Celebrating France Clavecillas
By Merlinda Bobis
Last Sunday, I received the sad news from Doods Santos that our friend France had passed that morning. It’s an immense and sad loss for many. Makamundo para saiyang pamilya, mga amiga-amigo, mga komunidad na natabangan niya sa halawig na pagpadaba niya sa gabos na nangangaipo. Makamundo man para sa pagsurat asin literatura — France was a beautiful poet as much as she was a beautiful soul. Pero naisip ko, ngunyan, dae na siya nagsasakit. And a beautiful soul lives on.
Our friendship dates back to 1991 when she joined a poetry workshop that I facilitated and another friend, Jazmin Llana, organized in Naga. Our friend Dan Adan was also with us then. On one of the nights at the hotel where I was billeted, France, maybe Jaz and a few others, and I sang one of my poems that I composed into a song (Sinapupunan ko’y buwan … ) with France playing the guitar. Last year, through email she sent me a recording of her singing “Gisi an Bado ko” with guitar. She explained: “… sa Naga ko iyan naukdan kan community organizer ako sa Naga. Kanta iyan kan mga aktibista pag-ilustrar kan kamugtakan kan kapobrehan.” And commiserating with the recent deaths of my parents, she wrote: “Kugos na higot, uminagi ka palan ki labi-labing kamunduan,” and also told me about the deaths in her family, then added: “Trabaho sa community ang nakapagi-an kan kamunduan ko.”
Labing hiwas ang puso ni France, accommodating the struggles of so many communities — and I am honored to have been one of her friends and that I had the chance of corresponding with her in these last two years of life. Strangely or aptly, the day before I received Doods’ email about France’s passing, I found her handwritten letter dated 1991 (that wondrous time of snail mail) where she enclosed 3 of her poems ... I re-read them. Gari nagpabati o nagpasawong si amiga... reminding me to remember her in these lines —
‘Let me soar like a bird
and nest in trees
that are your hair’
(From ‘A Woman’s Dream’, France Clavecillas, Nov 1991)
I thought — France, always a bird soaring! Then suddenly, outside my window, a currawong, a black bird with tail fringed with white, roosted on the cedar tree and began singing, then soaring, then several of them soared back and forth so close to my window. I thought — it’s France soaring and singing! Soaring in peace, free of pain, she who so generously and bravely bore on her shoulders the suffering of a multitude in her fight to make life better for them.
Dios mabalos tabi, amiga!
A friend to the world like you never really leaves. Your presence remains with us. From this thought and the currawong’s (maybe your) visitation sprang a song that I wrote for you. Honi, amiga, saday na pag-onra asin pag-orgulyo sa babaying mahiwason ang puso —
For France, after the currawong
Aali-aligid lang, only hovering
In the air you breathe, I breathe
I think we just made a leaf
Tremble, and a dewdrop fall and a dewdrop fall
Tiny gem to a twig nearby
Or maybe just beneath my eye just beneath my eye
Lest it falls further by
And you think of goodbye of goodbye
But I’m here
Aali-aligid lang, only hovering
And never ever leaving
It’s eternity, my dear
This hovering evermore
Of breath to leaf to dew
To twig, and home again
Pigkukuru-kanta ko na ini, France, with my ukulele. Saen ka man naglalayog ngunyan, amiga, sana nadadangog mo …
Editor’s note: The author is an acclaimed and awarded Tabaco-born poet, novelist, short story writer and dramatist who is currently based in Canberra, Australia. “For her, writing is homecoming: a return to roots, a retrieval through memory, and a reckoning with loss hopefully with care and grace.” The “Doods” whom she refers to in her tribute to France is retired long-time Ateneo de Naga University Literature Professor and Bikol Literature book author and editor Paz Verdades M. Santos who has anthologized the literary works of both France and Merlinda.