Friday, June 6, 2014

The Moon


I often see when the nights are long
and the mists are on a breeze
a  stately ship that sails above
the nodding tops of treess.

Drifting slow to meet the foams
and sprays of a darkling sea,
it's a wonder it doesn't get wrecked.
Will it ever be?

This silver ship's a wonder,
as it has always been.
But more has been the wonder
For the Pilot's never seen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Making Waves in a Small Pond

Some people come up to me sometimes and express surprise that I am not on a cruise ship or otherwise travelling abroad. Here's the thing: there were at least three highlights of my travelling/cruising life that told me that I had accomplished as much travel as anyone can hope to do in a lifetime: a 4-day hike to Macchu Picchu, visiting the temple of Karnak and the pyramids of Egypt, and doing a safari in South Africa. If you add in the numerous times I've seen glaciers calving in Alaska, or gawked at innumerable paintings of saints and devils in the churches of Italy, or ate a thousand and one meals in numerous countries that ranged from the sublime (a rich bouillabaisse  in Provence) to the earthy (boiled lobster in Vanuatu) to the bizarre (raw blue crab in Incheon), you could say my cup runneth over, travel-wise.  I have lived (and worked) in Los Angeles, New  York and Las Vegas. But most of my  working life was spent on board cruise ships of all sizes and dimensions, from the smallest (15000 tons) to the biggest (like that Costa ship that sank in Italy). In that peripatetic, spoiled, at times regimented but always interesting life, I made many friends, some of whom I keep in touch with on Facebook (thanks FB!) But I left no footsteps, or memories that clung to the rafters of the ships' theaters. Nobody can say that they learned anything from me as a musician, because everyone was (or at least expected to be) at the top of their game.If you didn't follow the rules, or conform to certain standards, you were out. If you performed and didn't piss off the captain, you stayed. Everyone may have worked to please the passengers, but in the end, everyone worked for themselves. Memory, or memorableness, as far as being a musician or performer is concerned, is not a currency on cruise ships. Currently, there is no reason why I couldn't just scoot off and play in  Manila, Hong Kong or Singapore or Malaysia  (cruise ships are not the only places musicians can work, you know). In Hongkong and Singapore, I would listen quietly to some Filipino musician playing at the lobby  and thought: "That could be me". But in the end, I am back here in my relatively backward and insignificant corner of the world. So why stay? Well, for one thing, family. Secondly, property. Thirdly, being  past the minimum age of retirement, I am coming into my "reflective" stage. In this stage, I see myself, as in a time-travelling mirror, reflected back into the persons of the music and art students I have accepted this summer. I  see children needing guidance in the arts, something I never truly had in my youth, and which, sadly, this government doesn't seem fit to encourage. Children need affirmation that they can sing, paint, play the piano, act. If no one tells them that, or at least shows them the way, then they will never become artists. I am not saying there are no artists or artistically inclined teachers in my hometown, but judging from the fact that there are no classical concerts, plays, recitals, musicals of any significance here, it means no one really gives a damn. This was brought home to me even more succinctly when, on trying to select a song for one of my voice students, I chose "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from "My Fair Lady". Has she ever heard the song before? I asked. She never had. Later, I had her learn "Locomotion". She had never heard this song either. She can now sing both songs. So now, I am wondering: if I had not stayed here long enough to teach this girl  that there was such a musical called "My Fair Lady" and a song in it called " Wouldn't It Be Loverly", would I have not helped usher in a new Julie Andrews or a Lani Misalucha? Who knows? Back in the 60's, I bought a travel book about Spain, hoping to get there one day. And I eventually, I did via playing the piano on a cruise ship. So, after rolling around gathering no moss, I am thinking that if I stayed just a little bit longer in this little pond called Ormoc City whose main claims to fame are natural disasters and pineapples, I might stir the waters just slightly and create just enough waves to influence somebody into becoming an artist of some kind. Call it an experiment in discovering talent, of which I am starting to become aware that there is a lot of in this city, but partially manifested and encouraged. Whether they become working artists/musicians working on cruise ships, or fitting the marquee on Broadway, that is for the future to decide. All I want is to be a part of this cycle that creates, and not discourages, the love for the arts, and hopefully to be able to make a living out of it. My services don't come free, but that is part of the experiment.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014



in my mind I sing songs
that know no endings
arias stretching into infinity
melodies without cadences
chords without resolutions
notes trembling in empty space
searching for a symphony to cling to.
looking blankly at the sky
i weave wings of sound
in my head
that I may fly
that I may fly.


i have shed long ago
the tears I would have shed now
if I were less tempered
and more naïve.
          reality, that eternal curmudgeon,
         having spared me no dagger thrusts
         i leave to the rest
         henceforth I shall live life detached
         eyes closed to the world.


sometimes in the unconsciousness of sleep
i  thrill at the sight of your face
glowing like the sun
i awake
it is dark
i am alone.


do not take for granted
what nature seems to grant in excess:
the rising and setting of the sun,
the greening of the land,
waters swirling into creek or sea,
the rocks, flowers,
the very air we breathe.
do not take for granted
a lover’s touch
or a warming smile,
or the milk that flows
from a mother’s  breast,
the song of the thrush
or the flight of a tern,
the clouds tinged pink with sunrise
or the stars peeping out
from behind the dark curtain of the sky.
what seemed to last forever
oft falls prey to man’s depravity.
the mountain that was is now a plain
a briny wasteland where nothing grows
over which a dusty wind
keens its sad lament
over and over again:
“ah, the loss! ah, the woe!”


I used to be wise
in the ways of reason
till emotions rendered useless
my skill at logic.
sure, there is no sense
in an attachment that may
dwindle into a farce
but who’s to say it makes no sense
while it lasts?
fools say with passion,
is its own reason for being,
a conflagration stoked
in the depths of a
barren heart
that will find love
where it will
despite the remonstrations of a cold
despairing mind.


alaskan landscape

dark  jagged peaks
caressed by fingers
of silent snow.

ice sliding down steep ravines
fracturing , dissolving
in the frigid ocean’s maw.

a  lone eagle
shrieking down from the heights
its cry puncturing
the silence of the trees.

the wind rakes my face
with icy talons
whistling, growling,  hissing:
“walk where you will,
watch what you may
but know that I am lord
and this land belongs to me!”


the essence of love
is distilled in an alembic of tears,
an elixir
 sweeter than ambrosia,
a poison more potent
than witches’ brew.
to sip of it is to leap
from the highest cliff
believing one could fly
where many have fallen
to their deaths.
why drink of it, then?
why quaff a draught
of life and death
in equal measure?
because love intoxicates
and one forgets.
how easily
one forgets.


I tasted love and found it sweet
with a bitterness that numbed my lips
I touched your hand and found it warm
as the icy grip of an arctic storm
I stole a moment from your eyes
that hypnotized
and told me lies.
when loving fails
though love be true
the reddest sun
turns darkest blue.


written in the light of an absent face

my love for you is indefinable
like a lifting of the heart
at the sight of a sunset.
so what does this mean
this melancholy that grips me
when the sun disappears from view?
there is always the moon
weaving around itself a misty corona
and the stars filling the night sky
with their immutable brilliance.
I love them no less
than the sun.
as I stand here at water’s edge
I long once more for
a sight of the sun’s face
splintering and re-forming
on the crests of dancing waves.
so it is with you.
which blurs or brightens memory
may prove me a hapless fool
too easily dazzled by transitory light
and you, a creature
that merely crossed my field of sight,
destined to move beyond the edge of vision.
whatever befalls me
(whether love, fancy or mere delusion)
I know,
have learnt
that sunsets are better seen than touched
for the tremendous fire of the sun
will consume and destroy
the unwary and trusting heart.


to chet baker
in memoriam

music killed him you know,
music that soothes the breasts
of savage beasts
rendered him mad
with her intoxicating beauty.
music was his way out of  mortality,
his mistress luring him
to an embrace of death.
when he died
fallen from grace
 the notes he played in life
cradled him in his grave.


i picked a pebble from the sand
and felt its form within my hand.

perhaps it had lain there for a century
worn smooth by waves of a raging sea

its surface shone like porphyry,
its color, blue as a twilit sky.

its shape was oval, soft and sleek
                                                like a teardrop falling down a cheek.

feeling it within my hand
that pebble I had picked up from the sand
I thought of life and love and other things
of little joys and  little schemes.
of dreams I had  that came to nought.
and, in this reverie, I thought:
my heart is like a pebble, too,
worn smooth by passions strong but true.

                                                 to  a waterfall
Juneau, Alaska, may 1992

rage on!
rage on!
rage on like me!
give  form to existence
unshackled  from destiny.
pound the rocks with your rain-swollen hands
roar your mouthless wrath
and splash the gray sky
with drops of your icy blood.
let no mountain crag contain your fury
or granite stand in the way
of  your heedless rush
uproot the arrogant pine
from banks of bouldered streams
and splinter it to pieces.
be cruel! be cruel!
the sea will soon engulf you
and then you will be gone
so while the glaciers still feed you
rage on!
rage on!

the hike
Skagway , Alaska
June 1992
part one
I caught the stillness in the air
when I paused to rest
panting for breath.

the stillness moved
for in the forest
halfway to the mountaintop
nothing is really still:
birds sing
trees creak
the wind scurries and slashes
through the leaves.
through the pines
I saw the town below me
nestled amidst blankets
of greenery and bay.
it seemed so far away
as if my gasps for breath
had lifted me beyond this earth
into a realm where rocks,
cyclopean and moss-draped,
and trees, bare
to where last winter’s snow
had buried them,
stood sentinel to a world
beyond human reckoning.

the trail angled sharply
and fallen logs blocked my path.
often the trail became
a stream or was simply lost
in a cover of snow,
though I never went astray and
followed the path of those
who had gone before.

on and on I carried
my protesting limbs and heaving lungs
for, I reasoned,
having gone so far,
suspended between heaven and earth,
why waste a minute more
even thinking of retreat?
i thought of sir galahad,
he of the holy grail .
like him I was (I thought)
searching for something, if less divine,
yet no less true: a view.

part two
upper dewey lake

it wasn’t the sun that blinded me
nor the white of untrodden snow
nor the unclouded sky
itself of pure unblemished blue
nor the spired walls of windblasted rocks
that rose above this reservoir
of slow-melting ice
nor the scattered stands of dark-green pines
marching up the steep snow-blanketed ravines
nor the distant mountain ranges,
glaciers glinting on their crests.
no, it was none of these things at all.
it was you.


love at first is a worm
that writhes
in a mess of lust and greed
desire and need.
it flings itself and clings to
a sturdy twig
and spins itself in a frenzy
of longing and intrigue
till, spent,
it stops, sensing perhaps
that desire must cease
and give way to quiet feeling.
silently love broods there
in its cocoon
rough and gray outside
but within, silv’ry as the moon.
in the full flush of morning
as the dew melts into the sky
freed from its chrysalis
love becomes a butterfly

                                                  i must constantly touch the sky
or I will die
the slow death of those
for whom clouds mean nothing
or forests are for burning
or flowers are for trampling.

i must constantly sing
or I will grow numb
with the coldness of those
for whom birds trill no enchantment
bees buzz no excitement
or breezes bblow no endearments.
I must constantly touch my heart
Or it shall grow cold
as a piece ofrock
gray, dark and grim.
When the wind rises
and chills my bones
and the light grows dim,
i shall build a fire
and warm my heart
and I’ll dream on
dream on.


i  have no will
to change my ways
for something more
acceptable or apt.
and so I’ll live
the life I want
and never mind the rap.

manny panta
Dawn Princess
June 22, 1992

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