Prodigal Lyric

“But I don’t know don’t know any more if I should speak or keep silent
…or inhabit myself down to the bone down to the cry”

~ Jacques Brault, trans. Jean Morris

Risk is but the fact you have to go
too far. And if that’s so, is it still risk

after you’ve returned? Peering through rain-
slashed windows of the bus that twisted,

ponderous lozenge, through a narrow gorge,
I hardly recognized the city, every hillside

shingled with dark roofs, every road choked
with vehicles in which disconsolate motorists

sat waiting to arrive at their destinations.
When we alighted at the station, it was evening

and the sidewalks swarmed with schoolchildren
walking home under shared umbrellas, men

and women in the taxi queue. The noodle shops
and cafes were packed: everyone at their tables,

bent over notebooks, waiting for some small
bright pleasure to arrive in the form of food

and drink. Every now and then, groups pressed together
and smiled on cue— girls with their smooth, fair faces,

eyes beguiling as butterflies with that upward sweep
of eyeliner at the corners; boys turning up two fingers

to make the peace sign close to their cheeks—
as someone held at arm’s length a cellphone

with the camera setting turned to auto selfie.
As soon as the aperture shut, it opened again.

And I had returned, it was true, and stood
but a moment in the vestibule before my own

connections came to claim me. In the days following,
friend after friend exclaimed, O but the years

haven’t changed you at all. Among my kin,
shyly, we broke the intervening years into pieces

to dip in soup or coffee so they could soften. Both
times, the buoyant and the poignant, I could hardly

contain, could hardly tell apart. Until I left anew,
I did not know what depth of sadness possessed me:

the waters of that river never stayed still,
as Heraclitus warned long before. How they

would wash my feet, but never the same way twice.


In response to Via Negativa: Intersections: Reading, translation, writing.


  1. Yes, risk is the right word – the word I didn’t light upon – for what Jacques Brault was powerfully evoking in the extract I translating. I’m very much affected, Luisa, by your writing about your recent return to Baguio after so many years away.


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