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I went to an island called Corregidor, a historically important site during World War II, where we were shown tunnels and caves used by the US forces, Filipino soldiers and eventually captured by the Japanese. We were shown a place in the tunnel where Filipina comfort women were held - it was a very "primitive" sight: bended metals were cemented into the walls, and the women were held in this manner, while the Japanese soldiers took their "comfort." It was a horribly disgusting, but poignant moment when I saw it along with a big group. I wrote a poem about it.

 

CORREGIDOR TALES

The Laterals

In a lateral queue
we move stealthily,
shadows against history,
through lateral tunnels
bored through mountains
by prisoners who mangled their feet,
possibly died of diseases
or a broken heart,
maybe simply of exhaustion:
for a moment they were
heroes rather than thieves
and murderers -- but no one
has put a marker anywhere:
only the mountains
bore their fingerprints
axes, picks and shovels,
their voices forever snared
in the earth's subterranean,
-- penetrated, broken.
Laterals were refuge
for the violators of peace,
and for the warmakers, sanctuaries.

A lateral begins and ends
with another one
parallel, perpendicular,
that goes into another
and another: this is a journey
of descent to ascent, and back again
it never ends it seems.

        I can get lost here,
to memorize those years
and listen to the voices
trapped in these mountains.
But I am afraid.

        I can get lost here, and find
the meaning of life
and the paradoxes we live
and through which we lie.

This used to be
a thousand bed hospital
the guide's voice echoes,
sending shadows of death
dancing beyond our human eyes.
Here, one toilet for everyone.
A joke: was kidney trouble
a major illness?

Smile left me, laughter
has been frozen
in my throat
when I entered the laterals.

        I am touching history
        male and foreign.
        Colonialists, to me
        friends, to my forebears.
        I come here to seek
        what my foremothers did
        or my sisters, perhaps blonde
        and blue-eyed, suffered for.

We see our present
according to our needs
history make and unmake.

        Corregidor
was never in my mind
until now.

The Cannons

In this island of terror
cannons sit silently, like dinosaurs
of a past: visitors climb
for souvenir shots,
I watch, the mind has a way
of etching pictures
still life, fadeless photographs.

There are echoes everywhere
the bombings then are still here
in our lives: muted by the
unseen enemies.
Our lives remain at war
with ourselves, the human
spirit shackled by the
patriarchal calls to peace
by launching wars.

        Corregidor
was never in my mind
until now.

The Escape Tunnel

Here and there:
wild grass, bush plants
talahib, the cogon of recollections
struggling against el nino
brown earth, grey walls
tunnels of despair
and wars -- were there loves
hidden in the crevices
of the mountains?

        Slowly, like soldiers retreating
or attacking, we duckwalked
the secret cave, stone roof
pushing the body into a half
walk, a half abeyance.
The body is pushed into the
openings: feeble light from
a flashlight, leading the way,
and in between the pack
of us, two more flash.

        I tasted the grey walls
carbonlike, so this is death:
acetylene torches
flamed this secret tunnel
the conquerors became the haunted
before, they hounded --
little men from the east
announcing prosperity for the region,
enemies then, tourists now.
I grazed my foot, descending
into a slope.

        Bullets here abound
if you have clear eyes
the guide suggests: why
take away the horrors
from this place into our pockets?

McArthur was more than six feet
the guide's voice bellows
creeping through the dark.
Light breeze flutters through
a crack in the cave: a dot
of light somewhere,
eyes straining we seek
the starlike brightness
out of this tunnel
into ourselves, finding
peace amidst the ruins
of wars.

        Corregidor
was never in my mind
until now.

The ER

This was the emergency room
locked and guarded
the female nurses had to be safe
to revive the ailing and meet the dead.
Ironies: the ER was not simply
to administer first aid
or comfort those whose death
was certain.
        I hear in my head:
        the comfort women's wailing
        held against the cement wall.

        Lola Rosa in my heart:
        on weekends there can be
        as many as fifty
        and not even a second
        to wash in between.

    Like a dam, willed into
a certain flow
my rage travelled
through my sinews.

See, the guide points out,
four u-shaped metal bars
captured in the grey cement.
Oohs and aahs, the visitors gaped.
        I held my breath
instances like these I need to learn
the serenity that prayers bring.

        Corregidor
was never in my mind
until now.

Note: Lola Rosa Henson, now dead, was the first "comfort woman" to come out with her story in the media.

Aida F. Santos. All Rights Reserved.

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