Online Journal 4: Analysis of Acosta’s ‘Walang Kalabaw sa Cubao’ ang Santos’
‘The God We Worship Live Next Door’.

Gaia Mauricio
7 min readNov 13, 2020

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Both poems have a more playful tone than the previous poems to me, mainly because the way they play with metaphors in their imagery is really entertaining and satisfying to interpret in more ways rather than just repeating what was clearly shown. It is this interpretation that also seems to hit hard once you get it, with the whiplash between the vastly different metaphor and its actual meaning within the poem leaving a lasting imprint in my head. The tones of both poems are quite different from each other, from what I could tell at first read, but they hold similar sentiments of depicting reality as it is and has always been under our noses. They differ in the way they conclude these observations, and that is where their use of metaphors really came forward as the defining factor of the poem that was hinting at the writer’s thoughts all along.

The first poem equated city life and its ills to the carabao as a metaphor. There are no carabaos in Cubao, just different scenes of stores and plastic and bright lights between dingy alleyways, as seen by the persona’s own eyes as someone who lives there as well. I, personally, had trouble pinpointing each location, because I’m not that good at geographical things and I always forget which malls I go to and what streets we drive by in cities. This made it more telling, perhaps, that the images still resonated with me despite not having a particular location in mind. I could still hear the muffled but loud crowds in the mall walking by and the children yelling on the carousel and the smell of a convenience store at the street corner. The bustling people are indeed surrounded by bright colors and live fast, but the poem makes sure to convey the monotony and even the boredom the people and places within the poem embody. To me, the places are constantly pictured as brightly lit and centers of development that burst with life and movement, yet the citizens described are dull or even miserable by comparison. They drone on by these laces and make them dingy just by describing what they’re there to do, like eating a small and seemingly tasteless convenience store meal. This comes to the metaphor of the carabao’s life with its fly parasites. The carabao, a hard-working animal that never stops plowing day in and day out to further the progress of its master and their livelihood, and the flies, a parasite that rely on the carabao’s life and movement. The flies toil and die quickly, leaving little to no impact to the rest of the world. They bustle around and do what they must just to survive, usually nothing more. The carabao, however, doesn’t really care. It keeps moving despite the flies living or dying around it.

Cubao, of course, isn’t really a carabao, nor are the people truly equal to flies. The same way the title says that there are no carabaos in Cubao, the city may work like one nonetheless, just without the same life imbued into it. It is mechanical and made of baby blue horses and concrete. The people may not be flies, but the way this place works has forced them to be reduced to something lesser than the place they live and work in. Their lives have been defined by concrete and they’re left with dull foods or even none at all. They’re described to be trapped within shadows of buildings and stuck between pillars of concrete, and that’s just life to them. It’s systematic and the natural order in this artificial place. While not all that explicit, it does strike me as a commentary on the working class and their struggles under capitalism, or just urban poverty in general, because of all this imagery and the bleak tone.

The second poem makes use of gods as a metaphor for ordinary people, specifically Filipinos as an image of the masses. Writing that down, I realize that comes off completely disconnected, since gods are magnificent and supernatural beings that are the definition of rulers above the ordinary masses of people. This, to me, is the entire point of the poem. The concept of gods and idols being unreachable and different from us in some incomprehensible way is deconstructed in the poem. It uses language that has a certain fantastical or mythological tone, with grand sweeping description of the fear we hold for these gods’ anger and how they die in golden caskets, yet it keeps constant reminders that these gods indeed live next door. The persona has also taken the position of observer among the people in the poem witnessing these gods sneeze into their sleeves the same way we all do easily as people from a warm country and with weaknesses and humanity. The most prominent message I picked up on came quicker than that of the last poem, it’s trying to say that we should appreciate and acknowledge the power and wonder of our everyday people: the workers, students, teachers, farmers, and the like. It is against the glorification of people that don’t even live among us to know how life goes on for us, ‘gods’ so to speak. It emphasizes the power ordinary people have, and how it is often forgotten by many. A bleak observation, but it’s ended in a semblance of hope in the youth. These gods next door, unlike the idolized ones, have raised junior gods of their own, and that’s enough for the persona to be hopeful for the future despite the unfortunate present due to an even more unfortunate past of our country.

I’m not really sure if this counts, but one particular symbolism that stuck with me the most in the first poem is the way the fourth stanzas last few lines mention the names of saints with reverence in capital letters, then immediately switch to the persona’s first person POV and yell obscenities and curse words. It just furthers the poem’s notion that this city’s development and urbanization, with all its bright lights and fast trains, is a front for what really goes on with its people and how they’ve come to live under the crushing cement of urban life and its ills. The second poem brought forth a more striking symbolism, to me, in its mention of junior gods as the youth and the hopeful connotation to go with it. Amidst a crowd that is still under a spell of idolizing the controlling ruling class without realizing the true power is amongst themselves and their fellow countrymen, there is still faith in the persona that the youth will grow out of this. It’s also a nice deviation from what most people do in antagonizing ordinary people for still being convinced by this illusion of power and their own sense of helplessness instilled form years of subjugation and colonial mentality. It’s not their fault, after all. To have faith and keep advocating is better than blaming, I think. Although, this last interpretation might be a bit of a stretch driven by personal experience, I’m not really sure.

The poems’ both seem to use their elements to elicit relatability between the readers’ and personas’ experiences. They are both, after all, set in the Philippine context and are targeted to Filipino readers. The first one, I think, means for them to fit in perfectly with themselves, They’re trying to paint a vivid image that everyone can see and relate to clearly, then juxtaposing it with another very familiar image to draw comparison. The sights and sounds and smells of the city are detailed to the point they elicited reactions from me, who as I’ve said doesn’t even remember much about these places in the first place. The juxtaposition to the carabao, another image we all know yet don’t associate with these city scenes, are purposefully set right next to each other to the point of whiplash as a mental reaction. It makes it more impactful as the reader connects the 2 seemingly night-and-day concepts. The second one seems to always present vastly contrasting elements in one breathe, like constant juxtaposition. It’s like it’s switching between it’s metaphorical setting of a grand myth and a regular old story from everyday life. It just draws more attention to how far the view of people goes to look for their gods to the point they lose sight of the magnificence of those around them.

The first is a wakeup call, or it aims to be one. By using such a whiplash of imagery, it achieves somewhat of a visceral reaction, which is a success in my book. It gives the feeling of a disillusioned city-goer finally taking a look around themselves and slowly coming to realize what they’ve really been doing all their life.

The second one is like a thought of hope and a reflection on times past. It acknowledges what’s around them, and makes note of how it came to be this way and how it might not stay this way forever. Like an old onlooker who has seen it all and has retained hope for what has yet to happen in the future. The last line refers to the youth as gods as well; they are powerful too, despite underestimation. It’s this small word choice that makes me feel like this poem gets the feeling and message across well.

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Gaia Mauricio

i’m just gonna use this to keep animating gifs for my pfp pls look away