Of all Cebuano poems, the most beautiful:

Balaki ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal*

by Adonis G. Durado
A habalhabal in Valencia, Cebu
A habalhabal in Valencia, Cebu

Balaki ko day
Samtang gasakay ta’g habalhabal.
Idat-ol og samut
Kanang imong dughan
Nganhi sa akong bukobuko
Aron mas mabatyagan ko ang hinagubtob
Sa imong kasingkasing.
Sa mga libaong nga atong malabyan.
Gaksa ko paghugot
Sama sa lastikong
Mipungpong sa imong buhok.
Ug sa kainit sa imong ginhawa
Gitika kining akong dughan.
Ang mga balili unya
Nga naghalok sa ‘tong batiis
Isipon tang kaugaligong mga dila.
Dayon samtang nagakatulin
Kining atong dagan,
Mamiyong tag maghangad
Ngadto sa kawanangan
Aron sugaton ang taligsik
Sa uwan, dahon, ug bulak.

Recite to me, day, a poem while we ride a habalhabal

(the blog writer’s translation)

Recite to me, day
A poem while we ride a habalhabal.
Stick your chest closer
Here on my back
So that I can feel better the beatings
Of your heart.
With the potholes that dot our way
Embrace me tightly
Like the rubber bands
That you use to tie your hair.
And with the warmth of your breaths
Tickle this heart of mine.
And the amorseco
That kiss our legs
Let’s think of them as our own tongues.
Then while we’re speeding up
Our ride
Let’s close our eyes and face
The wide sky
To meet the drizzle
Of rain, leaves, and flowers.

Often times when we read a text, that is to say do a critique of a poem, a short story, a play, etc, we tend to sanitize the text and try as hard as we can to distance ourselves from the spirit of, say, poem. We measure the canto, the rhyme, as well as the relevance of the figures used, but we forget the beauty that makes the poem endearing. Objectivity takes away the true joy of reading a text. (By the way, I abhor using text to mean the subject of a criticism, I prefer to call it as how it should be called: a poem, a novel, a novel, but for the sake of generalization, although I detest the word, I shall use it anyway.)

I remember to have first encountered the poem Balaki Ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal in the Humanities class of Dr. Leoncio Deriada in UP Visayas. I admit that I am not an expert in any kind of poetry, but the images in the poem captured my imagination and there and then fell in love with the poem. I can speak and understand Cebuano, arguably the most popular language in the Philippines in terms of the total number of speakers, but I have never tried using it as a medium for writing. Adonis Durado used the language beautifully. He never made use of much garb and highfalutin Cebuano, rather he opted for a simpler and ordinary spoken Cebuano. The simplicity made it even more appealing.

For anyone who has tried riding a habalhabal, a local form of transportation that can carry as much as seven persons plus a cow tied infront of the driver and a sack of vegetable behind, the imagery of riding this sturdy transport while reciting a poem is truth distilled to its barest essential.

It may come as primal, if not sexual, yet the physical closeness of the persona, who is the driver of the habalhabal, and the woman passenger is full of innocence and drama of young love. Orgasmic as it may seem, the last part gave us so much promise of what lies ahead for the lovers.

When I introduced this in my class in Philippine Literature at the University of the Philippines, my students had the same reaction with some ‘kilig factor’ while they were relaying their textual intervention in the class. Balaki Ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal celebrates provincial love at its most beautiful. A perfection in Cebuano poetry.

Seating space maximized, habalhabal. A common for of transportation in southern Philippines
Seating space maximized. Habalhabal a common form of transportation in southern Philippines