couple; the old woman, just temporarily halted, lashing out blindly with her whip. And into the night Santiago fled, carrying a heart and its beating and a red umbrella clasped to his chest.

VI

Wet from the rain, she shuddered. She gripped the crown, still trembling, and now, she saw the red umbrella, dripping, as though drying its grief. At last she understood and she flung herself at him.
"Father!"
Together they sobbed out the sin of the house on the boulevard, their pain mingling, young and old, veil and uniform, sword and sheath. "She danced for you, Elena, child," he stammered, "danced her soles worn, her lungs torn. I saw her thin every day that she was childless; thinner while she danced, clapping her tiny palms, cursing the barrenness and chanting the glory in the
barrios where we went  with the Virgin's image in her missal…"
"Father…"
"I would pray too, for I could not father a child and your mother was bent from the old love of an old man ancient with revolution. And then one day, burning a taper in front of San Pascual, she danced in Obando for some relative had told her of the miracle and there we went, carrying her wooden shoes and the rosaries and my guitar whose fifth string was the necklace of my mother, a string heavy with the music of her country. So one night in Obando, I played for my wife; I played in the crook of my arm, the splendor of your face while she danced her bounty, danced you into her belly. In that night wild with omens, she danced you, Elena, on the earth that summoned the substances of providence. That body you now sell every night and that you cut for my meal each day—she danced every morsel of it in that rain in Obando when I played to her the songs of my father. Obando bore you, my daughter, on the heels of your mother's love!"
And Elena, weeping, dropped on her knees to clutch at his feet.
"No more! No more!" she begged.
"I have been a monster, eating the nights of my daughter. The visitations of my child to the grave were nothing but license. And I thought it was rice, rice! Oh, I was feeding on you, my daughter! Eating your flesh day and night, your body, piece by piece, on the table while you surrendered it on the bed! Daughter!"

VII

And when Santiago fell—falling like a tear from a man's grief—he fell not on a pile of jute sacks in a sawdust yard above the
estero, but on a cool moonscape of grass in a long ago September, in the hollow of belief, in the pool of all their blood, in the mountains whose loneliness became his fall; whose loveliness became his absence. So still he died, the bullet that took him almost seemed a gift, once given seemed absolute, seemed somehow a god of peace, a feast to God. Then alone, in a quiver of rice, he lay there with no one, save a sword and the sequins in the sky.


~end~


Copyright 2001 by Wilfrido Nolledo

 

Author's Bio: (Jan. 19, 1933 – March 6, 2004) Nolledo's first novel, But for the Lovers, published in the US by Dutton in 1970, has formed a cult among writers of "new" fiction (metafiction, postmodern fiction, etc.). On the 20th anniversary of its publication, B for the L was reprinted by Dalkey Archives. He has written short stories that have won Free Press and Palanca prizes, at one time Rice Wine won the two first prizes from both awards for the same year (1961-1962). Other FREE PRESS prize winning SHORT STORIES include "Maria Concepcion" (1959); "Kayumanggi, Mon Amour" (1960), "Rice Wine" (1961); "The Last Caucus" (1963); winners of the PALANCA awards include: "Rice Wine" (1962); "In Caress of Beloved Faces" (1960); "Adios, Ossimandias" (1961); PALANCA prize winning SHORT PLAYS  include: "Island of the Heart" (1956); "Legend of the Filipino Guitar" (1958); "Amour Impossible" (1961); "Turn Red the Sea" (1963); "Rice, Terraces" (1964); "Flores Para Los Muertes" (1966); "Dulce Estranjera" (1974); PALANCA  prize winning LONG plays include: "The Terrorist Dialogues" (1977); PALANCA prize winning NOVEL includes: "Sangria Tomorrow" (1981) and "Via Con Virgo" (1984) DLFernandez. (Source: CCP Encyclopedia of the Arts, 1994) DGFernandez.

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ADDITIONAL INFO ON RICE WINE & OTHER NOLLEDO BOOKS OR WORKS:
•RICE WINE: *Philippine PEN Anthology, Manila, 1962; *Leonard Casper's New Writing from the Philippines, Syracuse U, NY, 1965; *A German Anthology, same year; *A Czechoslovakian anthology; *New Letters Quarterly, U Missouri, Winter/1973; ["see Jackson Cope's 'Wilfrido Nolledo: Baroque Fiction as Frustrated Form' (17-pps);*Rutgers U's 'White Ocean Brown River, ed. LFrancia
•A LILY IN THE SEA: Sunday Times; also Katha 1, ed. JC Tuvera.
•CADENA DE AMOR: Free Press; Quarterly Review of Lit., Princeton U, Vol. XVI, 1969; Equinox I, 1965;
•MORATORIUM EST FINIE: Iowa Review, U Iowa, 1971;
•DON'T SING LOVE SONGS: EYE Magazine, NY, Mar.1966.
••BUT FOR THE LOVERS: Dutton/Dalkey Archive (reprinter): (309) 438-7555; 1-800-253-3605; Amazon.com. ("I think Dalkey Archives pays $50 for reviews."—WDN)
•21 DE AGOSTO or VAYA CON VIRGO (excerpts) printed by Filipino Writers Union ca.1985.
(info supplied by WDNolledo)

 


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