Immaculate Bone A Portrait of Pandacan by Deirdre Camba
Techniques of Torture by Water
Chain the wrists and the ankles — the the chest to the reclined back of a chair. Secure the position of the head: tip of nose pointing straight to sky. Gag the mouth if desired, but leave the eyes uncovered. Align the face to the faucet suspended above it. Turn the knob. A drop should strike the brow.
Bunso How Marty learned to fall in line was towards bowls of soup, towards two soldiers, clutching ladles, looming and brilliant in a street corner. Every Sunday, after church: familiar cue. She is seventh in line, holding Belen’s cup. She is Twelfth, holding holding Teban’s and twenty-first for Quala while a brother, perhaps Ticio, holds a bucket where the soldiers cannot see, waiting for Marty and her feast in deposits She is fifty-second in line, hands cupped, almost prayer, while four sisters hide in veils in the darkest room of their house. She is first in line for mother or father, tiny feet in beat
of a march, round face shameless in demanding before men to ladle 3
soup into these bowls, to ladle the soup into these bowls.
The first few drops of water should feel like the announcement of rain. This gentle prodding, a suggestion to run towards shelter.
The House in Pandacan crisp linen mahjong table chandelier trapdoorg lass showcase silver spoons crystal goblet loaded rifle capiz window rosarios four-post bed iron locks Quala’s ternos velvet slippers violin canned pork Sto. Nino golden dress vigil candles still birth spiral staircase emerald earing China vase blackened curtains yes Marty yes Belen yes Teban yes Ticio yes and mother and then father this prayer: ten others
They are bound, water slowly dripping onto their faces, for any period between minutes and moons. Where sleep is forbidden, phrenology means: on the forehead, there is no flesh. Only tautness of skin, the impression of muscle. Immaculate bone.
Santa Maria And Belen, eighteen and beautiful to tears, she is dipping two fingers into a cup of ash and drizzle is anointing the holy body: taut cheeks, closed eyelids, rose ankles, full lips. Belen, eighteen and beautiful, she is clutching onto the third mystery of the rosary, is staining every bead in the wake of mouthing the Hail Mary in Spanish full of grace, the lord lord is with thee, full of grace, now and at the hour of our death , and outside the soldiers are marching amen and the soldiers are pounding the streets in the name of the father the son, the holy ghost , Belen, eighteen and beautiful, she was beautiful, amen.
Drops will pound the brow like a monsoon in miniature, will strike between widening eyes, and strike again with unfailing devotion. Here, above the bridge of the nose, here, between the temples, again. And they, delirious from wakefulness, will wail and shiver and kick their bound feet like the tail of a fish washed up on sand. Behind the cloth that gags, they will open their mouths in the black shape of fear, imagining in the absence of dream, a hollow branding their foreheads.
Taguan Tagu-taguan, maliwanag ang buwan Four children are prancing Masarap maglaro sa sa dilim-diliman under the moonlight in Pandacan bilang ko’ng tatlo, Pag- bilang Ticio runs to hide behind a concrete slab nakatago na kayo Mameng crawls into an empty sack Isa! Marty hovers over Manong Neo, sprawled, Dalawa! struggles to lie on the ground, Tatlo! her tiny self concealed under the weight of this cold body.
These hollows, these th ese holes, between brows, above nose: striking with unfailing devotion, these bowls of immaculate bone, to pour the soup into these bones.
Teban In the rare family dinner when Teban retreats into his corners resonating the aftermath of jokes in the quiet shaking of his shoulders, what he means to tell me is exactly what he means to remember: he was not forbidden from laughter during the war though only ever beneath trapdoors could he manage the loosening of a throat, the slowed rhythm of a heart. Teban, look your sister sister paints her face with this muddy paste of water and charcoal. La Maria Negra Isn’t she beautiful? When he knew that the answer would burden this dark with a flicker to rival the sun. He replies this light must not be uttered. Pulse is conditioned to quicken easy by easy by the drumming of boots on pavement. Teban, listen closely to this thudding. The harmony in your veins will remind you of your youngest sister
luminous, somewhere. Outside this house, she marches to the beat of a cue hands cupped in her litany 12
for soup. And Teban draws his shoulders towards his heart his eyes widening in the dark. Sitting in this dinner, our glasses full, roast pork on the table, no such burdens need to weigh. But Teban pursues his corners shoulders shivering in the lightness as if to coax a mystery. Lips pursed, he is asking me this light cannot be uttered; come and get these memories?
This dark shape, looming and brilliant and stretched taut beneath the skin, it will cave deeper than the cupped palm of a silver spoon and threaten the first gesture of a prayer. Look, look: look: the tip of this finger, in the name of the father.