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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

I’m here

You’re here

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

Can’t blink

Won’t blink

Lest it falls further by

And you think of goodbye of goodbye

But I’m here

You’re 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

To me

To you

(To me-and-you)

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.


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