Whisper, carabao


Tiny - Posted on 27 October 2012

Author: 
Tony Robles

Not long ago I saw an interview with a Filipino writer who spoke of cliché’s that Filipino writers—mostly beginning Filipino writers—use.  He cited such things as mango colored suns, white sand beaches and, of course, the obligatory carabao as hindrances to the literary landscape one is trying to create.  This writer’s comments made me think of my own writing and the role the carabao has played in it.  Firstly, I have never seen a carabao in person.  The carabao is a beautiful animal—hard working and loyal—I’ve been told.  The people who have told me this of the carabao also happen to be hard working and loyal (and I have been told that I have displayed just the opposite qualities, namely by my father).  I have seen the carabao in pictures—National Geographic and in numerous books showing the landscape of my indigenous ancestral home, the Philippines.  I felt somewhat guilty in regards to the writer’s comments because I had used carabaos and mango colored skies as metaphors in my writing.  “You’re a sham” a friend once told me.  “You’ve never seen a carabao in your life, nor have you been to the Philippines”.  This was true.  But I began to think about the writer, who is quite well known since the release of his book, which has been well-received.  I looked at his face, his clothes, his hair—all were immaculate, all impurities swept away in the Arkipelago winds.  I was curious if this writer had ever stepped into a steaming mound of carabao dung in his oxfords or boat shoes and subsequently fallen?  Or did he ever wake to find carabao crust in his eyes, or walk with carabao mud between his toes or carabao snots running down his nose?  These and other questions remain—the mystery persists. 

 

My Uncle, the poet Al Robles, wrote of carabaos.  His book of poems, “Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabaos In the Dark” are carabao tracks on the page, tracing their journey in the Philippines and in the US.  Each poem is stained with the mud, saliva, tears, tae—the life of the carabao, the memory of the carabao, the music of the carabao—the heart of the carabao which is the heart of the manongs.  The sound of the carabao brings us closer to home, closer to the earth, closer to ourselves.  Carlos Bulosan wrote of the carabao in “America is in the Heart”.  In the story his brother Amado beats a weary carabao with a stick, to which his father responds by slapping him sharply across the face. What are you doing to the carabao?  I think of one of my uncles poems and the reverence he had for the carabao:

                                    He’s nice one, you know

                                    Carabao is nice to you

                                    When you come in the afternoon from the ricefield

                                    He go home too, by himself

                                    After the sun go down he lay down

                                    Goddam!  Like a human being.

                                    International Hotel Night Watch

                                    Manong –carabao

                                    I ride you thru the I-Hotel ricefields

                                    One by one the carabao plows deep

 

 

I recently took a walk to the grocery store in my neighborhood.  I picked up a few things and headed back home.  A couple blocks away from my house I came upon a garage sale.   I approached and saw the usual—books, plates, clothes, knickknacks—all kinds of stuff.  It all belonged to a young white guy wearing a Giants T-shirt.  His face had a pinkish tint due to the unusually hot weather.  He sipped on a Pabst Blue Ribbon as people browsed through the items making up his life.  I looked at a few things but didn’t see anything I wanted to buy.  I was ready to leave when something caught my eye.  It was on a table, a wooden figure that looked worn but beautiful, crafted by someone I’d never met but whose feelings I’d feel as my own.  I reached for and touched the figure.  Its eyes whispered.  I tried to make out what it was saying but was interrupted by the guy with the beer.  “You like my yak?” he asked before taking a swig of beer.  He took a very long swig before proceeding to crush the empty can with one squeeze of his freckled hand.  He stood examining my face.  I looked at the wooden figure and realized it was a carabao.  It was beautiful.  It had eyes that were alive.  But before I could tell the garage sale guy that what he had was a carabao, not a yak, he went to the cooler and pulled out another beer.  He walked back over and told me that his yak had belonged to his ex-wife, who had gotten the lion’s share in the divorce.  He made fun of the Yak, saying it needed another yak to fuck (a yak to yuk, to use his exact words), etc.  I looked at the carabao, it looked at me.  We knew.  Then the man started rambling about this and that—a rant of belligerence mixed with a twinge of sentimentality; his words spilling forth in a spirited froth of beverage-inspired verbiage.  As I recall, it went like this:

 

Yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak

Yak yak….yak yak yak…yak yak yak yak…yak yak yak yak yak yak

Yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak

Yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak

Yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak yak

Yakitty yak

Kayak

 

He yakked my head off for almost half an hour.  Finally he stopped.  Then I uttered two words:  How much?

 

Five bucks

 

I dug into my pocket and the carabao seemed to say: if you don’t get me out of here and away from this fool, I’m gonna back up and run as fast as I can, dead at you, and ram one of my horns up your ass. 

 

I found five dollars, gave it to the guy and picked up the carabao that had to endure being called a yak for who knows how long.

 

I brought it home where it belonged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

...the carabao seemed to say: if you don’t get me out of here and away from this fool, I’m gonna back up and run as fast as I can, dead at you, and ram one of my horns up your ass."

Wow, Tony, what were you high on that you heard a wooden carving tell you that? And that you took the threat seriously! LOL

tony, this is such a beautiful piece. thanks for posting it! -sandra

Tony, this is an amazing piece. It is very deep on many levels and it includes humor as well as reverence. I have read it many times. Dude. It is great. It could be the conceptual framework of a very complex novel or treatise. Im not just saying that, but Im just saying.

James Armand Chionsini Jr.

Tony, that's beautiful, man. Your Uncle Al would be proud. He's up there now, floating above Ifugao Mountain, saying, "That's my nephew, Tony. He brought home the kalabaw!" —Vince

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