26 December 2022

Poem 13, 2022

A Good Job

To give dignity back to work, a word
sullied by greed and abuse, a route
so wrong and so hard to end
it doesn't amuse
even the hand of power.
I want to work, to finish
a product efficient,
a service so useful it disappears
into everyday. I want to be
a trusted, unmysterious yet complex
machinery, cruetly-free and fit
for heavy duty. I will get tired some times
and rest, and someone else, happy.
Great heroes, like their work, are invisible,
forgotten though we walk on it.
Mine, less humble, cries
for attention,
for you to please —
if you were pleased —
spread the word.

—Razel Estrella

30 November 2022

Poem 12, 2022

None of the Lights

I answered with reluctance when you invited me
to a bonfire by the beach with young girls and a local
who, despite her kind demeanor, reduced
me to a stranger by the minute.

"I like nature," I said, while pining
for the city's running water.
"It will be fun," you breathed, letting the waves
and its musical muscle win me over.

My feet never felt lighter against the rocks,
walking towards hazy faces gathered in a circle
that will soon dismantle as all things do
when built on sand.

We took our time, understanding
the patience required to start and keep a fire.
We reaped rewards,
for long we lingered at full flame.

Crackling wood hypnotized and snapped
me back into the moment, safe in the weight
of your voices. Embers each of us I thought
indistinguishable. Inextinguishable.

That amber night still consumes
my waking days. I struggle
to solve the mystery of how we stumble
upon company so good and with so short a history.

None of the lights now warm the neck.
Holiday drones fail to dazzle.
Fluorescent tubes reveal diseases.
Marketing firms snuff romance out of candles.

Gone are our childhood fireflies,
trapped in jars and picture books.
A lover's eyes cast shadows of doubt.
Polished glasses reflect half-truths.

And what of the sun? Certain
to arrive, to nourish, to harm, to fill
a side of the world with color,
none of which brightens this faraway noon.

—Razel Estrella

30 October 2022

Poem 11, 2022

(A love poem)

In the beginning was a pulse
that came right
before any breath
to birth a song or a word.

It throbs even as the music
and the argument
take a pause
from asserting themselves,

unfinished in their wish
to be understood.
It beats underneath
the bones.

It lives long
after the end, found
in another story
in someone else's voice

or wrist, like mine
when you touch me there,
you know years ago
and years ahead

we sail on the same boat
kept afloat
by this inaudible god.
No need to say it,

whatever we mean.
What matters most is passing
between us

—Razel Estrella

25 October 2022

Losing teeth

I was so ready to lose a leg. Without it, I could still do my two-most favorite things in the world: swim and play the piano.

I was convinced with my answer to the hypothetical question, If you had to lose a body part, which would it be?, which presupposes trauma. There are, after all, useless parts of the body.

Wisdom teeth, for example, are pulled out like clockwork as some sort of initiation into adulthood, because they serve no purpose. If they do, perhaps it's to make our lives miserable. It sure made mine.

Nothing had prepared me for the news that my second lower molar had to be removed, thanks to the impacted wisdom tooth that crushed it lifeless. I would wake up with terrible headaches that I initially chalked up to me hating going to work; until I later on connected it to my decaying teeth. When I started to get a tingling sensation during dessert and while drinking cold drinks, I took a trip to the dentist.

My heart sank when they explained the situation. What followed was a torturous week of anxiety, disbelief, and every emotion so far away from the relief I sought when I sat on the dentist chair.

Color me regret. It wasn't like I hadn't had dental check-ups in the past and was advised to have my wisdom teeth removed. Fear was the main reason that I kept delaying it. (I had LASIK twice and it was a walk in the park; but there's something about slicing and stitching up gums that terrifies me.) Then it was too late.

False safety in denial. Maybe the dentist was wrong. There should be other ways to save my tooth. If there was, I wasn't made aware of it. A huge cavity was way below the gumline. Two other dentists and one accommodating nurse knew not to keep my hopes up. If there was a miracle procedure to save my tooth, I bet I would need a miracle to afford it.

What I briefly wrote above is what I want to escape from. Thinking too much about what could've been. My mouth is mutilated, my wisdom tooth gone, and so is my second molar, which is the real loss.

This will sound dramatic and shallow but what I'm going through feels like my first real dance with death. I was shocked. I resisted. I miss my tooth.

I have read many eloquent pieces on death and loss and other such crises, yet it's different when it's happenig to you. I guess we should be thankful that it will always be different for us, that the most common experiences are still unique to us. Otherwise, what's the point of living.

It's been three weeks since my oral surgery. Early on the surgeon warned me that I might easily overcome pain, but I shouldn't underestimate discomfort. Indeed, I didn't take any pain killer 24 hours after surgery. However, not being able to fully open my mouth (trismus), sleep on my side, not spitting! — these are a burden. How I've taken for granted the satisfaction of yawning.

During those days, I found solace in vulnerability. When my body is not in my control, my mind vacations. When I am sick, I find a kind of pleasure in succumbing to disease. For once, I am allowed to be weak.

Now I am halfway healed. Gone are the days of blood clots. The wound closes. Clarity returns — hallelujah migraine-free mornings! — so do my worries. Now I have to face this loss. Now I can run my tongue on the toothless gum. And I feel a mental pain.

This morning I cooked a decent meal again from scratch. I was enjoying my brunch until I remembered, Wait, I'm lacking a functioning molar; am I having problems chewing? As if I was telling myself that there should be something wrong.

I'm writing because I want to grieve and move on. I figure I should treat the tooth loss as an actual death. I took the extracted teeth (the second molar and remnants of the broken third) home with me and had a good look at them. It's best that I don't hang onto these tiny bones, keep them like a totem of I-don't-know-what. It's best that I throw them away unceremoniously. This blog is totem and ceremony enough.

This is a new chapter in my life. I never have chapters, but THIS merits chaptering. My personal history is Before Oral Surgery and After Oral Surgery. BOS/AOS. Is there a Lost Teeth Anonymous I could join?

There is so much I want to say to people who will understand. I wasn't prepared for this and so I don't know how to carry on. Fear is in every stage of the journey. I was scared of surgery. I watched lots of post-recovery horror stories. Most of the time it is I who scare myself. That time could've been used for something better, for proper leisure.

With the other changes going on with my body, I guess all I could do is take care of myself the best way I know how. To nurture myself without fighting nature. Part of me thinks that it's downhill from here. But last weekend I was at the mall and got excited strolling through the kitchen section — as I've always been. I fantasized about the pretty tools I'd buy next. The mini drip kettle, featherlight can opener, tongs, containers.

I've lost something important to me and I am sad. Unsupringly, sadness can exist with thrill. And loss, always in a dance with life. I take it back, what I confidently whispered in the air while my mind ran through what-ifs — Lord, don't take away either of my leg, please.

30 September 2022

Poem 10, 2022


Which child's heart
didn't throb, eyes
didn't widen
at the taste of tooth
rocking back and forth
the soft slide of gum,

a tongue toy
barely hanging
upside down.

When they are gone
the little ones cry
the merriest good-bye
dressed in hello.

Who's ripping the days off
a calendar now?

Hanging on

to a single tooth,
nicotine- caffeine- blood-
stained measure of youth,
like all pleasures
may disappear
once it's gone and the pain
killers kick in.

earns our affections,
that tomorrow
instead of nothing we see nylon
in its place
or perhaps a toss
between porcelain and gold,
a ghost changing its clothes.

—Razel Estrella

29 August 2022

Poem 9, 2022

A Few Good Years

The genie said three wishes.
Quick was I to search my mind
For the things I most desire:

Perfect health,
A long life sans accident.

Every now and then we dream
Of a windfall or a prince
Who'll whisk all troubles away,

And within the dreaming find
Cracks brought on by the hard weight
Of wanting to make it work

In both worlds — the real and make-
Believe. Hush, my mouth. Don't wish
For what you must grant yourself

To your self. I can't travel
Back in time, nor can I see
Danger in the dark where men,

Women and pleasures collect.
Is it not a dream-come-true
When fate and you have settled,

Where at its end the heart starts
A new desire? That is why
I told the genie my wish

Is to have a few good years
Where sleep is easy and friends
Are near; my feet are light here

Coming home to a knowing;
A few good things in a string
Of days, after which may break,

But not before ecstasies!
Some helpings of a good life
To remember and reclaim.

—Razel Estrella

Note: Another version of this poem ends with the additional one-line stanza:
Else to die on.
But I'm a masochist and I like torturing myself.

31 July 2022

Poem 8, 2022

The Vocalist

The rest could only imitate
what he alone
and all alone could do:
sustain, vibrate, reach
unnamed colors of the soundscape.

In the next practice room
he hears the pianist
and the teacher struggle
to paint from black and white,
tangled fingers on keys
waking hammers hitting strings
drawing nothing.

Technique enables
feeling is a lesson
no instructor has taught them.

Meanwhile the singer learns
it on his own: accepting
regimented seasons,
declining decadence
as a way of washing his instrument.

Yet on performance night,
he becomes a student
who croons in front of a crowd,
hits and holds a high note,
and sees everyone in the room
as well as himself
remain unmoved.

Years of drills unable
to abate his fear of coming out
with a heart.

—Razel Estrella

30 June 2022

Poem 7, 2022


You have a liking for high places
Dissecting plain skies
Looking down on people
Dissolving into borders

Because you wish to fly
You build a habit of jumping
Too good for the ground
Disinterested in the center of the Earth

Or whatever may be underneath

Your kink is empty, nothing
More rousing than open air
No walls for secrets to lean on
Can I be with you up there

—Razel Estrella

25 June 2022

A lamb with a sunset in the clouds

So I have gotten into the habit of recording my piano practices because reasons (that have got to do with skills development and, admittedly, vanity).

This morning I countinue my journey into the Mikrokosmos. Yep, I do every single exericse in order. These mini etudes give me a quick sense of achievement. There is always something I could take to the finish line within one sitting or, at most, a week's time; say, sight-reading on day one, bringing out the dynamics on the next couple of days, then finally keeping it up to tempo. It feels good.

My newest favorite from the series is Number 48 – In Mixolydian Mode. I really enjoy teasing out the music here. Though it has a prominent melody, it's pretty bare when it comes to phrasing and dynamics. I'm proud of my interpretation. Extra pat on the back for me when the music I hear in my head and eventually play matches Béla Bartók's one-minute tempo.

Later this morning my niece drops by the apartment and hears my recording of the piece. Her comment: "It's like a lamb with a sunset in the clouds."

Well done me.

02 June 2022


it was raining outside, and I was outside.

I liked that I had shoes fit for the weather.

Inside a Starbucks the pleasures of cliché: new Ishiguro, cake and cappuccino. Pathetic lady waiting for her man. I didn't want to be seen dead in this unpoetic coffee chain; but I didn't want to die at home either, so I stayed.

Street kids drew penises in three strokes on the glass wall. Elsewhere in the canvas a heart, then letters that led nowhere.

No words, no sense, except from the book I briefly read.

The rain couldn't get a sound through the building, though it sure made its ice felt.

30 May 2022

Poem 6, 2022

Before Sleep

I want to be dreamless at night,
no thrill, regret, not a single secret.

I want to be in bed
Without delay, nor yet unhurried.

I want to lay in silence,
Because music is desire.

I want to be empty
Of today, the past, and tomorrow.

I want to feel the coldness
Of the cruel weather-maker.

I want to hear my breath
And none of your voice.

I want to see the dark
Before closing my eyes.

I want to rest
For now and not live a life.

—Razel Estrella

19 April 2022

Poem 5, 2022: Pictures to Show

Pictures to Show

The article calls for being present.

That instead of taking photos of the bee
Sucking on sunflower,
Lock your eyes onto the living
Shaking ugly thing in front of you.

See, the seconds spent aiming the lens
At the subject is time enough
For the latter to flee the scene
Of the would-be sublime.

Then you lose both
The picture and the pleasure
Of looking and locking
Wonder in your head.


Another article warns us
Of lives unlived through untold stories.

Better false than forgotten.

At thirty you must have a lot to show
For daring to age. Objects to fit
A highlight reel, or to catalogue
In a poem about growing old.

Flaunt minor successes.
Meals to tell your taste and status.
Your hard-earned confidence
Underneath the dresses.

Friends who are nothing
And everything like you. The one
Job, source of pride and stability.
House, husband, babies.


These recording devices,
Phone, paper and paint,
Are far less destructive
Than the naked eye.

I held the gaze of a boy
On the other end of the table.
A handsome creature
Alive in front of me

And already a changed man in my head.

—Razel Estrella (19 April 2022)

23 March 2022


So I turned 39 a couple of weeks ago, and the first thought that entered my head was, Shit how am I going to celebrate my 40th?!

A 47-year-old trainee said that she threw herself in a 40 Days of Skiing revelry. At that time, she explained, she was getting into this new hobby and it was a turning point for her. Cool. Not my style of "big", though. Can't see myself writing 40 poems, staging a 40-song recital, or eating 40 artisanal cakes.

It didn't take long for me to realize that I would love to do a nude photoshoot. I had wanted to do it before. In fact I did a half-nude version in 2002.

I was part of the college literary folio and one of the members had this bright idea to have a nude cover for our next issue. They asked me to model. No need to convince me, I was up for it. I liked myself, I liked them, I liked what we do.

In the end none of the photos we shot were approved by the organization adviser who will not be named in this post. I lost to Julie Lluch's Thinking Nude. A close-up shot of her sculpture of a woman examining her body in front of a mirror made it to the final copy of the journal.

The editors probably cared more about the rejection than I did. I got a copy of my photos and was very happy with them. Well, not all. There was a frontal shot I'd rather forget — I honestly don't know if a copy or the negatives still exist somewhere.

I framed two of my favorites and displayed it in my room. My mother got angry when she saw it and told me that I could showcase the pictures when I have my own house. I was surprised by her reaction, since I didn't do it out of malice or as a form of rebellion. But fine. It's now standing in my apartment's vanity dresser.

It wasn't until I was around 33 when I felt that my body was in its best shape. I couldn't wear shorts or a nice skirt in my teens and twenties because of a skin condition that I only got to solve when I started working and had the money to pay for a dermatologist. After that breakthrough, I also became more disciplined about exercising and my eating habits.

This affection grows as the years roll and my internal state is catching on. If you ask me, I am my most beautiful self — physically and internally — today.

A feeling of having been born is akin to the feeling of having been made. You're a clean slate yet somehow you are also complete. Inside, I am young. But when I look at the number, 3 - 9, 4 - 0, it's as if someone is telling me to be old. To act my age. How do 40-somethings act nowadays?

Rhetorical questions aside, last night's chat with my girl friends had me thinking about why I am open to being photographed nude yet I hesitate to send nudes to potential dates and partners (yes, I am conservative that way). Truth is I refrain from reading about nude portraits because I don't want to ruin the experience. I don't want to read any criticism of it. Because I can do it myself.

Schitt's Creek has this super relatable episode about Moira Rose and her leaked nude photos. Turns out there are no pictures of a young, vibrant, and naked Moira online. And she regrets it. We share the same impulse. Materialism (corporealism?) and vanity.

Part of me wants to preserve what I will surely lose in the future. Another part of me wants to flaunt what I've got. The nude portrait I have in mind may not be as profound a self-reflection as the woman in Lluch's artwork, but dammit I'll say it out loud: I want to be my own work of art — to be enjoyed by whoever cares to view!

Whereas "sending nudes" is meant to titillate, which is perfect in the context of dating or having fun, but again my conservative side would rather avoid it.

Happy 20th anniversary to my half-nude photos. Never thought I would love my present self way more than the 18-year-old girl whose back is turned against the observer.

21 March 2022

Piano lessons

Learn slow to learn fast.

Everyone will say this in one form or another, in passing or in depth. I'm quoting above the exact phrase said by the first piano teacher who first said it to me. It's the cliché that isn't because the more you play, the more you relearn its truth.

You can't make it if you can't hear it.

Fascinating how producing a sound is similar to writing. (As soon as I typed and reread that sentence it seemed so common-sensical!) A haze is in your head and you have to lock it into shape. Now once you go outside of your mind and put things down to words, the shape shifts into something else. Not wholly different but definite.

I am having interpretation problems with a certain section in my repertoire and my teacher advises creating a general story that would make sense throughout the entire piece. I get it, however I am a bit skeptical because I've had enough experience with creative people sharing the backstory of their work, and the theory and philosophizing are often way more interesting than the actual work.

A coherent narrative helps, though. Sure it will not register 100 percent from your mind's ear to your fingers and out the sound board (speaker in my case lol); and the fidelity goes much lower once it reaches an audience. Yet that is not the point. The point is you have an anchor to your act, a North Star to your journey and other such metaphors. I should listen to my teacher more.

Be an idiot.

There are no stupid questions. What we have is little time to ask all of them. My suggestion is to pick your most idiotic idea to discuss with someone else.

It also happens that we think we are super brilliant. So share your brightest idea to someone else and be open to disagreement.

The only place I'm devoid of any trust issues is in front of the keyboard. There is freedom in knowing I have no one to compete with in this discipline. That I won't be, I don't have to be, and I don't want to be the best here. Nothing is at stake. That's why it's easier for me, I guess.

I would participate in recitals and mess up and move on. My motivation undiminished.

I had a teacher who actually made me feel like an idiot and I moved on. My love for music and respect for teachers undiminished.

Oh wait, I joined a 'battle of the bands' in high school and I messed up the keyboard part in one of the songs. I made up for it in the next song. Heh. Good times.

I wish I could be as vulnerable in other areas of my life. Maybe I'll be as happy.

No one does it alone.

Even if solo piano is my vibe, I need at least a coach and an audience to be good and to be happy. Once in a while I feel a pang of loneliness. Sometimes it's a hunger for a thoughtful listener, sometimes a desire to play with others.

Back in my very first year of piano lessons, I was playing a short excercise piece and halfway through, my teacher, who was seated to my left started playing along. Normally I'd panic and would probably be so bothered that I'd stop. Something in the way she snuck into the music made me feel comfortable to the extent that I started enjoying myself.

Few moments had been as magical as that moment in the practice room.

10 March 2022

Poem 3, 2022

Birthday Line Breaks

Aphoristic couplet

I seem to have forgotten much of what I've done
Which really pretty much was none



I seem to have forgotten much
of what I've done
Which really pretty much
was none


Clever and deep

I seem to have
much of what I've done
really pretty

much was none

—Razel Estrella (16 February 2022)

09 March 2022

Cosmic waltz

Cracked open Volume 1 of Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos (which I ordered at a music shop sometime in February) and I am loving it so far. Wonderful break from the repetitiveness of Czerny and the predictability of the common method book. Note: I adore Czerny and there is value in repetition, but I crave variety.

My favorite is Excercise 33, Slow Dance. The title is suggestive, plus it's in 6/4 time, so there are enough cues to make the job of teasing out the music easier.

But the key, I think, makes it special, makes the notes ring like a cosmic waltz.


And the word Mikrokosmos may be interpreted as a series of pieces in many different styles, representing a small world. Or it may be interpreted as "world of the little ones, the children".

—From the Foreward by Peter Bartók, son of Béla Bartók

I like this. I really, really like this variegated cycle of mini piano pieces. In each page I feel like a child for whom everything is a discovery.


Here's another exercise I enjoyed from the first book.

On to the next one—

04 March 2022

Poem 4, 2022

The Idea

Write down your ideas.

I did last night,
got out of bed and grabbed
a pen and paper and, like a child
chasing fireflies, caught
bright ends of a thought.

Sleep came quick
when my head hit cushion,
for a piece of my mind was safe
by the bedside table.
My body unburdened by the weight
of the unrecorded.

Morning arrived without flourish.
Neither the jolt of bad news.
Work was fine, the meals far
from sublime, small talk
and I was back to my room.

A glint
from the cap of a pen.

Ah, the idea.

Like a child hungry
for an endless gaze at her prized insect,
I hopped towards my conquest.
Two hands on either side of the page.
Eyes shifting
till they stopped in shock.

I got out of bed for this?

In front of me, before the red sun was my idea,
dry as a paper wing.

—Razel Estrella

16 February 2022

Tell me you're a narcissist

Recent events have compelled me to take a deeper, if not longer look into my relationships, which almost always mean confronting myself.

I've always had an inkling that I'm a narcissist, I just don't know what kind, to what extent, and how I've turned into one. I tick the grandiosity box. I believe I am empathetic but now I doubt if I truly understand the word. No way I am insecure — or am I?

Thinking led to googling, redditing, more thinking, more clicking link after link that eventually led to this video series.

There's my answer. Neglectful Narcissist.


Something doesn't sit well with me while watching the videos, despite the speaker being all credible: The whole assumption that the audience is the victim. I read the comments and everyone is like, That's my mother, father, wife, husband, et cetera. In my head I reply, You sure you aren't one yourself?

Am I what you guys call projecting? Confident that the next person is the same as me? Perhaps there are genuinely good people out there, only I couldn't see them with my blinders.


Edited to add:

Videos in the channel contain a disclaimer wherein it is noted that the information shared are solely for educational purposes and must not be taken as substitute for clinical care. Rest assured that I am aware of that when writing this blog and in moving forward.

14 February 2022

Poem 2, 2022


Wrist cheek lips and that
pearl at rest a heaving chest above
the heart a head crowned
with black braid and down

the dress flows like blue ternate
a leg shows a quick shine
then thighs veined
a polished toe a sway

of the hips the arms
hint of perfume small
as a whisper she enters
the onlooker's dream.

—Razel Estrella

28 January 2022

Poem 1, 2022


Let's make work of beginnings.

Think prelude, how the masters
leave little worlds on their own
till one is found by accident
or plan by one willing Don or Donna.

What makes a prelude?

Length? 'Cause I hear of long and short,
a featherlight motif and rainclouds reprised.
Is it the promise that after this the music will roll
to no end

What do I make of this Opus?

A collection of beginnings, each complete
on its own, should stand together. My memories,
each like a book that in a shelf cannot stand by itself,
call for a master arrangement.

—Razel Estrella

24 January 2022


Appropriate, to the level of cliché, that the first blog of the year features a prelude.

In TV-series tradition, a brief recap of 2021: I went back to taking piano lessons. End of recap. That's the only special thing that happened to me last year.

I forgot how demanding piano lessons could be. Enjoyable, yes, but having a teacher gives you this strong sense of accountability. Plus I'm paying for it, so to not practice is to waste hard-earned money.

Well it's not like I have to drag myself to study. The only challenge I'm facing is not having someone talk to about piano. Sure all my friends love music, from OPM to pop to classical (have yet to meet someone with a taste for budots, though); but I wish I have a fellow pianist to share experiences with — wins and frustrations.

There are online communities. Which I am a part of. Ah, I remember the days when I was so active at the universtity forum, I even attended "eyeballs". These are great, though it's hard to make a meaningful connection, especially if you can't regularly meet. But at least I have them.

Through piano-loving people from all over the world, I get to discover new music, learn things outside of my lessons, and have enough external motivation to keep me going.

One of the things we do is the weekly sight-reading challenge. The pieces are way above my level, but trying is what makes it fun. Connected to this, I've also gotten into the habit of recording myself, because I have no audience to speak of.

So let me slip this into your consciousness. My YouTube channel is currently seeing some action, since I'm dumping my practice videos there. Free cloud storage as they say.

No clue who'd be interested in viewing content that neither entertains nor educates. To be fair to me, I'll upload something decent, too. Like what I'm sharing here: Prelude Op 2 No 2 by Alexandar Scriabin, whose birthday is in January. It's a piece from the sight-reading challenge. I loved how it sounded, and it was rather easy in terms of the basics, so I gave it a bit more practice.

Here's to a year of continuous, however incremental, improvement, of beautiful music, and of having the pleasures of a thoughtful audience.

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