Kindness is a kinase
that can turn the world
around with one cascade.
A humble catalyst of change,
you never reap what you sow. Give more than what you receive. It’s nothing, you say.
Your random acts are small
un-flaunted miracles. Tiny candles
in a dark room are welcome. Come and try it, you say. Strike one match
and watch this world becoming
brighter for everyone.
Kindness is a kinase.
A signal. A spark.
This year, we are embarking on a small project to interview some standout contributors to Dagmay and young Mindanao writers of note. These conversations are meant to be informal, not critical, so we can get to know the writers behind the works and about their writing process. We are kicking off this series with an interview with Genevieve Mae Aquino, who has charmed us with her ekphrastic, cerebral, and exuberant poetry. (Read Genevieve’s past works on Dagmay.)
D: Thanks for agreeing to this interview. We’d like to start off with your very unique bio. At Dagmay, we have contributors from different professions far afield from literature, but yours certainly stands out because of you work in molecular biology. Can you tell us how you came into your specialization, where you studied, and what degrees you earned?
GM: Science was something that interested me as a child. When I got a scholarship to attend the Philippine Science High School campus in Davao (PSHS-SMC), my career path was pretty much set. I got my BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from UP Diliman. My MSc in the same major field (with Genetics as minor) is from UP Los Baños. I also have a postgraduate diploma in Quantitative Genetics and Genome Analysis from the University of Edinburgh.
I currently work in UPLB as one of the core staff of the Philippine Genome Center – Program for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Forestry. My field of specialization is bioinformatics, which is basically the use of computers to store, analyze, and visualize genetic information. (Editor’s note, March 2, 2018: after this interview was submitted for publication but before it went to press, Genevieve took on a new position with UPLB. She is now with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension.)
Today is the third and last day of playing with children in this covered-court-turned-evacuation-center. Did the healing movement activities help the children? How?
“I felt like giving up on the first day. The children were unbelievably energetic and could not keep still even for a moment,” says Kim. That’s interesting because Kim didn’t show she was struggling. She and the rest of the emergency pedagogy (EP) facilitators were calm the entire time and spoke quietly. They were not fazed when the children yell, hit each other, pull hair, or shove and continued to act as loving authorities to the children. This is how they earned the children’s respect, trust and admiration.
Dance music blasts from a loudspeaker in the evacuation center at the edge of Marawi City. Children between five and fifteen years old sing and move along to the beat. Nobody among them smiles; they look like robots with blank faces and stiff movements. On stage, a woman speaks into a microphone. Based on her Meranao intonation, she sounds like she is asking the dancing children some questions. The sound of her voice in the microphone is grating to the ears. She follows up with more questions while the children continue to dance, perhaps thinking they would get some candies from her for their “performance.” There was none. Instead, three mascots appear on stage — a water droplet, a bar of soap, and a faucet. That’s when I learn it is International Hand Washing Day.
Speedy and Jet won 3rd Place Palanca Award for Short Story for
Children in English in 1997.
Once upon a time, in a distant valley, there was a small vineyard tended by a farmer.
Early each spring, the farmer made sure that the grapevines grew solidly from the arbor down to the roots. He knew that when the vines slowly crawled and reached the top of the arbor, they would spread out and start to bear fruits.
In the late summer or early fall, bunches and bunches of large plump grapes could be seen hanging from the arbor. The farmer allowed the fruits to grow into their ripe color.
One day, all the grapes had turned into a purple color.
“It is time to harvest the grapes,” said the farmer.
The Math teacher roughly grabbed Tommy by the sleeve.
“Who taught you this word?” she demanded.
“She did!” pointing at a playmate. “Dili gani ako!” the playmate countered and adamantly pointed her finger at another playmate. The other playmate quickly said no and pointed his finger at another. The finger pointing went on and on until it erupted into a quarrel amongst them. He did, she did, you did accusations were flying around for they forgot who started the game in the first place. It was the makings of politics. Cage rattler, players, finger pointing, displaced accountability, feigned ignorance, pointless hullabaloo, and lastly corrupted silence.
Selena was silent but she did not forget. She remembered it was Diana who started it but she bit her tongue to protect her friend. She shoved me down her own throat and kept mum while the interrogation was happening. That was the last time I heard her use the word that year. That was the end of ‘devirginized’ for the time being. After a few years, this sordid word will be revived which explained why the feeling of betrayal never went away. At that moment though, I still felt reduced into a thing in the past. A memory, relevant only when there is a need to dig up history and rummage through forgotten boxes. Finished. I have never felt so downgraded in my entire existence as a letter. So, I rebelled many times. Failed. Rebelled again. Failed some more. Rebelled even more. Wars were always waged because she mastered this foreign language.
She mastered it because she was repeatedly told that it was the gateway to success. It was supposedly her key to a lucrative life in the land where the pastures were believed to be greener.
Pinasalamatan mo ang sarili nang sabihin kong itinanghal ang bago kong tula sa website ng mga bagong Pilipinong makata. Natawa ako sa hirit mong iyon. Sabi mo, kay husay mong inspirasyon. Hindi na ako nag tangka pang kumontra dahil inaasahan ko rin naman na hindi mo pa rin ako hahangaan. Igigiit mo pa rin na ikaw ang lumilikha ng mga imahe ng aking tula at hindi ako mismo.
Marahil tama ka. May kulang dalawang buwan pa lamang nang sinubukan kong gumawa ng mga tula. Ang isang buwan pa doon, hindi ako seryoso. Nitong huli ko na lang natutunang mahalin ang pagsusulat ng tula. Pero ikaw, matagal na. Matagal na kitang pinaghuhugutan ng inspirasyon. Mag-iisang taon na rin pala mula sa araw na iyon nang naramdaman kong may sariling buhay ang paghanga ko sa iyo; tuluy-tuloy na siyang lumikha ng kung anu-anong bagay, ng mga imahe hanggang sa makabuo ng mga tula. Hindi ko na nga ito napigilan hanggang napansin mong kawangis mo ang bawat nilikha ko. Tila mga pilas ng iyong pagkatao na pilit kong ginagawan ng isang disenyo sa puso ko. Hindi ko malaman ang mga reaksyon ng iyong mukha sa tuwing babasahin mo ang sarili mo sa aking mga katha. Siguro ay nasasabi mo, hindi ako ito o kaya hinuhusgahan kita ayon sa lente ko. Pwede ring tama, naisip ko. Baka tama rin ang mga hinala ko. Hindi ko lang talaga mahuli ang pagguhit ng ngiti sa iyong labi at ang ningas sa iyong mga mata na maaring magpakahulugan ng iyong galit o saya. Marahil ayaw mong makita ko ito. O di kaya ayaw mong makita ang mga isinusulat ko para sa iyo. Dahil hindi ka interesado at hindi mo nagugustuhan ang mga imaheng nabubuo ko. Gayunpaman, lahat ng ito ay haka-haka ko lamang at hindi ako sigurado kung tama.
Magaling ka kasi. Kung ikukumpara sa akin, may sampung taon ka nang nagsusulat. Hindi na rin ako magtataka kung kahanay na ng iyong pangalan si Maningning Miclat at Benilda Santos sa bata mong edad. Kahit hindi ka pa nakakapaglabas ng koleksyon ng tula mo, alam kong diyan sa utak mo, may nakasilid na pumpon ng tula na hango sa iba’t-ibang inspirasyon. Ang hindi ko lang matiyak ay kung kahit minsan ba sa mga nilikha mo ay tiningnan mo ang mukha ko at saka sinimulang sumulat. May sarili kang istilo at sabi mo nga, formalist ako at ikaw ang post-modernist. Kung ano man ang kaibahan nila, hindi ko pa rin masyadong alam. Dalawang buwan pa lang ako nagsusulat at imposibleng maintindihan ko ang mga ganitong teknikal na bagay lalo na kung magmumula sa isang beteranong manunulat na tulad mo. Pero sa totoo lang, kung maniniwala ka, sa loob ng maikling panahon na iyon, lalong lumalim ang mga imaheng nabubuo ko mula sa iyo. Ewan ko lang kung napapansin mo lalong lumalim ang pag-ibig ko.
I am D. Yes D, the sound you make when the tip of your tongue will come up to the roof of your mouth, just behind the upper teeth to block the airflow, in order to create a noise in your vocal cords that stops as quickly as how it started. My conception is almost similar to a terrible idea that was not supposed to be created but came to be regardless. A blocked idea that slipped through and efforts were even made to control its damage by taking it back while it was being released, hence the sound you make when you say my name is short. D – D – D. But, you know what they say about terrible ideas. They start in the wrong foot and end up in the right one later on. Or for a non-thinking man, you can just say D, the letter.
I was the first sound she created at 3 months. D – D – D. Unlike other babies, she swerved away from the usual vowel repertoire expected from her lot. She chose to utter a consonant that was not even first in the alphabet. I was the third one in the list, by order of usage for an English-speaking man. She was not, however, an English-speaking man. She was as brown as brown can get, a sun-kissed woman from war-torn Mindanao. Not many people know where Mindanao is. If one happens to have known about it, red flags immediately start flashing in their minds. Mindanao is not safe. Mindanao is the lair of Abu Sayyaf and Maute, extremists led by a dayu – an outsider, a foreigner who distorted the Muslim values for their own gain and used the locals as pawns; yet they were branded as Filipino terrorist groups. Further, the news would broadcast there is war raging in Mindanao between rebel insurgencies and the government army. Avoid Mindanao. Foreign ministers launched travel warnings to their citizens not to visit Mindanao. DO NOT TRAVEL TO MINDANAO, the circulation will say; forgetting that Mindanao is the largest composition of several chunks of the archipelago and the food basket of the Philippines.
She knew English was not her native tongue. The air that flowed in and out of her mouth was not expelled so extravagantly like how English speakers do. So wasteful. Her language preserved every breath, for air was life and life was precious. One does not exhaust something precious in one swing, at least not from where she is from.