31 December 2023

Poem 24


December walks in
its worn shoes, towards church doors
that open before
dawn, welcomed by the district
choir, brightening old hymns.

—Razel Estrella

30 November 2023

Poem 23

Talking to a stranger

She was lightning, quiet
quick, electric. The cunning
smile I practised
for years, she flashed
at me and with laughter cut

the distance
between a child missing
her two front teeth
and a lady who never knew
the harm in talking

to a stranger. Dried under
her nails were dirt
from sandcastles she built
and toyed with, loved
and ruined.

—Razel Estrella

31 October 2023

Poem 22


I walked into the shop
to buy a purse that fits
ten folded bills and coins
for the quick trip to church

and back. After combing
all the shelves to find none
that I liked, you walked in
plucking bottles like flowers

that soon laid on the register.
I watched you go back
to friends; stood frozen
on the aisle, unable to solicit

a name or muster a hi; left
with nothing in my basket,
in my hand: not what I wanted,
not what I found.

—Razel Estrella

30 September 2023

Poem 21

Waiting is what happens

when you tick every box on the list
but the ones outside the page;

when mixing flour and water is chore
and dough takes a while to bake;

the dream car on a wrong turn,
you carry on with the chase;

a table full of feast and cheers
it disappears like a sick child's appetite;

Waiting arrives as soon as you catch light,
and instead of star, hold stone in your hand.

—Razel Estrella

13 August 2023

Poetry prompt: Write in another's rhymes

Jack Tells Jill

Kill your thoughts up the hill,
see the empty skies, saltwater.
Drown in rapture at the crown,
sing new songs of ever-after.

Upbeat air inspires a trot,
tempts you to a flirty caper.
Bedtime? It's out of your head,
now as pure as blank paper.

—RE, 13 August 2023

This week's poetry prompt: Rather obvious? It's fun, though. To take the rhymes off a popular poem and then use them to create a different poem. Give it a go.

Draft 2 (5 October 2023)

Well it's been a while. The main prompt was a quick exercise on replacing rhyming words. For the revision, my goal was to create something a bit more conrete. Add sense to the sound. Also, I got rid of the lines I hated ("drown in rapture" ; "sing new songs of ever-after" ; "as pure as blank paper") but used just to meet the requirements and deadline.

Jack Tells Jill

Kill those doubts up the hill,
see the empty skies, saltwater.
Winds will push you down,
     Push back till you reach the crown,
Crack a world open with laughter.

Should those sunburnt legs fail to trot
And fumble like your brother's,
Lie a while on the green land
     As if it were last night's bed.
Rise up with fellow dreamers.

—RE October 2023

02 August 2023

Poem 20 (Poetry prompt: Thematic unity)

The second poem that I'm writing for my online poetry course will be workshopped. This post will document the evolution of the poem from its first to its final draft.

Disclosure: What you see below, which is what I have also submitted, is not exactly the first draft. What constitutes a first draft anyway?

To give you an idea, this poem had undergone a major revision in prosody pre-submission. It went from having paragraph-like stanzas (lines grouped per image or idea), to this now musically focused line-cutting.

Draft 1


Write your name on top
of your beloved's,
strike the common letters,

count the odd ones out,
and you're left with a number
that tells your future

together or apart.
Matthew and Anna
were meant to be

Enemies. So I tweaked the rules,
wrote full names and nicknames,
till the game declared

Marriage. Twenty years
since high school I lay in bed
alone, playing

with my phone:
Swipe left for the Oh-Nos,
Swipe right for the Why-Nots.

How to outsmart the algorithm
to make it make matches
that catch a flame?

I may not win again or ever,
but I carry on dreaming
new ways of miscalculating fate.

—RE, 2 August 2023

Update (30 September 2023):

I am pretty happy with the draft and so I am labelling this as Poem 20. In fact I kind of knew that I won't budge on this one as soon as I hit submit. Like I said in the intro, this has already undergone several revisions.

I will be editing this poem draft instead for the poetry course. It's a fun verse to write, but lame. Will do my best to un-lame it.

29 July 2023

Poem 19

The Cup

An object that cannot speak
is spoken for
by the collector.

Each night before sleep
he wipes the glass shelf that keeps
the old cup safe.

Each morning he does the same.
Today he takes the treasure out
of cage to fix the paint

now faded since
the year he glued together
its body and handle, pieces

found at a shop owned by another
collector, who shared the story
of how her grandmother

found the broken vessel
at a neighbor's house
where no one lived.

The collector tells his visitor
what he was told and all he learned
about the relic, repainting

history as if heard
for the first time by himself,
from how it must've been made

to how it must outlive
his own hands, which evey gesture
is in service of the cup:

soft cloth under the foot;
white light warmed, air cooled;
a final polish on the lip.

A subject that cannot speak
is spoken for
until it is itself no more.

—Razel Estrella

28 July 2023

Poetry prompt: The concrete of abstract

The Arms of Rage

Swung without warning
Rested on no resolution
Reached for the starry night
When they once cradled a child

—RE, 20 July 2023

Am taking a free poetry course online and this is one of their writing prompts. Basically create a title with the formula: The [Concrete Noun] of [Abrstract Noun], then write a poem based on it. It's a lesson on image, symbol and abstraction.

20 July 2023

If my parents died, I would be stressed out by the inconveniences. Another part of me would feel relief.

But a stronger thought I have is that I might die first and they'd call me stupid for not taking care of myself.

03 July 2023


Someone said (from a rather privileged viewpoint) that if you look back, you'll realize that you've already achieved many of the things you used to dream of.

There was a time when I thought I'd never play a piece as I intended. Beginner piano students know this. Even the shortest, simplest exercise seems difficult to master.

I came here right after posting my 50th practice video. That means I've already played 50 pieces to my satisfaction, since I won't share anything that's not up to my standards.

We become good at what we practice. Recording myself — another advice given by another now-forgotten stranger — works well for me since I've yet to find a music community nearby (hello unfulfilled dream).

The camera serves as a stand-in for an audience and as a second teacher, giving me a sense of accountability, encouraging me to see things through.

30 June 2023

Incubation, revision

Curriculum Vitae

The city is a sickle that cuts
the throat. The dawn a nascent wound,
the dusk a bruise.

Stars are knives, rain washes crime.
The moon a medicine that goldens
pain. This is my living: inventing

the limits of this page.

—Razel Estrella

Went through my old (read a decade++) drafts. There are poems I've written in graduate school that I still hang onto with the promise that I'd take them to the finish line.

The poem above is an example. I submitted it in a small workshop, but I can't remember the panel and the participants' feedback anymore; except that they loved the music in the opening line.

I got stuck subverting the sky cliches. Last night things clicked and now I'm letting this poem go [in Marianne Moore font].

24 June 2023

New old skin

I'm making a Steve Jobs Zuckerberg billionaire tech people move. I'll stop worrying about the facade (the way they don't worry about their physical appearance and clothes) to focus on my work.

Let me explain. I am not ignoring how I look, no, I am not above that. Nor will I dismiss aesthetics, which, if you know me, is top priority.

So what is this contradiction I speak of.

As you can see, my blog theme takes you back to the early 2000s. That's because I don't want to bother anymore with slaving over the tiniest detail. It had been a source of pride and excitement for me, but now I am more excited about actual blogging. This straightforward text-oriented theme fulfills my current need.

Who knows, mayble I'll have the itch to tinker with the design sooner than I expected; but for now I aim to also bring back that new-millennium carefree spirit online by having one less thing to unproductively obsess about.

Previous blog design

31 May 2023

Poem 18

The Great Aunt

All these worn out faces
at my nephew's birthday party.
I can't stop looking at you.

In the mix are toys, magic,
small shoes and big, wrinkles,
sheen on flesh, wrappers
and you: someone familiar
and too fragile to put a finger on.

I feel sorry that you are old
in a room trembling from the blast
of seven-year-olds frisking about.

'Til memory waves a wand:
You took my cousins and me
to our first concert.
We were eleven,
you were invincible.

While it wasn't the last night
I saw you, it was the last time
you were real in my eyes.

Like plump balloons, who knows
if we are floating or losing
air once out of reach. The trick,
how clever, is your hollowness
isn't yours but mine.

—Razel Estrella

29 April 2023

Poem 17


A happy ending
is a story abandoned
at the right time.


In a castle where everyone knows their place,
the mouse is happiest.


Trade fins for feet
for a faster trip
to the funeral.


How long she guarded
her porcelain heart.
How quick it broke
at the lion's touch.


Beauty counsels: Put your mask on
and never take it off.

—Razel Estrella

31 March 2023

To care and not

So ryokans. Trainee explained to me that in this traditional Japanese hotel, guests are taken care of from arrival to departure, and every minute in between.

The bed will be rolled out at the proper time, he said.

Very different from my experiences and expectations at hotels, where I would simply show up and do whatever I want. Starting with throwing myself in the bed.

It's an eyebrow-raising way of caring, and yet it totally makes sense. Some strange days I crave that kind of caging. Let others think for me so I can shut my brain off — at least the part of it that worries too much, even about things like how to really have fun.

Somehow I already do it in the smallest of chunks, when I go to the hairdresser's and the nail salon to tell the beauty technicians, Ikaw na bahala (I trust you). Then I disappear in the moment without forcing myself to.

Maybe I should extend the practice. Submit all control and allow things to happen to me. Trust is a special kind of high.

30 March 2023

Poem 16


Long ago a child of five
walked towards me.
She didn't look hungry.
Rather her eyes
betrayed an appetite
for something that the over-priced
café had failed to offer:

a chance to ask
how vast a world
divides the two of us,
she in her innocence,
me in my negligence to want
what I earned;

or to make a playground
where we assign new roles
to dining objects over-used.

The encounter was real, though
details were subject to change.
She could've been wearing white
while I might've been lying
about being alone.

My habits live on,
like going out mid-morning
to relish a dry town.
Deep into the sky silence,
she visits
as she were — always five,
taking a seat
without permission
at a table inside my mind.

I wish I was the same ghost to her,
alive in a whisper and fits
into crannies none can feel
nor understand, not at all
a filler but a fullness
briefly possessed.

—Razel Estrella

27 February 2023

Poem 15

The Missing Day

How curious must it be
that down the endless
reach of time
one was born on the 29th
of February.

What day in this year
will they call Mine?

Peeling the month off
the calendar reveals
My special day: on the 10th
of March, (dear me!)
I turn 40.

May I please lose my birthday, too?
Not for reasons of youth
nor of desire to reverse
the phenomenon of my being here.

Rather to spend the weekend
in peace, free of countdowns
and counting blessings,
meanwhile filling in the invisible
debit column.

Be rid of history's toy
shackles. How lovely
must it be to measure a life
no more.

—Razel Estrella

31 January 2023

Poem 14


However meager
I was eager to earn
and spend money
on objects that fill
an emptiness.
A table for the sun
to drop light on.

Last night we talked
about legacies.
Leaving a good name,
so the children
who'll inherit
this funny earth
would know whom to adore.

I said why care
about what people say.
It's none of my business
to love the living
when I'm dead.
You filled the room
with laughter

and derision.
I almost quit
when our shouting matches
no longer gave the thrill
of winning,
that I might as well play
tennis with a wall.

But we've held on
to each other for years.
You putting concrete on dreams,
me disappearing into my own,
hugging the clichéd cup
of coffee with my palms,
at the table

I bought with my first paycheck.
Birds sing unseen
from where I sit.
From an office building
You are thinking of me.
A loveliness achieved
through a life's work.

—Razel Estrella

18 January 2023

The bookstore

A co-trainer once talked about losing her appetite for books — They don't hold the same magic for me anymore — which I thought was sad, if unimaginable. The opposite of death is desire, after all.

Somewhere between that conversation and a point in time I cannot locate, I, too, had a cooling off with books.

A feeling of betrayal grows. Like turning your back on someone who has given you so much. Even though these books owe me nothing.

Then you miss the self who glows at the sight of a rare copy, and being the first to read a new title.

We are allowed to change. Cut the cords of passion. It is the books themselves, though, that continue to assert their worth.

Bookstores have dwindled in number, and in those few standing, the actual book shelves have become fewer.

Meanwhile, I, force of habit, enter one whenever I'm nearby. There are still authors and series that I look for, though gone is the urgency to buy. To own and be possessive.

A couple of years back I made a conscious effort to read (at least) a book a month. Because we are what we practice (and what we pretend to be), and I want to be a life-long reader.

My collection's complete

Last year the fiction and poetry have been heavily replaced by music notations. I also want to be a life-long piano player, an ambition rekindled (as much as I hate to admit it) during the pandemic.

I am happy to be reading with thoughtfulness, proud that I make sacrifices to carve out hours for this discipline. Incidentally my excitement towards book-hunting returns. It started when I found two old editions ofMikrokosmos after visiting several stores.

Later on I ordered the missing volumes from a local music shop. They were only able to supply me with another two volumes, though both were brand new and from a good publisher.

My fantasy of owning the entire Béla Bartók collection came to fruition three days ago. I tagged along with my sister to a faraway mall in the North. There at the bookstore that shall not be named, I saw a single copy of Volume III, and then picked the least damaged copy of Volume V.

The trip felt familiar. Hope, giving up, managing expectations, digging through piles of paper, hunching over, squatting, efficient sales staff, ignorant sales staff.

Why not just go online-shopping?

Walking to and around a store and being heart-broken (at worst) gives me a rush; waiting for delivery to arrive stresses me out. So do the greater hassles of exchanges and returns.

More importatnly, I need to see if it fits. I need to touch it. Weigh it. Ensure a damage-free product. Ponder how much imperfection I am willing to embrace. What else? For me online shopping — call me conventional — is just less magical.

10 January 2023

The corner rack

When I mentioned my love for cooking to a trainee, he asked for advice: How can I fall in love with cooking?

Before we begin: I am no foodie. Neither am I adventurous, perhaps not even as open-minded about food as I wanted to be. The reason I got into the habit of cooking daily is I wanted to eat what I like, how I like it, and when I like it. As the proverb goes, "If you want good service, serve yourself."

I am no good cook. No way for me to tell, since I don't cook for others. My niece likes my pancake and sunny side up, while my sister eats my saucepan-boiled brown rice without complaint (nor praise). Those are the only feedback I receive.

My motivation has always been beauty, and that's how I framed my method to my trainee. Maybe start buying quality kitchen tools. Those that look and work so well they almost beg to be touched.

Marketing has become its own artform nowadays, and this post by Kinto summarizes what I've been trying to say:

A kitchen you want to spend time in⁠

Fill your kitchen with things that you love, one plate, one mug, one canister at a time. ⁠ ⁠

And voila, cooking becomes a pastime, not a chore.⁠

Thing is — and because it all seems a fairy tale (gather nice things, feel nice) — knowing what we love takes time. Your first pan is your test pan. You will eventually want to upgrade. How do people stay married with the same person their whole lives? Upon further reflection, I do continue to use the first and only set of dinner plates I bought for myself. Looking around, yes, a lot of things have stayed with me.

Because of financial limitations I learn to love objects for what they are, and when they are. The wine glasses, no matter how careful I am, will break. That said, I won't drink Merlot in a ceramic mug.

It goes without saying that the kitchenette is my favorite and therefore the busiest area in my apartment. And within that space, the corner where everyday ingredients are — spices, soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, coffee, pasta, dietary supplements — is a sight to behold.

I don't own any paintings. Chalk it up to my ignorance. I am not equipped to appreciate them. But every day, my eyes are drawn to and are satiated by that corner rack. How it fits in the puzzle that is my home. It's my real-life still life. Except nothing about it is still. Each day it is new. The bottles are moved ever so slightly from yesterday's meal prep. The paper coffee filters, from a thick block of white is now thinning, and will soon need replacing. So does the jar of curry powder.

My trainee also mentioned how cook books and cooking shows deceive him. The 15-minute breakfast is in fact 40 minutes, and that excludes cleaning up — the task that all cooking fairy tales leave out.

Do my pretty plates make washing them a pleasure? No. Instead I've developed an acceptance towards these menial tasks. They keep me upright. My body moving. What do I save time and energy for anyway? Sometimes we're not aware that we are already living our dreams, because we fail to account for everything else. My ambition is to live in a beautiful space. This is a beautiful space, and keeping it so constitutes living.

The letter box

As soon as she read the inscription, my editor dropped the card in the bin. I was shocked by the act and nonchalance. How could a hand-written note be discarded without thought.

I expressed my horror, to which she replied with her own amused, What's wrong? Causing me to blurt out, Do you also throw away mine? Not our exact words, though, as this happened years ago.

What I remember and know for sure is that she is one of the most loving and loyal friends I have, despite her ruthless attitude towards Christmas cards.

I'm just slower than everybody else.

Discarding letters is something I forced myself to do when I moved to my own place. I held on for so long to long letters in yellow pads enclosed with photos from pen pals who remained strangers, to doodles from high school friends who turned into strangers, to my first love letter from a secret admirer.

That was a lot of paper. Private. I was beginning to see the wisdom of my editor. The more these sentimental objects linger, the more they accumulate, the harder they are to destroy. Do I burn them? Is burnt photo paper toxic waste? Should I buy a shredder? How much is a shredder?

Why do I hold on to them, anyway? It's not like I'm in the habit of rereading or making a conversation piece out of them. This genre of documentation seems like a cousin of FOMO. A fear of losing beautiful memories.

Last weekend I had to exorcise a box-full of letters again. For a different reason. Nowadays I'm more discriminating with what I keep. Whereas previously I wanted to exercise being free of the past, no matter how happy it was, and in more practical terms, to live in a clutter-free home; now it's about cutting ties.

Sorting through my smaller letter box brought the right kind of surprise.

Apparently I was exchanging letters with a former crush who moved to Japan. In my memory the whole affair was one-sided. But if these stamped envelopes and postcards were any proof, somehow we had an intimate connection.

I also realized that it's clever to have writer friends. Theirs are the letters I should memorialize. I like words; they are good at it. Oh the many eloquent, convincing ways I'm told I'm amazing!

Then the genuine emotions. There is sincerity in length, a pouring out of unfiltered feelings. There is kindness in brevity, sparing both giver and receiver the burden of feelings, which, for the moment, is best carried by white space.

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