Thursday, November 29, 2007



“LAKBAY-KAMAY”, a poem by Father Albert Alejo (or “Paring Bert”)

"Psalm 120" in Book of Psalms, The Nelson Study Bible
(Nashville, Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN, 1997)

"Out Beyond Ideas" by Jelludin Rumi in The Essential Rumi, transl. Coleman Barks
(Harper Collins, New York, 2004)

Out Beyond Ideas, CD by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit
(What are Records?, Boulder, CO, 2005)

Voices, Spaces, Verses: The Encounter of an Anthropologist, a Psalmist, and a Mystic Poet on a Kitchen Table

In freely and loosely incorporating the famous Lautréamont phrase in my title, I hope to illustrate poetic polyphony, i.e., the possibility of hearing simultaneously the poetry in three or more distinct, harmonious voices where one is independent from but equal to the other, and where all three are wholly, indivisibly unified. [1]

On a kitchen table, 10 years ago and 5325 miles from where I am now, I have watched Paring Bert handwrite a poem:

Ano't tila singlawak
ng lupaing pangarap
itong munti mong kamay
dito, mahal, sa aking palad?

Ang mga ulap sa iyong mga kuko
ang mga bangin sa mga daliri mo
ang manipis na batis ng iyong balahibo
at ang pagpapalit-palit ng panahon
ng init at lamig sa bigla mong pagpisil,
pagbitiw, at pagkapit ng ubod-higpit
sa bawat panaka-naka nating pagtatagpo
na kung bakit laging kailangang patago--
lahat ay tila kawalang hanggang
paano ba lalakbaying pilit
nitong nalulula, at nangingimi kong
mabilisang paghalik.

My translation doesn’t do it justice, but basically, it says:
(lines 1-4) How is it, my love, that your hand, though small, seems as wide as that longed-for land here in mine? / (lines 5-7) The clouds on your nails, the ravines on your fingers, their thin brooks of hair / (lines 8-10) and the changing of the seasons, of cold and heat as you quickly pressed, let go and held tightly / (lines 11-12) each time we met, but why did it have to be in secret -- / (line 13) everything seems neverending / (lines 14-16) how can this, my dizzy, shy, hasty kiss, take the trip.

The poem is a blazon to love, expansive in its imagery. If you go back to the original Tagalog, notice how the partial rhymes in the first stanza, … singlawak / … pangarap / … palad … set the tone; the 4th, 5th and 6th lines of the 2nd stanza are alliterative, e.g. pagpapalit-palit ng panahon / … pagpisil. / pagbitiw, at pagkapit … giving the poem a driven intensity. It is also interesting how the poet used the ‘hand’ metaphorically, the ‘hand’ being the doer of the ‘heart’ from which all good (and evil) things, figuratively, flow.

Paring Bert, or Fr. Albert Alejo, the anthropologist-philosopher-poet-Jesuit, carried his heart in his hand every day we (our tight-knit Pinoy-UK group) spent with him many years ago in London. One feels a world of compassion in his handshake, and one immediately knows it is a safe place to be. It is not surprising that one finds him now a peace advocate in war-torn Mindanao. [2]

Mindanao. An emotional terrain probably not much different from the hostile environment the Psalmist found himself in, when he wrote in despair:

5 Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech,
That I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
6 My soul has dwelt too long
With one who hates peace.
7 I am for peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.

The Book of Psalms was written between the 15th C B.C. and 5th C B.C., employing such techniques as repetition and recapitulation. This particular chapter is part of the Songs of Ascent, used by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.

The first and second lines demonstrate synonymous parallelism, where the second line serves to reinforce the first. The Psalmist, in deep anguish, speaks of hostile peoples, Meshech and Kedar, with whom he had to live. [3]

To live in a volatile environment is a terrible thing. Which is why concerned groups and individuals use various tactics to prevent a conflict from escalating, or if it has stalemated, to draw on commonalities, which may help lead to a resolution and to negotiated spaces for peace.

We bond with our hearts, to paraphrase Paring Bert. [4] Mystical poets allude to the four layers of the heart, which correspond to the four main approaches to peace, i.e., the outer layers corresponding to political, economic and military solutions, and the deeper layers, to addressing core human needs. “Once our core humanity and needs are addressed, we have hope of building and sustaining peace … The central function of poetry in all traditions is to waken the innermost layers of the heart and bond its readers.” [5] This was how a Rumi poem reached out to David Wilcox and Nance Pettit.

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
each other, doesn't make any sense. [6]

Jelalludin Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic. His poem, in its simplicity, holds tremendous force, for it is one of vision and perception. It speaks of a common ground beyond judgments and divides, and offers a way out of conflict into peace. Wilcox and Pettit added music and sang it, their accompaniment, calming and buoyant. They recorded other songs, including those inspired by the works of Hafiz, Tukaram, HaLevi and St. John of the Cross. What resulted is a project that merges poetry, music and diplomacy; its message one of peace on a global scale. [7]

On a kitchen table, 7473 miles from a raging war, I have with me Paring Bert’s poem, a study bible, a CD and The Essential Rumi. To hear their voices simultaneously, we need to pluck out what unifies them. While each one is tonally, spatially, linguistically and rhythmically different from the other, all are bound by their humanity and their hope for humanity. This we hear only with our hearts. From the heart flows (figuratively) all the good (and ill) that the hand is capable of doing.

Write verses.
Wage wars.
Sign peace agreements.
Build peaceful spaces.
Write verses.



[1] from Wiki: Comte de Lautréamont was the pen name of Isidore Lucien Ducasse (April 4, 1846 – November 24, 1870), a French poet whose only works, Les Chants de Maldoror (The Lay of Maldoror) and Poésies, had a major influence on modern literature, particularly on the Surrealists and the Situationists. Les Chants de Maldoror is often described as the first surrealist book … [In the 6th canto], Lautréamont describes a young boy as "comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie (beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!)". I borrowed the polyphonic idea from The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera.

[2] Albert E. Alejo, S.J. is Executive Director of the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue, Team Leader of Ehem! Anti-Corruption Movement and is former rector of the Ateneo de Davao University. He finished his doctorate in anthropology at the University of London (SOAS). He is the author of Generating Energies in Mount Apo: Cultural Politics in a Contested Enviroment and Tao po! Tuloy!: Isang landas ng pag-unawa sa loob ng tao.

[3] The Nelson Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 873-876; 1008-1009.

[4] “Songs Our Mothers Sang,” Newsbreak, (accessed November 1, 2007).

[5] Valerie Yaeger, “Mysticism and Diplomacy – Common Ground, Uncommon Goals,” Social Work Today 6, no. 2 (2006), (accessed November 1, 2007). Referencing Davies, J. and Kaufman, E. Second Track/Citizens’ Diplomacy: Concepts and Applied Techniques for Conflict Transformation. Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2003.

[6] Jelalludin Rumi, “Out Beyond Ideas” in The Essential Rumi, transl. Coleman Barks (NY: Harpercollins, 2004).

[7] “Out Beyond Ideas,” (accessed November 1, 2007).


Aileen Ibardaloza is a research scientist, writer, and her 50-membered-family's caregiver/mentor. She lived in Asia and Europe, and is now based in North America where she is learning enology and writing techniques. She's on Facebook and

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