How mysterious is friendship, and the bonds that tie people together across years and distances. When I was in fifth or sixth grade in a Protestant school in Pasay City, one of the people I admired and looked up to was a senior named Joel H. Vega. We lent each other books, and talked about literature and how words could be powerful enough to move us in ways others could not understand, or even care to learn.
Joel graduated, and I saw him only once after that. He visited our school about a year or two after he had left, to tell me that he had entered the University of the Philippines in Los Baños and was taking Journalism. He encouraged me to develop my writing skills and take Journalism too.
When I became a senior myself and had to decide on my college course, I was confused. My other classmates were going for Nursing, Biology, Dentistry, and the other life sciences. This was the career path encouraged by our school. Not being particularly altruistic nor desirous of encountering blood and other body fluids on a daily basis, I remembered Joel’s words, and so I ended up also in UP, in the Communication (Journalism) program, where I spent four happy years.
Now I make my living from writing. And my choice of career path, I owe to Joel H. Vega, and a chance remark on his part, perhaps forgotten soon as it was said, but with a profound and significant influence on my life.
After 24 or 25 years, we are in touch again, through the Internet. Joel is in the Netherlands, working as a medical journalist, and before that in other countries, always as a writer. Always as a writer.
His life is filled with words and music and art and travel and culture and I am so happy for him.
One thing that made me even happier – and proud – was when I learned that he is a published writer and poet. His poetry has been anthologized many times in Philippine and US literary journals, and he also wrote a collection of essays - Dir’iyah – about life as an expat in the Middle East.
Here’s one of his most popular poems -
The Fifth & Careful Season
Beyond October, before the lure
Of orange, the swarm flies across
Listen, the talebearer says,
Listen as they drag the weight
Of distances from as far as Peru
Head, thorax, abdomen,
Two antennae, six legs.
Lepidoptera. Scaly wings
Open (inhale) close (exhale)
The dusty breath
Of mute birds.
What is an army of itinerant moths?
A catapulted piece of the moon,
Flung to earth from the Sea of Tranquility.
But ours is a season of agitation
When guns in an arid land
Hound orphans, their pain looming,
Bigger than a mountain.
Tonight, the moths seek shelter
In mossy ribs of fallen logs,
Their wings encoding
Secret trajectories of storms.
What we hear though is neither
Typhoon nor hurricane
But the solid rain
Of ricocheting bullets
Hissing in the dark.
Joel H. Vega
Copyright © 2004
About this piece, Joel says: “I am particularly delighted with the poem published by DMQreview (The Fifth and Careful Season), because I somehow hit a sensitive nerve with that poem. Besides, the images, words, rhythm, etc, just all came together…. Poems like that doesn’t come to me often. It can be my most successful poem to date as it has been re-printed thrice, and with that poem I bagged the Meritage Press ( a small Filipino-owned lit press in California ) annual poetry ‘fun’ contest in 2005.”
I look forward to reading all of Joel’s poems in one volume – whether published in the Philippines or abroad, as long as copies are available in this country – so that this wandering poet’s works may be read and appreciated in the land of his birth.