Three Poems by Allan Popa

Translated from the Filipino by Bernard Capinpin
What Is A Day
There will be days when you’ll shed tears
over breakfast, dipping
the bread into coffee
like when you were a child
because who could’ve imagined
it possible still.
Thank goodness, you’ve crossed
safely. You looked back
and there was still something
to turn back to.
Someone is sweeping the cigarette stubs
and the leaves on the street.
turned into September.
You felt cold
despite the intense heat. The season
bringing with it a chill.
In the middle of the month,
you will accept the settled
price for your toil.
The person you buy fruits from says,
The durian is the last fruit
to arrive this year.
Buy in abundance
how much you’re able to finish.
Do you still pray
at the end of the day?
Or does sleep overcome
your faith
or your desire to believe?
There will come a day that shall change
your life completely.
There will come a day that shall change
many lives.
How to get past
the first page of the news.
Ano ang Isang Araw
May araw na maluluha ka
sa almusal sa pagsawsaw
ng tinapay sa kape
tulad noong bata ka
dahil di inakalang maaari pa pala.
Salamat, ligtas kang
nakatawid. Lumingon ka
at may nalilingon pa.
May nagwawalis ng mga upos
at dahon sa kalsada.
Ang Agosto
naging Setyembre.
Nakararamdam ka ng lamig
kahit napakainit. Ano't may dalang
kilabot ang panahon.
Tuwing kinsenas
tatanggapin mo ang natuos
na presyo ng iyong pagod.
Sabi ng binibilhan mo ng prutas,
huling dumating ngayong taon
ang bunga ng durian.
Bumili ka nang labis
sa kaya mong ubusin.
Nagdarasal ka pa ba
sa katapusan ng araw?
O nauunahan ng antok
ang pananampalataya
o ang kagustuhang maniwala?
May isang araw na magbabago
nang ganap ng iyong buhay.
May isang araw na magbabago
ng napakaraming buhay.
Kung paano makalalampas
sa unang pahina ng pahayagan.
What will be buried there will not be a corpse
What will be buried there will not rot
What will be buried there will be the truth
Ang ililibing doon ay hindi bangkay
Ang ililibing doon ay hindi naaagnas
Ang ililibing doon ay ang katotohanan
They intercepted the student leader
leading the protest.
They aimed a gun at him.
The martyr’s brain burst out.
So now we are here to pick up
his memories lying on the street.
Across the decades, his cry 
resounds, go on marching.
Hinarang nila ang estudyanteng lider
na nanguna sa protesta.
Tinutukan ng baril.
Sumabog ang utak ng martir.
Kaya tayo narito para pulutin
sa kalsada ang kanyang mga alaala.
Tawirin ang mga dekada, paalingawngawin
ang sigaw niya, ituloy ang martsa.

Translator’s Note

Allan Popa dilates time and history as much as he condenses them. A month can pass by too quickly, but the wait for a fateful day to arrive can seem like a lifetime, with the past feeling uncannily like the present. These poems are taken from Popa’s chapbook, What Is a Day?, a kind of daybook written during the height of President Duterte’s violent drug war between 2016 and 2017.

In the titular poem, time runs cyclically and the everyday occurs despite looming threat. The poem’s interlocutor can only hope for change to happen eventually. Popa achieves this cyclical effect not just through the repetition of phrases but also through assonance. For instance, in the second stanza, the vowel a is repeated throughout. Retaining it in translation may be difficult, so I used sibilants to mimic the original’s musicality instead.

The two dated poems in this selection juxtapose former President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship in the ‘70s and ‘80s with the current President’s regime, also marred by corruption, censorship, and extrajudicial killings. The dates allude to specific events, which I will provide context for below:

11/12/16 – On November 8, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled in favor of letting Marcos’ remains be buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes), where Philippine presidents were traditionally buried. His preserved remains were formerly interred in his home province, Ilocos Norte. His burial eventually took place on November 18 despite the massive protests that ensued. How could a former dictator be buried in a site designated for “heroes”? Here, Popa plays with the notion of burial as a form of paying respect to a deceased body and an act of concealment.

09/21/17 – On September 21, 1973, Marcos signed a proclamation putting the entire country under martial law. Now, on the anniversary of the proclamation, people commemorate the victims of state violence from that period, many of whom were student activists. Days before the anniversary, President Duterte declared September 21, 2017 to be a “national day of protest.” On the day itself, many took to the streets to protest his regime which has also taken thousands of lives in extrajudicial killings, drawing comparison to the atrocities of Marcos’ dictatorship.

These poems resonate with the parallels they draw between two moments in history, and also because of the directness of their speech. For these two poems, I took a direct approach when translating them. However, I translated “paalingawngawin / ang sigaw niya” into “his cry resounds” rather than the more literal “his cry is resounded”. For the verb “paalingawngawin” (from “alingawngaw,” the root word), the affix “pa-“ and the suffix “-in”  imply that the student leader’s cry is an object to be echoed or rung. In the translation, I shifted it to active voice to demonstrate the activist’s agency.

Allan Popa is the author of ten collections of poetry, including “Drone” (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013) and “Laan” (De La Salle University Publishing House, 2013). He has received the Philippines Free Press Literary Award and the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award. He teaches at the Filipino Department of Ateneo de Manila University and is currently the director of Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP).

Bernard Capinpin is a poet and translator. He is currently working on a translation of Ramon Guillermo’s “Ang Makina ni Mang Turing.” He resides in Quezon City.