March 29, 2014
Gaga over Botong
After The Nose Flute by Carlos Botong Francisco (November 4, 1912-March 31, 1969)
“While Manila’s who’s who lapped up Lady Gaga in various Imeldific ternos,
the Indonesians (who had shunned her shows) were happily purring their way
home with one of the Philippines’ most fascinating—and what’s most important
in the world of art—original treasures.”
—Lizza Guerrero Nakpil,
Philippine Star, May 28, 2012
Art brings us to the barest essence.
Under the Cordillera moon, in the chill
Of the windblown ridges of Sagada or Batad,
It summons us but insists on dishabille.
First take the moon. How it has been
Lured from its orbit and bulk, no more rock
Than insubstantial glint, translucent as the smoke
Of a dying campfire mingling with the mist.
Take the mountain and the sky themselves:
They have become one borderless surface,
Granitic and blue like lapis or just a little warm
Like feldspar or coral. Except for a line made
By the end of canvas near the bottom, we are told
That sky and earth, mountain and flesh
Are seamless. Almost. Because art now speaks
About solids, perhaps the virtue of gods
That is both marble and tissue, supple
And rigid—that quality that suggests to us
What we mean by beauty, so that in the face
Of the ineffable we utter prayer instead of speech.
With verbal defiance we regard the kaleleng
Flute. Thin as a twig and straight as a reed,
Its notes the echo of wind, its deeper music
Is the shifting, diaphanous wisp of campfire and mist.
Now speak about flesh. It is as brown as the flute.
It is its own music. It is both chiseled wood
And kneaded clay, and fired just a bit longer
In the kiln to satisfy a god’s longing for color.
The man or the woman first? It does not matter.
They are comingled in the song of the flute,
The echo of wind. The man curls his right foot
And rests his knee against the woman’s breast
(Oh, its twin transfixes us with the exactitude
Of stone, but mocks us with our own knowledge
Of softness), and she embraces his knee as if
Thrilled both by the trill of flute and mountain chill.
And what fluid masses of them dominate
Our mind’s canvas: their Malay faces, at once sharp
And contemplative, crowned with black tresses, meet
At the apex of the triangle propped by their small feet.
Under the Cordillera moon, in the limpid
Night, the trinity of them—brown flesh,
Mountain rock, kaleleng music (which is also
Campfire smoke and mist)—is transfigured
Into immaterial lightness. An Igorot mantle of red
Wraps their triangle of flesh, but in the mountain
Chill it is inadequate. So art reminds us how
Beauty is revealed—almost in its barest.
May 28, 2012
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