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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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