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Cordillera Chronicle
by Edgar B. Maranan

1. Voyage to Sagada, 1984

Halsema Road disappears before my eyes. A hawk startles
the wind, the bus rocks on a carpet of brown dust, a warrior
sings deep in my mind, as flute and gong ensemble, in a flush
of remembered time, races blood and secret songs to Angadanan's
clouds. Stripped trees, tall as the mountain, white as ghosts

the aliens left behind, shoot up from the invisible slope, yet
never reach the skyworld, for only dream-songs and the chants
can make the flight beyond the gravity of a kingly iris, or this
Dangwa bus still might, lighter than a pine needle when a wheel

careens above the gorge, almost hurtling to the Beyond, turning
heart into bubble about to burst. I imagine it otherwise, throbbing
with delicious quiver, like having sipped a healthy wine of fire.

The voyagers are deep in cold-gripped sleep, uncaring that the bus
would stop off at Sagada, or Bontoc, or to a native Riverworld
that would be terminal of much beloved ancestors. This, coffin-like,
freezes blood and song, still I hear the flute and gong ensemble
playing in the abode of the gods, or else the infinitely waiting,
happy resting place of drunken kin.

My grip is ashen on the sill, as Halsema threatens to end
at every turn and turn into an aerial lane. A mountain lady
speaks from the other world, her eyes closed, her wrinkled
tattooed arm against my arm.

Meanwhile the driver dreams of last night's gin or beer or rice wine,
his feet prodding the wheels to sprout some wings.

Sagada, as time snaps, opens like a gate to the skyworld,
traces of ancient bowers are sniffed in air, footprints of the gods
in evidence upon red earth and limestone rock, spirits of warriors,
dreamers, walk about with poulticed hearts, spears for crutches.

Days are when the jungle fighters in olive drab jog and muck
about in town, strangers in a land estranged by them while, glowering
by the village gate, stands their APC.

Otherwise, o Great Kabunian, this could be paradise
for song and dance, for chant and wine.

2. Conversation with Dominga Dulnuan in the bus bound for Sagada

Her scent's of early morning sun alighting on fresh-mown runo
grass, the milk of mothers and the juice of pine, the slightest trace
of mountain musk. This bus, on the other hand, stinks of ancient
chariot grease and blood, a delicate whiff of antiquated dung and even

marijuana smoke, this carrier to the clouds with its usual complement
of people, sacks and baskets which, in an age past, cradled
child-dreams or happy memories of hunt and making love, frozen
forever in old photographs of severed heads glued with their own
sticky blood.

Her first words come from the lips of tribal elders, rousing
me from sleep. She does not ask where I am from, she only cares
that I'm Sagada-bound with family and tourist bags, event as normal
as the coming of the rains, disease, and now the soldiers.

This road shall ever be this way, she says, we are a race
given to earth moving beneath our feet, to the rudest plunge
into that distant river, a sudden gasp in our daily breath.

One goes to Sagada, or to another fate.

Between our words, I snatch a silent dialogue with sky, airbrushed
clouds impaled on jagged peaks, whose sides are lacerated.

You'll note, she adds, that this is not the greenness that we knew,
earth we played our hearts out on, river we bathed together in,
trees we climbed in our younger days. The mountains tremble,
the land quakes, and the mines yield treasures our fathers only
dreamt about.

She sits weightless on the hard seat, swaying with the road-crazed
bus, impervious to time that stretches unbearably for me, bemused
by white knuckles clamped on window sill and the seat in front.

We pass beneath an overhang of rock, around a final hairpin
turn that tilts the bus and us towards the edge, and my heart up
into my throat. A clearing and descent towards a glen of light, now
we are home where the ancients' time began, and a new one,
in the morning, will unfold.

3. Morning in Mapiya-aw

It begins as hum and twitter in the glade. Needles perk up, cones stir,
fresh tendrils come to life. A silent birth quivers on the crown of terraced mountain. The forest is shorn of its garment of night by the early sun.

Soft amber rouses the bemused leaves, sending the first wave of
piya-aw birds on wing. A measured whoosh inaugurates an open fire,
the resin-fragrant smoke pursues a message left by the morning wind,
tracing a cryptic letter in the sky, visible for miles around. In an hour,
the neighbors shall trek up to this day's appointed hallowed ground.

Mapiya-aw's hills surround the wedding site like the hugest heirloom
necklace from the spirit-gods, its jewels gleaming on wet leaf-tongues
and tips of grass that thrive on the mist's embrace, the lovers that
they are, speaking moisture in the early hours of the coldest dawn.

Far-off, a rivulet murmurs a secret rite to the ears of bride and groom
waking in a world transformed, with Bugan, Wigan, laughing ancestors
now dancing in the yard, in every open space between the forest
and the wilds of lunar rock.

While a distant army camp snores on, its long arms stockpiled
upon sandbags, waiting out the days and nights, forlorn and lost,
in utter ignorance of ancestral dreams, tribe rights and the grandeur
of the land, Mapiya-aw erupts in song.

The elders dance, the children run about as more fires crackle,
then the piya-aw, as a full sun breaks in the eastern range,
offer their thousand pairs of wings to the ears and eyes of men,
swirling starlings of the dawn, a gift of grace singing, swarming
the blueness of the northern sky. The gongs begin to sound out
love and struggle, never ending.

4. Journey to Lagawe, 1987

Seared to maddening, this summer's northern granges
warn of a plague of ordnance and fangs poised, as the land mourns,
at the heart of this mother of ranges. Ricebirds and crows
take turns on the thatch, the air quivers under the sun, children pause
to wonder at the hunters peering out of their armored hatch.

At Dalton Pass, my eyes ride the wings of a golden hawk
hugging a windstream blowing silent between rises. Far off, an unknown howl, a warning squawk. At high noon, I chance upon a boy chased by a goblin. He runs a full kilometer from highway to hovel,
graceless with his grip on a bottle of warm gin.

Fathers, elders, have been vassals to their leaden spirits.
In this manner, childhood's a memory of cruel tongues and chores,
the caprices of drunken writs. The road of blight rises to kiss a slope
of sky, as a nippy wind perks up the ears with growing echoes
of a bird's, a child's, a warrior's cry.

Lagawe in ritual: song cycles, brass gongs launch a tribe
into patterns of power dreams, circles of rhythm and chant,
rehearsal against an army of diatribe. Cool water laps over
the planetary stone of Lagawe's river. Our forebears spoke poetry
on this, their images forever etched across the zone

of blue and blanket of green, the skyworld and the earth
being one, till the end-time. Death, feast away! Our coming together
sparks a new birth. Tonight we bathe by northern starlight
in smiling waters. Strangered by oceans, we have become more
than friends, our bodies sharing this truest of lovers,

river, splashing away the lowlands' punishment of dust
and sun. We do not talk about our naked selves, Lagawe's stars
are wilder than all lust. Now the spirit dance: voices and gongs
stream into a fountain, gladness rousing the shadows of Cordillera,
as we speak to kinsmen in the farthest mountain.

© Edgar B. Maranan
    sketch by Waway Linsahay Saway

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