Fragments of a nightmare

In anticipation of the anniversary of the capture of Jose Maria Sison on November 10, 1977, his 30-stanza poem “Fragments of a Nightmare” (which is about his long series of tortures) is published here. The Pilipino version will be published tomorrow. Herewith is his photo with Marcos on the day of arrest prior to his subjection to a series of tortures.

Seated from left to right are Marcos, Sison and Generals Aguirre, Fabian Ver and Felix.

FRAGMENTS OF A NIGHTMARE
By Jose Maria Sison

1.
Under the night sky, fresh breaths
Of green leaves and blue waves
Rush to my face, cling to my body
And spur me on to meet my beloved.
As on a hundred steeds, I speed
Like a free bird on a silver ribbon
Between the mountain and the sea.
But alas the unholy hour is fraught
With the dagger eyes of demons
At the junction of haven and danger.
2.
After a monkey dance in the dark
Around the silent transit station,
The demons burst through the flimsy door,
Raise the din of blood lust
And sicken the sudden light.
I am surrounded by armed demons
Prancing and manacling me.
I am wrenched from my beloved
And carried on frenzied wheels
Through the strange cold night.
3.
I am brought to the center of hell
To the Devil and his high demons
For a ritual of flashbulbs.
The Devil waves away his minions
And we engage in a duel of words.
For a start, he talks of buying souls.
Repulsed, he shifts to setting
A trap for fools and the innocent.
Repulsed again, he ends with a threat
That he will never see me again.
4.
As if midnight, the tight manacles
And the demons were not enough,
I am blindfolded and moved in circles
A series of boxes swallow me:
A sprawling fort, a certain compound
With a creaking-croaking gate
And finally a cell of utter silence
To which I am roughly plunged.
The demons want me to feel
Blind, lost, suffocating, helpless.
5.
I remove the blindfold and find
Myself in a musty tomb.
I abhor the absence of windows,
The sickly green and muteness
Of the walls and the ceiling,
The deep brown of the shut door,
The dizzying flicker of the dim lamp
And sparse air from an obscure vent.
The pit of my stomach keep turning
And my lungs become congested.
6.
Nameless demons come in relay
To feign cordiality or menace me
And explore my brain and nerves.
I draw circles around them
To gain time for my comrades
And warn them with my disappearance.
I demand my right to counsel,
My right against self-damnation,
The whereabouts of my beloved
And the friends abducted with us.
7.
I am forcibly shorn of my shirt
And it is wound around my face.
One more piece of cloth is tightened
Across my covered eyes and nape.
My hands are cuffed behind my back
So tightly as to numb them.
I am fixed on a wooden chair
And made to wait for my fate
In utter blindness and helplessness
In the hands of some monster.
8.
All of a sudden sharp fist blows
Strike my floating ribs,
Chest and solar plexus.
Then the demons make barrages
Of questions, threats and taunts
With more barrages of hard blows.
My silence, answer or comment
Always fetches harder blows.
The demons keep on threatening
To break my skull against the wall.
9.
The seemingly endless bout ends
But something more is afoot.
The demons chain one of my feet
And one of my hands to a cot.
I remove the blindfolds and my eyes
Are struck by a beam of light
That follows the motion of my face
My eyes outracing the light scan
The dark emptiness of the cell
And make out three demons.
10.
Two alternate in pointing a gun
At my prostrate body and repeating
Questions I do not care to answer,
While the third sits silent
On the floor of the dark cell.
And one more demon comes and goes
Asking questions and threatening
To kill me in the act of “escaping”.
Now and then, a demon kicks
A foot of the cot in exasperation.
11.
In contempt of their menacing form,
I keep telling the demons to take a rest,
Ridicule their words and antics
And hurl back their insults at them
Even as they weaken my body
By keeping me awake, hungry and thirsty.
I can sense being prepared
For a more painful, a worse ordeal.
But I reckon the Devil’s order
Is to cause fright and uncertainty.
12.
Once more I am blindfolded
As more demons suddenly swarm
Into the dark stifling cell.
Both my hands and both my feet
Are tightly shackled to the cot
With sharp-edged cuffs that tighten
Whenever I make the slightest move.
I hear a demon say my grave is ready
And another say that I should first
Be given electric shocks.
13.
Thoughts race through my mind:
I have met and measured the Devil;
He wants my soul more than my corpse.
These tormentors blindfold me
To conceal their craven faces.
I will suffer but I will endure.
The nerves grow numb against pain;
The brain shuts off against the extreme.
But so what if I die, my life
Has long been given to the cause.
14.
I hear water gushing against water,
The racket of plastic pails
And the screeches of frantic boots.
A small towel is put across my face;
And strong hands hold my head
And grasp my mouth.
Cascades of water dig into my nostrils
And flood my mouth, throat and lungs.
The torrents of water come with torrents
Of questions, threats and taunts.
15.
The cuffs slash my wrists and ankles
As I strain for air again and again
Against the stinging rush of water.
I suffer for so many persons, groups,
Addresses, villages, mountains
That I do not know or do not want
To tell or confirm to the demons.
They are most vicious or persistent
In trying to extract hot leads,
More prey and more spoils.
16.
For more than a thousand times,
The strength of my heart is tested.
As I struggle and scream for air.
American rock music screens my screams
Outside the torture chamber.
From time to time, a demon pokes
The barrel of a gun into my mouth;
Another keeps on jabbing his fingers
Into different parts of my body
To disrupt the rhythm of my resistance.
17.
My struggles loosen the blindfold.
I can see a senior demon gloating.
Then a stocky demon sits on my belly.
As my body weakens and I grow dizzy,
The chief interrogator vainly tries
To hypnotize me by repeating words,
Suggesting that I am going, going
To sleep and rest my mind in his power.
I resist and keep my wits alive
By recalling the words of a battle cry.
18.
The demons fail to drown my spirit
But I am tired and dazed for days.
I lie half-naked shackled to the cot
With wounded wrists and ankles,
Numb hands, chest pains
And pricking sensations in my eyes.
Still I am blindfolded again and again
As vulture demons come in relay
To drum questions into my ears
As if their persistence were endless.
19.
I keep on thinking of seagulls
Frail and magical above the blue ocean;
And doves in pairs so gentle,
One partner so close to the other.
I am blindfolded and a vulture demon
Comes to insult me with an offer:
To be caged with my beloved
In return for one free comrade.
I grit my teeth and grunt at the demon
And wish that I could do more to his face.
20.
I see the smiling faces of demons
Who come to make another offer:
I simply declare formally
That I am A.G. and nothing more;
And the torture would cease
And I would be placed where
Other captives of the Devil are.
They even agree to an indication
That access to counsel is impossible
Because of the armed demons themselves.
21.
The torture does not cease
But becomes worse a thousand times.
The seconds, minutes, days, weeks,
Months and seasons fall
Like huge blocks of lead
On my brain and nerves,
On my prostrate body on the rack,
With my left hand and right foot
Constantly cuffed to a filthy cot
In a perpetuated process of violence.
22.
Thick calluses grow where the irons
Press against my flesh and bones.
And I suffer the extremes
Of heat and cold upon the change
Of seasons and the part of a day.
I see nothing beyond the dusty walls
And cobwebbed ceiling.
Day and night, every ten minutes,
A demon peeps through a small hole
To make sure I remain in shackles.
23.
Only bedbugs, mosquitoes, ants,
Cockroaches, lizards and spiders
Are my cohabitants in this part of hell
I miss and yearn for my beloved
And think of her own fate.
I long for my growing children;
I long for the honest company
Of workers, peasants and comrades.
I long for the people rising
And the wide open spaces of my country.
24.
The imps who detach me from the cot
Are tightlipped most of the time
And show insolence, harass and insult me
Whenever they think I am going beyond
The few minutes allowed me to eat
Bad food and perform necessities.
The demon doctor merely smiles
When I ask for fresh air and sunlight.
The demon dentist does not repair
But keep on busting my teeth.
25.
Some demons come now and then
Asking why I wish to suffer
When all I need is to surrender
My soul for the Devil’s compassion.
Asked once to run for an assembly
Of demons, I retort how can I run
When I cannot even walk in my cell.
Then, even they stop coming,
To let me suffer without respite
The flames of one summer after another.
26.
As I refuse to sell or give away
My soul to the Devil, his scheme
Is to torment and kill it slowly
By fixing my body on the rack,
Dangling the sword of death
And threatening to let it fall
By some formal or informal process.
But the scheme is futile
As the agony of isolation in shackles
Even makes death a tempting recourse.
27.
I struggle against the tedium,
The cumulative stress on my body and mind
And occasional lure of suicide.
I keep on composing and reciting poems
To damn the Devil and the demons.
I keep on summoning images
Of my beloved suffering but enduring;
Our free and fast-growing children;
And the masses of avenging angels
Armed with the sharpest of swords.
28.
Every day that passes is a day won,
Heightening will and endurance.
I anticipate the Devil’s pretense–
Bringing me to his court for a show
And having the demon judges acclaim him
As supreme lawmaker, captor, torturer,
Prosecutor, judge and executioner.
After so long in the rack, I can sit
Beside my beloved before the demon judges
And let the people know our ordeal.
29.
To speak of torture in hindsight,
To speak of one-hour punching,
So many meals and hours of sleep lost,
Six hours of suffocation by water,
Eighteen months on the rack
And so many years of cramped seclusion,
Is never to say enough of suffering.
The Devil and the demons never tell
The victim when a certain ordeal ends
Even as they threaten more pain and death.
30.
But still my pain and suffering is small
As I think of those who suffer more
The violence of daily exploitation
And the rampage of terror on the land.
I belittle my pain and suffering
As I think of the people who fight
For their own redemption and freedom
And avenge the blood of martyrs.
I belittle my pain and suffering
As I hope to give more to the struggle.
December 1979

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