Ella doesn’t live here

Cinderella by Franz von Stuck (1899)

“Ella doesn’t live here anymore.” The old lady said. It’s not like I expected to see her. But the moment I knocked on that door, I felt a lump of stone in my chest. I asked anyway. Old habits were hard to break. Even after 10 years.

I’m sorry, I said. I asked if she left anything. Then I mumbled about time and lost objects. In hindsight, I was asking to be shooed away like a stray cat. Unbidden visitors are strange, yet there I was.

Of course I knew. Everyone in town knew. She went missing one day. Last they heard, she went for a run around the boulevard. Police never found her. Her family and friends searched for months. No crime scene, no body. Nothing. In my mind she left to travel forever. That’s what I’d rather believe.

“She left many things. I’ve put them away,” the old lady said. But from a narrow gap, she opened the door wider. She gestured for me to enter. It took me a while to gather myself.

And there she was. Her portrait on the white wall. My gift to Ella was my last memory of her. How images persist while people fade.


Meeting in the Quarantine

Dear friend,

I ran so many scenarios in my head 
when I met you again. 
I knew you sought me out. I was found. 

How, at once, we are now closer 
and further away from each other.

I apologize for not reaching out. 
Though I know you know
despite long nights of silence,
I was always by your side.

I cannot explain why I chose this solitude. 
It was the only constant thing in my life 
long before this dreadful pandemic.

But please, know this: In my absence, 
I did not love you less. 

Sometimes I have the urge to speak 
but my words fail. I mask the longing 
by trying to do what’s right. I hold 
my breath and count to five.
When it’s quiet enough, 
I hear your sighs.

For many reasons, it will ruin us. 
I do not know how and I’d rather not. 
Yet, it is hard to know you must leave.

The truth is, I cherish every day I wake 
to find you there. I’d gladly remain distant 
if our invisible ties will never sever.

If today is all we’ll have, now is enough 
to feel this joy. Though I wish 
I could hold your hand and unwaste 
the old privilege of a long embrace. 
Relearn what’s at the end of a kiss. 
If I could run my fingers 
through your hair like the last time 
the universe conspired—

But tonight, I am glad 
you are here.
I look into your eyes 
and breathe again.

letters writing life

Letter, 4021

Dear Scientist,

I hope this finds you well. Where I come from, a pandemic has wiped out more than two million people all over the world (and counting). The Chinese government has not taken responsibility for this tragedy, more contagious strains are spreading, and people everywhere are anxious about the future. Deep down, we know the world will never be the same. And as luck would have it, our own government is using the virus as a smokescreen to control and silence the masses.

The economy is in shambles, yet the ultra-rich continue to profit. I cannot stress how glaring the disparity has been. It’s as if solutions are only worth pursuing if it has profitable terms. Never mind saving millions of people, they say. The idea: self-preservation, a practical greed. Then again, protecting human life is a tall order when your own leaders sanction state murders. I cannot further elaborate how exhausted and frustrated we are. It is paralyzing. Helpless. All these happening within less than a year.

How is your world now? I imagine you’ve developed vaccines to prevent this from occurring again. Perhaps you’ve successfully vaccinated over 80 percent of the world’s population. I’d hate to think anti-vaxxers still exist in your century. I find it hard to believe they’d survive. But I guess stupidity transcends death. More than that, I loathe organized propaganda against access to quality education. Imagine spending billions to keep societies in the dark. No wonder many are burdened with distrust. They manipulate people and lead them to their demise. I do not know where to place my anger anymore.

How is your world now? I imagine you’ve developed vaccines to prevent this from occurring again. Perhaps you’ve successfully vaccinated over 80 percent of the world’s population. I’d hate to think anti-vaxxers still exist in your century. I find it hard to believe they’d survive. But I guess stupidity transcends death. More than that, I loathe organized propaganda against access to quality education. Imagine spending billions to keep societies in the dark. No wonder many are burdened with distrust. They manipulate people and lead them to their demise. I do not know where to place my anger anymore.

The truth is, I’m afraid for the future. Scientists have cautioned we should brace ourselves for new viruses. The arctic is melting and it’s releasing all kinds of unknown microbes. And as cities keep encroaching on forests, contact with animals is inevitable. A global pandemic will certainly happen again. So I wonder. How has your time fared? I believe you have more problems by now.

Have you found the cure for cancer? I wonder if the Amazon forest is still around. I’d be sad to hear about the extinction of trees and the number of species that have died out. Do we have enough clean water for everyone? More importantly, is the Earth still alive? I’d like to think an asteroid has not collided with our planet. If not, has it turned into a graveyard of filth? I hope not. Right now, we still have five billion years before the Sun begins to die. But I gather you do not have the luxury of time.

Is it true that humans can live up to 500 years? I don’t get this obsession with longevity. There must be something wrong with not accepting you will die. But I will admit, I think it’s cool if humans can have robotic parts and enhancements. Speaking of robots, have androids started organizing against humans? Or are they as subservient as ever? What kind of wars that might bring. I guess you’re facing a whole new level of social issues. Right now, I don’t see racism ever going away.

By then, I imagine human colonies have occupied the moon and Mars. Perhaps other distant galaxies. Maybe you’d forge alliances with aliens? Provided they actually bother communicating with you. Sadly, I think only the ultra rich will survive long enough to thrive in other planets. Along with their servants. I wonder what the future would mean for most of us, without that kind of privilege.

In any case, I hope this finds you well. I hope you are way better. I’d like to think the world would be wiser. That you’ve learned from the past. Right now, I really don’t think so. I hope I’m proven wrong.

A reminder,


**I wrote this for a #WriteNight event, with the theme Letters to the Future. Edited it a bit. It’s hard for me to think about the near future. So I wrote a letter to be read 2,000 years later. It’s also comforting to know I won’t be alive by then.

To join the #WriteNight writing community and take part in writing events, you may check out our Discord server. See you there!


We live in a city

Street in Venice, John Singer Sargent (1880)

We live in a city punctuated by contradictions: From the lush courtyards and gardens of palace estates, to roads that inevitably take us to cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways. People thrive wherever they can, wherever that may be. Like my friend who has settled in a small flat behind the plaza near the Basilica. Lately I find myself visiting her there. But we rarely stay in. She’d rather take walks to affluent spaces that makes her feel free.


Spent from centuries

Homesickness, René Magritte (1940)

Spent from centuries of flight, he finally lets down his singed wings, takes a glimpse of what the world has become. With the light of Leo guarding his side, he was almost immune to the ravages of fire. One cannot help but turn black. Deep parts of him reduced to cinders with every waking loss: How love dies in our well-meaning hands. Of where to return after the ruin. That day, the sunrise burnt his eyes, just as the fires engulfed every city in the great fall.


There were days

Artwork Title: Flowers on the Windowsill - Artist Name: Carl Larsson
Flowers on the Windowsill, Carl Larsson (1900)

There were days she could not get herself to look beyond the windowsill. Weeks and months have passed, she found no reason to reach out. Save for the rays of sunlight, she preferred to wall herself in. To build her world, she cultivated plants and flowers from abandoned lots. Took items people decided to throw away. She thinks, there must be a place for all those left behind. Still the quiet care despite the refuse of neglect.

writing life


Around three years ago, after almost six years in graduate school, I defended my master’s thesis in poetry. Out of everything I tried to process that day about craft and the creative process, one comment particularly struck me. My panelist, Dr. Isabela Banzon, remarked: “You just want to be loved.” This was after commenting on several poems with themes about relationships and struggling to find a sense of belonging.

It was a strange thing to hear during a thesis defense. Of course, it felt like an overreading, a kind of subtle accusation. But I guess as readers, we can’t help but project how we feel about creative work. And these ideas are inevitably anchored back to the author, even when they’re dead. Anyway, I wondered exactly what she meant.

Fast forward to 2020, after more than seven months in quarantine (with brief occasional trips to appreciate the world outside), I had a lot of time to think about what it means to be loved. Not by how others define it, but what exactly I was expecting. While we have this grand idea of love and how we want to be loved, often, we only know what we want out of a relationship when we’re in it. Or, experience wise, when it’s no longer there. I haven’t really pondered on the difference then.

I revisited the films Lost in Translation (2004) by Sofia Coppola and Her (2013) by Spike Jonze. A couple of reviews mentioned Her was Jonze’s response to Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Sources say Coppola wrote and directed the film around the time she divorced Jonze. These types of cinema seem to expand on real life, not merely mirror them. In many ways, they strike me as an alternative expression of what people have been through, and how they tried to make sense of disconnection and feeling lost.

Image for post
Lost in Translation (2004)

Lost in Translation shows the main character Charlotte (Scarlette Johansson) feeling alienated by her husband. She tags along his photography projects where they end up staying for weeks in Japan. Many scenes show she’s mostly alone in the hotel while her husband goes on photoshoots. The culture shock further heightens her estrangement. One of the opening scenes dramatize how she tries to call a friend to talk about her predicament. But the person on the other line just asks her to hold. When she does get a chance to converse through the static, she’s met with innocent indifference. We sense the frustration of being misunderstood, with the character feeling lost and invisible. When Bill Murray’s character arrives, she has an honest conversation for the first time.

Her (2013)

In Her, Theodore’s character is depressed and heart-broken over his divorce. It’s apparent he hasn’t gotten over his ex-wife. Throughout the film, we realize why his marriage eventually fell apart. Theodore wasn’t emotionally present in the relationship. He had this idealization of what their marriage should be, but he didn’t share the emotional load of carrying one. In contrast, when he fell in love with an AI named Samantha (also the voice of Scarlette Johansson), Theodore had to rediscover what it meant to connect on an emotional level. Samantha’s lack of body simply demanded a higher, more focused form of expression. Though the relationship is doomed (as the AI seeks a higher world beyond the physical human plane), Theodore comes to an epiphany. He does two things: He accepts reality and lovingly says goodbye to Samantha. Then, he writes a letter of apology to his ex-wife. Finally acknowledging what he’s been trying to avoid all along.

(Of course, these are just simplifications I fixated on. I’m sure both films had much richer messages. I’ll leave that to other audiences and critics).

Watching these films again made me realize the importance of being seen. The part where someone truly understands. What we seek in a relationship is so much more than a person committed to obligation. Though, of course, the commitment is still important. But beyond this, we wish for our person to genuinely make an effort to reach us. Not because they have to, but because they desire to. Are you with me? You’ve seen my message, read my words. But did you understand?

We hope that after several years, they still care about us, without presuming they know everything there is to know. After all, we all change. I guess a huge part of a relationship is growing together. Now, the question remains to be seen: whether you grow together or apart.

Perhaps when Dr. Banzon called it, she sensed this feeling of disconnection in my poems. Someone who wants to be heard. Being understood is perhaps one way we know we are loved. And despite years of wanting to disappear, writing is how I try to be seen.

love poems spanish poems

Oda Muda

Cuando te vi viniendo, me marche
para pararme mismo de decirlo tu nombre.
Entonces me di cuenta, despues de todos,
de esto que ha estado como estaba: yo, rechazando
hablar ni una palabra. Yo segui simulando
para evitar que esto termine.

Desde que he sido olvidado, he vuelto
a menudo a esta pensamiento: ocultar
la verdad no puede consolar a los angustiados.
Justo a la vez que desapareciste tu, dentro
de mi estabaste hecho. Lo que no se ha dicho
nunca se puede perder: una mano a tu pecho,
pulseras, una pantalla estatica, el sendero
hecho por un rio secando, casas quemadas
en una tormenta, tu libro favorito.
Yo, algun dia, te lo devolviendo.

“Mute Ode” translation by Ralph Fonte

love poems tagalog poems

Odang Umíd

Nang makita kitang lumalapit naglakad ako palayo
at nagpigil na iusal ang iyong pangalan.
Noon ko lang nalaman, na pagkatapos ng lahat ng ito,
ay wala pa ring nagbabago: ako, na umiiwas
sa pag-imik. Nagtuloy ako sa pagpapanggap
upang hindi muna ito magwakas.

Mula ng ako’y nilimot, madalas ko nang
balikan itong hinagap: ang pagkimkim
sa katotohanan ay hindi lubag sa bagabag.
Kahit sa iyong paglalaho, sa loob ko
ika’y nahubog. Hindi kailanman mawawala
ang mga hindi nabigkas: kamay sa dibdib mo,
mga pulseras, estatikong tabing, landas
na lumatag sa natutuyong ilog, mga tahanang natupok
sa gitna ng bagyo, ang paborito mong libro.
At ako, balang araw, nagsasauli sa iyo.

Tulang “Mute Ode” sa salin ni Ralph Fonte

love poems

Mute Ode

When I saw you coming I walked away
stopping myself from saying your name.
Then I realized, after all this time,
that it had been as it was: me refusing
to say a word. I went on pretending
so I could keep this from ending.

Since I’ve been forgotten, I often
returned to this thought: Holding back
the truth cannot comfort the distraught.
Even as you vanished, inside me
you were wrought. The unsaid
can never be lost: a hand on your chest,
wristbands, a static screen, the path
made by a river drying, burnt homes
in a storm, your favorite book.
Me one day returning it.

After Dean Young


I wrote Mute Ode in 2017 after concluding one of the longest relationships I have ever had. I was inspired after reading one of my favorite love poems (or more like lost love) by Dean Young called Ash Ode. My poem is an ekphrasis, and sadly, I feel it pales in comparison to the source of my inspiration. But in any case, as for remaining true to what I wished to articulate, I think writing an ekphrasis certainly helped me express what I needed to say.

This year, a good friend of mine was kind enough to translate Mute Ode into Tagalog and Spanish. You can read his beautiful translations here, just click the following links.

Mute Ode translations by Ralph Fonte:

Tagalog – Odang Umid

Spanish – Oda Muda