Mark CayananPhilippinesWriting2013
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UNESCO-Aschberg Fellow

At Civitella, I began working on a book-length project that at that point was nothing more than a persistent idea—I spent several weeks obsessively going through Death in Venice. I joined the group trip to Venice, went to the Lido, channeled Gustav von Aschenbach, and looked for Tadzio in every boy I saw. At the Secret Garden, I scribbled notes, I wrote random lines then discarded many of them. While all this was going on, Civitella kept revealing that there were other things happening around me. Over gin and tonic, Andrea would entertain us with his antics. In the mornings, Rigoberto, Dawn, Nandi, and I would jog uphill, past the tower and the cemetery, and I’d get drawn to flowering plants whose names I still don’t know. By 10AM, I’d overhear Amelia singing ragas in her studio. And so these became poems, too.

A fatal error has occurred


The knife bent by the breastplate. The breastplate with its
cinematic sheen. The man who wears it more metaphor
than anything. The knife an emblem of momentum,
what discounts the possibilities limb by limb and makes
of this field the one end. Violence


is this day’s theme, as it
was a week ago. And so the characters rouse, and every
scene is gratuitous. But even so. When I turn to you and
ask, Who is the third who walks always beside you, I
couch in cleverness my warning


because it is important to
me. This harbor, quaint and sure. This is vigilance, the
bloodhound kept leashed. He tells you, You must leave.
He means me. He puts his hand on your shoulder, moves
it down there in a gesture of ownership. If you ask me
why not, you are


flirting again. If they find parts of me in a
suitcase abandoned at the airport, you would have
unbuttoned my shirt. I try to stanch the flow because I
know you. My quiet relief disappoints him. You say, Do it
again for me. What will you give up for it. I


am aiming for
the right questions because sunlight on the snow is always
too bright. The sound of you spitting on the sidewalk is
too bright. The disco flail of my arms is too bright. When
I was five, at the dentist’s office, I was told what causes
pain


must not be mistrusted just yet. My gums were alive,
my tongue a punishment for being. Hold this close for
something. Take off its bubble wrap and set it down, the
silver frame, next to the alarm. Will I one day in a
negligible year, after waiting for the coffee to steep, hand
you your cup


and wonder where you have gone. If I sheathe
the knife, can I still walk into the deserted camp and
claim for myself the spoils. Can I wipe the spatter off the
walls. If he keeps his hands to himself, have I won.