The scalpel's tip
LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
(The Philippine Star) Updated December 28, 2009 12:00 AM
The Highest Hiding Place is the first book of L. Lacambra Ypil, but it already bodes many good things for this young poet. Just published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, this book of poems is a young man’s book. It deals with what T.S. Eliot called “memory and desire,” which fuses the past and the future. It deals with childhood and adolescence and young adulthood, the personas in the poems trembling with new discoveries, with singular fears and dreams.
Ypil was born and raised in Cebu, earned a BS in biology at the Ateneo de Manila University, and spent a few years at the UP College of Medicine. He has won the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 2006 as well as the Philippines Free Press Award for Poetry in 2001. He has just finished his MA in Literary and Cultural Studies at the Ateneo and writes a bi-monthly column, “Dog-Eaters in the Wrong Notebook,” for Sun Star Weekend Cebu.
“The Discovery of Landscape” is the first poem. It is set apart from the rest of the book, and functions as an extended introduction. Ypil has the Swiftian gift for telescoping far and near distances. He uses bridges, cliffs, and edges — especially edges — as slippery metaphors for connections that are solid but in the end are also tentative. In “At the Beach,” the edge of the sea becomes “wide arc of the sky that was/ uninterrupted bridge. . . .”
Ypil was one year short of finishing a medical degree at UP when he finally left it all behind to take a graduate course in Literature at the Ateneo. Like Arturo Rotor in his fiction, Ypil has a medical eye that is almost microscopic in its attention to the smallest detail. He notices the sea is littered with “the dear dioramas of the dead,” then proceeds not to catalogue them but to point them out, each tiny detail hooked at the scalpel’s tip.
From the womb of the sea — which is the source of all life —the persona talks about his mother, asking her to draw a mermaid’s tail again, so they could capture “the morning sun on (the) page.” Even the house in seemingly calm suburbia is full of edges — “edge of the bed/ Edge of the world as I knew it.”
Where lies redemption? The poet recalls for us the story of Thomas, who doubted Jesus Christ would come back to life. If the eyes do not believe what they see, and the ears do not believe what they hear, how to decide if the dead person come back to life is indeed palpable, alive? “The hands, they knew/ what faith was—/ the held object/ holding you.”
But the object of one’s affection, whether religious or romantic, is also fraught with danger, with knife-edges. The persona asks: “Oh, affection/ Can’t you feel its shiny splinters/ in your steps?”
“Paradise Village Sketches” and “Esteban Abada Street” come to life in the form of their inhabitants, in the same way that Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology painted the characters of his place and time.
Ypil is also adept not just with the short lyric utterance but also with longer poetic forms, as shown in “Five Fragments: A Confession,” where the language throbs, capturing the pulse points of the persona giving a voice to the unutterable.
The unutterable is same-sex love, what the notoriously obsolete Commissioner Ferrer of Comelec calls “immoral.” And it finds perfect expression in the poem “The Love of Books,” which deserves a complete reprint.
“I’ve seen far better pictures/ of this love between two men:/ two legs entwined, two hands/ held tight, a whisper in the ear/ that’s meant to mean we close/ our eyes when no one’s looking close./ Yet still, I find myself/ returning always to this picture/ of two boys who don’t know well/ each other yet, but choose/ to read two books/ together under the same lamp./ Who’ll turn the page at just/ exactly the same moment/ when the page of one, says Bless/ and then the other ends: me, Father/ for I’ve sinned. The sin that says/ it’s wrong to end another brother’s/ sentences. Or to decide it’s time/ to turn it off: the light, the lamp./ The book that’s still not done,/ that’s left half-opened face to face/ that’s meant to mean we read/ what can’t be said by hand/ when we’re not reading.”