Review: Galing Cine Cafe

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by Christopher J. Francisco

Nestor De Guzman’s Galing Cine Café, a collection of gay poems, gives us a peek into what it is like to be part of the “other” in a country where the minority is “unspeakable, perverse, and repressed.” De Guzman’s first book of poetry does not say anything new about homosexuality. His aesthetics are neither groundbreaking nor spectacular, but he makes up for it with his sincerity and intentions.

The title poem, “Galing Cine Café,” sets the mood and general theme of the collection—the ‘other’ enters several interactions and relationships, only to go home alone. In “Galing Cine Café,” the persona resorts to food to ease the hunger from another fruitless “rampa.” As the poems in the collection progress, this “hunger” becomes more intense and raw.

In “Pa-Birthday,” however, it is the persona who decides to choose loneliness over companionship, a love presented through a bountiful feast—at a price. De Guzman shows there is more to relationships than just give and take. He ends with an assurance: Gayunman, ang sarili/na nabawi ko/ ay hindi ipagpapalit/ sa kahit sampung pa-birthday.

The persona, however, is not always given the choice, as the case with “Sumbat,” “Kuwarenta Anyos,” and “Sugal.” “Sugal,” for instance, narrates a story of the stereotypical homosexual—the homosexual as the straight male’s last resort, giving his ‘love’ in exchange for the gay man’s “favors.” At times, however, these feelings are not even reciprocated, as in “Sumbat”: Nabiro ko isang araw:/ ‘Ako naman i-treat mo, /kahit sa Jollibee.’/ Di siya kumibo at mula noon/ di na nagpakita, ni tumawag.”

While De Guzman’s poetry shows us what is already known and does not tell it any differently, his poems manage to sting—a sting that will not go away. His poems contain a truth everyone wants to avoid but will have to face sooner or later, something we tolerate but do not understand. “Sa Pelikula ni Brocka” describes this alienation, the gay man’s longing to be understood and loved: Napahagulgol si Soxy./ Isa-isa siyang niyakap/ ng mga kasama,/ Di nila ako matingnan. De Guzman presents their reality, one not only defined by blue cafés, sleazy movie houses, and dark street corners, but also of sadness, loneliness, and prejudice.

Galing Cine Café is another welcome addition to the Philippine gay literature. The prejudice and alienation will not end—at least not yet—and as long as these injustices prevail, one can only expect more from this sub-genre in the years to come. De Guzman offers an explanation in “Pinagmulan,” a translation of C.P. Cavafy’s “Their Beginning”: Sa kalsada habang naglalakad,/ pakiramdam nila may nakatingin sa kanila,/ alam kung saan sila galing,/ kung ano ang kanilang ginawa./ Pero dito yumaman/ ang karanasan ng manunulat./ Bukas-makalawa, ilang taon mula ngayon,/ may isusulat siyang ito ang simula.

Newsbreak, January 30, 2006, 37