“An Animal’s Prayer.” A really simple title to a really short poem. But its brevity – it’s only four verses, roughly a mere 20 words all together, if that – is what makes it a gem, as far as I’m concerned.
I love the poverty of the words delivering the emotional punch straight to the heart. It made me cry inside when I first memorized it as a child. Still wounds me deep inside as I re-learn the words.
Please do not whip me when my poor body grows weary,
(Dinak kadi sapliten no siak ti agkapuyen,)
Because there is also a limit to my strength and endurance
(Ta adda met patingga ti kired ko ken pigsa,)
Give me, I pray, food to eat and enough water to drink,
Ipa-ayannak kadi iti kanen ken umanay nga inumen,)
And when my strength ebbs away, I ask that you give me rest.
(Ket no pigsak ti kumna, ikkannak kadi ti inana.)
The original poem penned by someone named Maximo Santos, a former school teacher who later became a school district supervisor, was written in Ilocano, my Filipino dialect. The English translation is mine.
The animal specifically referred to in the poem is the carabao or water buffalo, a draft animal widely used by farmers in the Philippines. But with the advent of mechanized farming, I understand the carabao – used by farmers for plowing, harrowing, pulling carts with heavy loads that sometimes go by the tons – is now being pushed to extinction. According to available data from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, the carabao population has been dropping steadily in the country, from 2.95 million in 1988 down to 2.48 million by 1992, with the trend continuing to the present.
The simple poem is part of my personal anthology of childhood vignettes, limericks, poems, and short biographical sketches that I’ve been collecting for a number of years just for my personal perusal. I try to remember them, or simply scan them whenever I need to be entertained or inspired.
One inspirational story that I remember so well I don’t even need to look it up in my notebook was an incident that took place in an elementary school yard during recess. One student who was a member of a quite affluent family was enjoying a delicious snack. Not too far from where he was eating was another student whose family was quite hard up his parents could not afford to give him money for snacks at recess time. With hungry eyes, he watched as the rich classmate made dramatic sounds and facial expressions to make him jealous. Unbeknownst to them, their teacher saw all this happen. Soon, the teacher was standing next to the rich kid, instructing him to share his food with his hungry classmate while gently but firmly reminding him to practice charity at all times especially to those who are less fortunate, because you never know when situations are reversed as they often do in life, she explained. The rich kid dutifully complied and shared his food with his classmate.
Then there was the almost surreal happening one early evening when my father determined the weather was perfect for fishing in the river. My father was a teacher and school principal, but he had many other life-skills and hobbies that he thoroughly enjoyed like farming, gardening, writing, drawing, and fishing, among other things.
Dad was raring to go. But mom was adamantly opposed. Why? Because Dad sneezed three times while he was getting ready to leave. Dad, the pragmatist, obviously dismissed Mom’s fears as simple superstition because he was soon on his way to the river which was just a stone’s throw away from the house. For mom, of course, it was more a gut feeling than a superstitious belief.
That night, gut feeling – superstition, maybe, to a certain extent – won over pragmatism. In a short while, a disappointed and disgusted Dad was back at home with his fish nets all torn out. Apparently, the nets got snagged in some underwater rocks and got ripped off. “I told you so,” were my Mom’s only words to my quiet and subdued Dad.
There are many more such stories from my childhood in my collection. Many of them revolve around my Mom. I think of them now because Sunday is Mother’s Day. The teacher in the recess vignette above was my Mom. She used to tell us that story to remind us that we should always be charitable to everyone, even to those who may have done us wrong or who may have hurt us.
“The Animal’s Prayer” was a poem she learned from her former elementary school teacher who went on to become school district supervisor. Later on, she taught that poem to us, her children. As I started to write this column, I remembered the first line but ran into a blank wall when it came to the subsequent lines. Fortunately for me, Mom was just a phone call away. She had to struggle a bit when she tried to recall the rest of the poem, but in the end, it all came back to her with a little help from Dad.
The things Moms will do for their children, indeed. What would we do without them?