The Lament of Apolinaria

  Apolinaria Masong was a 20 year-old elementary school teacher from Binabag, Bobo, Cebu, Philippines. She became the pen pal of Walter Hines, 64, from Memphis, Tennessee, through a personal ad published in one of the local newspapers in Manila. She flew to the United States and married him there in a civil ceremony in 1981. In May 1987, Apolinaria wrote President Corazon Aquino and related her sad plight, saying that her American husband gave her to an experiment called "Project Couplet." She was made to believe that she would be impregnated through artificial insemination. However, she was "attacked" by 50 "doctors" who used her as a human guinea pig in an attempt to change her sex. The relatives of Apolinaria tried to trace her whereabouts but when I wrote this, they were still looking for her. The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., have not been able to locate her files and her husband cannot be found. This information was taken from news reports which appeared in Manila Times, June 11, 1987 and Taliba, June 18, 1987.

~I~ | ~II~ | ~III~ | ~IV~

 
I

I am now past thirty

And I evaluate being a teacher.

Every morning, when I walk,

An ineffable longing tugs at me.

I walk the same old paths

The same old trite faces flicker by:

Fallen leaves swept into a corner

Or whirled away by a sudden gust of wind,

Eager and gloomy eyes

Shadowed by trees,

Carefree children and

Greetings, voluntary and innocent.

 

My hair is turning gray,

Loneliness is concealed in my forehead.

My hands ruffle my hair,

Intending to brush away the clinging fear.

The mirror is my friend

If someone could notice my beauty.

But it is cruel and intentionally deceives

When wrinkles gleam in the light of the oil lamp.

 

Solitude pursues me

Along the road I tread each morning,

Along the road my day follows,

Along the road that gives meaning to my routine.

Sometimes I cannot blame

My envy for the silhouetted

Loversí amorous display.

Because I have nothing to boast of

Except for the company of the cicadaís cantata or

The blankets and pillows that frequently abandon me

When my mind is overcome by sleep

My distressed heart

Frequently unveils jealousy

Especially for young lovers

Whose laughter wades through the fences.

The time will come when my voice will crack.

My hands, too, will grope.

I will become dry and barren.

Love is a myth

That is not offered me.

 

The summer of sinegwelas

Is a ghost that haunts

Those with no one to caress.

Whispers in the dark remains a dream,

Rice or corn to harvest

But devastated by a monsoon.

 

I, too, loved once when I was sixteen.

It ended in grief.

A young man who dreamt of sailing,

Who counted stars even in daylight.

The rust of old ships consumed his nails,

Devoured by tuberculosis, then tetanus.

We had not succumbed to our desires,

A bitter youth pampered by promises.

 

I am a guava rotting in the bough,

Desired by no one,

Faded and withered to the womb.

 

Old people say, better to be a virgin

Until the wedding day,

No reproach, no sin.

 

The child I should have had ate fire,

Before it was conceived, I had already sung a dirge.

 

Anguished and grieved,

Even tears elude me.

 

 

 

II

Hope serenades me

When the 80s arrived.

I am now past thirty

And I evaluate being a teacher.

An ineffable longing still tugs at me,

Every morning, at breakfast.

And because even the calendar pursues me

I scour the newspapers.

 

There I meet Walter.

Thanks to the personals my darkening eyes

Persuade me to explore.

A man in his autumn,

His waning heart still desires to burn.

He fills me with scented promises,

Showers and bathes me with fragrant words;

An unnamed desire melts me,

His signature is the contract I depend on.

 

I insert my love between the pages.

I enclose my kisses and sighs.

The sweet of sugar and sting of pain

Can no longer be differentiated by my ecstatic mind.

 

My love flies mile upon mile,

Waiting to perch on gates and cities.

The letter reveals and gives thanks

The fingers become the censure.

 

The much awaited May arrives,

Amidst the drumbeats of Sinulog for Santo Niño;

I no longer notice the autumn of sinegwelas

His marriage proposal is my visa.

 

My tears flow endlessly,

I can indeed cry when I am happy.

 

 

III

Walter is already old but he remains ambitious,

Though withered he still wants to blossom.

My womb is like the dry leaf

In the Palmolive soap ad--

It revives as oil is poured on it,

It defies the laws of nature.

 

I am now past forty

And I evaluate my heart:

Was it love or lust that brought me here,

With this man I do not know?

The mirror has a crack whenever I look,

I realize it is not enough to arrive as a virgin.

 

I am now past forty

And my heart persists:

Why does the sinegwelas bear fruit when it dries up?

Have you no faith?

Sarah conceived when she was old.

Mary was impregnated without seeing a man.

Hope still flows between my legs,

I am revived at least once a month.

 

Should I allow Walter to fade away?

He alone genuflects on the mossy wall.

 

I release this ancient fear,

Thinking that sadness is sadder,

I vow to sacrifice my own blood

So that my love could endure.

What if an elegy were to clutch me

And here a lullaby will be heard.

 

In the mirror my face hardens,

In the morn, I will observe mass.

 

 

IV

I am now past forty

And fear pricks me.

Walter has me imprisoned in a white room,

Here he will test the sincerity of my love,

With a heavy heart I comply,

I cannot express my mindís reluctance.

 

Fifty, there are fifty of them,

Ungentlemanly gentlemen with arid laughs.

Now that I am past forty

Do I still need to flirt?

I am caged in a white room,

Unearthed by the misty sky.

 

My mouth is gagged,

My eyes are blindfolded,

Arms and feet are shackled

My movement is restrained.

I long for Walterís touch,

I realize he is a concrete wall.

He doesnít scream for help when they stretch my thighs,

He even masturbates when I am catheterized.

 

Fifty, there are fifty of them,

Ungentlemanly gentlemen with arid laughs.

Helping each other, taking turns,

Plowing my womanhood.

My clitoris is ripped, my tongue wrenched,

My breasts butchered.

Determining if I am a woman or man,

With a probe driven deep into

My cleaved womb.

 

I am now past forty

And my soul is surrendering.

I blame myself for this grief,

Fate does not discriminate.

 

I abandon spinsterhood

Only to find fervent flames.

I reveal my dissected womb

In hopes of bearing a child.

Remorse now embraces me

With unending regret.

My life is a myth,

A woman warrior meeting misfortune in war.

 

My countrypeople, my kin, my sisters,

Never, never enclose your heart in a letter.