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Alien Tongues

by Rene Ezpeleta Bartolo
(Davao City, Philippines)

The other day, I went over my old files to choose those I would condemn to the fire and those I would keep for one reason or another.

I dug into old receipts and older bills, records that had lost relevance, files and documents that had outdated their purpose, letters and notes that had misplaced their meanings.

For a short time there, as I browsed over the piles of papers, I relived forgotten feelings.

There was a yellowed sheet of pad paper where my wife and I had forged an ‘agreement’ with the children. I remembered having tucked that note inside an ancient leather-bound Bible that had belonged to my own grandparents.

The note said: “We promise Dad and Mom that we will have no girlfriend/boyfriends (as the case may be) until we finish school.” Underneath the children had scrawled experimental signatures of youth, symbolic of a grand design that the family had charted for the future.

The faded manuscript on the equally faded sheet of paper did serve a purpose, I suppose. Resting inside the pages of the old Bible for many, many years, it signified the surge of filial love and obedience that guided the children’s struggle through school.

The ‘agreement’ did serve a purpose, I suppose. The three have finished college, built for themselves a life with direction, and raised children of their own.

Every now and then, the children have talked about the ‘agreement’ among themselves or with their families and, I would like to believe, the same surge of filial love and obedience surfaces, at least for a passing moment.

Perhaps, one of them will see the need at some future time to forge and agreement with their own children and tuck this inside a Bible.

I was placing files condemned to the fire inside a carton box when a card fell.


A card can be a very stubborn thing,
Refusing to cede some frayed feelings
It hides behind some listless lines
Of unremembered meanings.
The colors of its face have faded.
Where once the reds leaped free
In arrogant assertion
The strokes are rusty.
The golds are a musty gray.

The roses growing along the sides
Look papery, pressed and tucked away
Between the moldy years.

The lines are an alien tongue.

“February 14, 1999”, they say.
“My everdearest Sweetheart”.

They must have once stood for
A design, a need, some use.
Or could the lines have been
The seed of an elemental craving,
A silent, tearing want?

But who can really tell?

Old files are like the folders of a lifetime.

We build our lives around relationships, spend our days around events, and put flesh into the passing time with experiences.

These we tuck into folders of feelings and keep them in orderly or haphazard fashion inside the cabinets of our hearts and minds.

Every now and then, we pull out a file, go over its contents, relive forgotten feelings and rediscover muted meanings.

Every now and then, we have to go over our files to choose those that we have to let go and forget forever, and those we want to keep for one reason or another.

Old hurts, experiences that have lost relevance, feelings that fester for no apparent purpose, relationships that have gone bitter – these we have to let go.

They are alien tongues that speak no sense or substance. They clutter – like old useless files – the cabinets of our existence.

They gather dust and are heavy on the soul.

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