A Poet Responds to an Ivory Bust

When Marian Pastor Roces posted her digital exhibit on social media in March, 2021, Marne Kilates, an award-winning Filipino poet based in Manila, wrote the following poem. 

Head of Francis Xavier

Surely your iris-less eyes are unable
To imagine us looking at you
In your vitrine case as you float impaled on a post.
Millennia have passed between us
Many celebrate the faith you and your fellow
Warrior missionaries have left us
Some are still in doubt (others don’t care).

But the handsome chiseled face of ivory captivates:
The delicate countenance framed by the curls
Of beard, the soft lips that have uttered
Perhaps only prayers and biblical verses
Present the unguarded with infinite mildness
Upturned to the Divine, to be adored
Or pleaded with in turn: What an artifact
Of our naïve faith, promising constant intercession.

Oh, we shall pray to you always, in altar
Or shrine or museum, out of pigtailed hands
In the Parian outside regulated Intramuros,
Unlicensed but invariably adorable,
Or Paete further south, a different set of chisels.
We shall weave legends of your travels,
Mapping the Spice Islands from Moluccas
to Mexico to Nueva Caceres, as you wove
The waterways of our archipelagoes,
Proselytizing when the revolution was brewing,

And perhaps even Rizal our hesitant hero
Lives there in your face. That is how
We make you our own.

—Marne Kilates
From an exhibit curated by Marian Pastor Roces

16 March 2021

Marne Kilates portraitMarne Kilates is an award-winning poet, translator, and editor. He has published six books of poetry and won the National Book Awards, Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, and the Southeast Asia Write or SEA WRITE Award given by the Thai royalty.

Read more about the Ivory Bust of St Francis Xavier
Visit the exhibit Provocative Beauty

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