January 27, 2011


by Alex Dacanay
Philippine Panorama, October 27, 1985; pp. 42-43

HIS NAME was Ramon Bernardo. No, he had never met Ma. Lorena Barros, he was a young researcher who was interested in her life because - he grinned foolishly as he did this - he wanted to write about it. A gap between his teeth made the proposition sillier than it was. Who was Lorena? He asked. How did I come to know her? What was she like?

It was impossibly silly. Impossible. And silly. How could this boy think to put together the facts of her life like so many sticks and stones, the dead leaves of what she said and did, those mysterious objects she left behind as poems - all her passion's tombstones - and dare call the heap Lorena?

It was oppressively silly. Lorena was dead. She had been dead since 1976. Lorena. Lorie. Who could possibly care? In March that year, a platoon or was it a company of soldiers, had killed her on a stony hillside in barrio Cagsiay II, Mauban, Quezon. She had a P 30,000 prize on her head - the most wanted female "rebel" of the Marcos government. Like another poet, Emmanuel Lacaba, who died in Mindanao at a much later date, she was priceless Ming, shattered.

Who was Lorie, and why do I cry when I remember?

She was the friend of a friend. She had long hair, a beautiful body and pair of the most soulful eyes I have ever seen. They were eyes capable of anything: immense depth, quick compassion, sly mischief or remorseless cruelty, as I found out one summer, many years ago, lost in the confusion of discoveries. She writes poetry so you should meet her, said my friend. Her poems turned out to be, like her, fresh and sincere. Water at the first thawing of snow.

We liked each other instantly and decided to spend many hours in each other's depths. I was struggling to learn music. She, too, wanted to pick up the elements and offered to practice at an old place of her lolo's in San Juan, an abandoned wooden house which has a piano, she said. We had to ask permission.

Lorena's lolo was a painter. I still remember how he looked. In white, shirt-jack and pants, with one of those antique watches that hung by a chain, he surveyed her smiling, pleading face, those laughing eyes that met his own gaze with the same mechanism of comprehension. He also threw a dismissing glance at the scrawny boy (me) who fluttered helplessly beside her, and gave his consent.

"You must be careful" he said. "That house is falling apart -the floor might give way any moment. And it's pretty dusty."

It was the perfect presentiment to a romance.

He took the trouble to accompany us on the first morning and unlock the chains to what seemed to be a garage but turned out to be some storeroom full of huge, melancholy portraits.

The House of Usher was opened to us, its squeaky interiors revealed to the disinfecting sunlight. Refusing to stir from their repose, the pale young Madonnas on the canvases gave back their creator's sad look. Except for the dresses which depicted the finery of a lost, historical period, the women were timelessly evoked.

Lorie's lola was said to haunt the dining room, sending plates a-clattering whenever anyone or anything displeased her. She presided over the household like a jealous guardian, scaring away would be residents until her husband, he with the same soulful eyes, decided all of them should be left in peace.

We sought the old piano and found it, layered with dust, some keys missing, but on the whole serviceable. Neither of us was equipped to play any concertinas, nor could we have detected how off standard the notes were as the keys were struck. Each note we played sent the motes dancing all over the room.

A blissful interlude followed.

We spend mornings in the old house with its benign ghosts. She let me keep, for a time, a bright gold ring with, If I remember right, a cluster of blue sapphires - a gesture of deepest friendship. It was a summer immersed in poetry, music and sunlight.

I do not even wish to remember the turning point. She had a bigger soul that admitted other friendships, other worlds. I had narrowed mine to a slant of morning light bleaching the white keys and to the pearling sounds that kept the hours enchanted and rapturous. In their clangor, my emotions were homeless. It was stupid of me not to remember what the poet Valery said of discoveries: discoveries are nothing; the important thing is to own what you discover.

At her house much later, lying close together, she had said, "I could have loved you Alexei, but we don't fit. See, even our bodies don't fit." It was true. She was a fully developed woman and her hair smelled of orange blossoms. I was a creature nourished on words - pitiful, betraying words.

Which were some of the things that I wanted to tell Ramon Bernardo. Was Lorie a writer? I believe she was a deep and sensitive one. She could have been a great writer. But others knew her as a warm person, a caring daughter, a loving mother, a true friend. Ultimately, she must be remembered, too, for her cause. She was a staunch fighter of the national liberation movement and a towering figure in the women's liberation movement in the Philippines.

In the old days, the Greeks used to believe that only nature was immortal, that man's purposes - his thoughts, his speech and his deeds - were fraught with the frailest mortality. Each moment swallows up the preceding one in the timeless maw of infinity. There is another view. The view, expressed by Ezra Pound, that nothing of the heart ever ends. They exist forever in memory.

Her mother, Alicia Morelos, remembers. Her sister Mercedes and her brother Rodrigo remember. Her friends remember. The people remember. And I remember.