Now I live with her poetry

My daughter Kerima would have turned 43 on Sunday

Kerima Tariman (far right) with National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and Sari Dalena

My late daughter Kerima would have turned 43 on Sunday, May 29.

We will observe it with the online  launch of her last book of poetry, Sa Aking Henerasyon: Mga Tula at Saling-Tula by Kerima Tariman (6X9 inches, 404 pages, published by Gantala Press. The event will be livestreamed in the Facebook Page of Altermidya.)

It’s been nine months since my daughter died.

By coincidence, her baptismal godfather was National Artist for Film Lino Brocka, whose literary idol was Kerima Polotan. When Brocka learned I had named my daughter after his idol, he said casually, “Okay Pablo, ako na ang ninong… (Let me be the godfather)”

Kerima (second from left) with filmmaker Marilou Diaz-Abaya (middle), her sister Karenina (far left), UP professor Sarah Raymundo standing as godmother during the baptism of Kerima’s son Emmanuel (Pablo Tariman collection)

My daughter met her sudden death early Friday morning in an hacienda in Barangay Kapitan Ramon in Silay City on Aug. 20, 2021. From media accounts, she reportedly engaged in a shoot-out with soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion in Silay City. There were three casualties on both sides—a soldier and two rebels, my daughter among them.

I have fond memories of Silay and the adjacent Bacolod City of the ’90s when Kerima was at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling, Laguna. I brought some of the country’s leading artists to Bacolod and Silay and got familiar with music audiences in those places. Among them were pianist Cecile Licad and Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses, baritone Andrew Fernando, piano prodigy Makie Misawa and Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu with Ilongga pianist Mary Anne Espina. Pianist Rowena Arrieta and our Cultural Center of the Philippines entourage were treated to a hacienda picnic in Silay after a recital in Bacolod; this was in the mid-’80s. (Arrieta and Kerima were both scholars at the Philippine High School for the Arts in the field of music and creative writing, respectively.)

UP Professor Rommel Rodriguez recalled her graduation at Philippine High School for the Arts: “She went up the stage barefoot—lapat sa lupa.” Rodriguez also remembered Kerima as identifying herself with the “Joey” character in the 1982 Marilou Diaz-Abaya film Moral, the flirt who awakens to activism as portrayed by Lorna Tolentino. Like Joey, “She too was quiet but brave,” Rodriguez said. “They were also both very beautiful.”

My last outreach concert in Silay held at the Conchita Gaston Heritage House featured baritone Fernando and pianist Makie Misawa and collaborating artist Cecile Roxas in the late ’90s. In August last year, I was back in Silay not for a concert, but to identify and claim the body of Kerima.

Her death allowed me to get to know her better through her classmates and friends. Although I knew she wrote poetry and essays, I didn’t know to what extent she she was passionate about her literary aspirations, until she started winning prizes in poetry, among them the Gawad Amado Hernandez Prize.

In the final tribute for her at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani grounds on August 28, 2021, I witnessed the outpouring of love and respect for my daughter as poet and warrior. For the first time, I saw a composite picture of my daughter as classmate, poet, warrior and friend. I didn’t realize she was feared as much as she was respected. In that last tribute, my wife and I recited poems in her honor. The tribute of her Frankfurt-based sister Karenina drew applause. She recalled how she spent one night in an Isabela jail in 2001 just to be with her sister—at least for one night of her sister’s month-long detention.

Indeed, how well did I know my daughter? Until I witnessed all the tributes given to her, I didn’t realize she had done so much, wrote poetry a lot, and fought fiercely for the poor people she had lived with in the last 20 years.

Another tribute even compared her to the late National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who was her mentor and friend. Wrote Lakan Umali of Act Forum Online: “The past two months saw two great artists leave us: Kerima Tariman and Bienvenido Lumbera. They chose starkly different paths: Lumbera primarily remained in the academe and attained the prestigious titles of National Artist and professor emeritus in the University of the Philippines. Meanwhile, Kerima joined the underground revolutionary movement, and spent her life integrating and organizing peasants in the countryside. However, though their methods differed, both artists consistently worked toward the same goal: the emancipation of those whom the great critic Frantz Fanon called ‘the wretched of the earth.’ Lumbera’s work testifies to how nationalism and resistance are intertwined. Reading Lumbera’s essays, one is struck by how literature can be a tool of both assimilation and resistance to oppressive forces, whether they be colonial, neocolonial, or national in nature.”

He pointed out: “Kerima was another artist of remarkable talent and insight. Her collection, Pag-Aaral sa Oras, is a breathtaking meditation on the personal and political challenges of those who confront and fight against the harshest and most repressive realities of Philippine society. She utilizes an array of voices to evoke the metamorphosis of one who engages in armed struggle.

“In Gusali, she adopts the wry, irreverent tone of a youthful delinquent: ‘moog daw ng talino at galing/ ay kami/ e di kami/ na araw-araw/ ipinapatawag/ sa guidance counseling.’ The youthfulness is not just juvenile rebellion, but the early realization of society’s root ills: ‘Natutunan ko/ na dapat buwagin ang kanyang mga haligi.’ The woman in Kuliglig marvels at the wonder of her first child: ‘ang anak ko/ ay isang kakaibang nilalang.’ Later, she grapples with questions about bearing a child who will eventually choose their own path in the world: ‘sa makauring aklasan/ ay matatagpuan niya/ ang kanyang pag-ibig,/ at siya’y magpapasya/ kung saan papanig.’ One of the most stunning poems is ‘Mga Sulat Mula sa Lambak ng Cagayan,’ a revolutionary’s tense but ultimately triumphant confrontation with mortality. ‘Hindi totoong ako’y bihag/ ng mga berdugo’t salarin./ Narito ako sa piling/ ng aking pagkiling,/ at alam kong alam mo/ kung saan ako hahanapin.’” She never stopped writing. Thus, writing and revolutionary work become inextricable from one another, because both aim to reshape our present culture into something which is just, peaceful and liberating for all peoples … The works of writers like Kerima Tariman and Bienvenido Lumbera offer a more expansive and productive kind of education. An education that puts at the forefront the histories and realities of the Philippines, and that equips students with the tools to learn from these histories, and reshape these realities to achieve a just and comprehensive peace.”

Cover of Kerima Tariman’s last book of poetry designed by Fidel Rillo. Original photo by Kiri Dalena.

Poet Vim Nadera said: “Kerima knows the value of people, of the land, and of poetry. As a poet, she also understands the merit of conflict. She sought to make her actions more valuable than words.”

Seventy-three days after her death, I realized she did a lot of writing and translating. Her last book, which she didn’t see, was Luisita, a documentation in poetry on the life of peasant workers in Hacienda Luisita.

She also finished a book of translation of Hiligaynon poets published by the University of the Philippines Press early last year. Her last essay, #RevolutionGo, came out in the book of essays published by Ateneo de Manila University Press and edited by Rolando Tolentino, Vladimir B. Gonzales and Laurence Marvin S. Castillo. In her honor, I also endeavored to finish my first book of poems (Love, Life and Loss During the Pandemic) which came out in December 2021. Moreover, two of my poems are also in the Singapore- published anthology, The Great Asian Poetry 2021, out in February this year.

What can I say on the 10th month of my daughter’s death? Well, we lived and breathed poetry. She happens to be the better poet and a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.

(For inquiries and shipment details of Kerima Tariman’s book, please text 09065104270)

About author


He’s a freelance journalist who loves the opera, classical music and concerts, and who has had the privilege of meeting many of these artists of the performing arts and forging enviable friendships with them. Recently he’s been drawing readers to his poems in Facebook, getting known as the ‘Bard of Facebook.’

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