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

Martha Medina
4 min readNov 13, 2020

Writing isn’t the easiest thing in the world for most people, including myself. Not all of us are gifted with the special ability to string words together and create vivid images and meanings out of them. As a result, most of the time, we prefer to sit back and consume content instead. However, we as readers still have a task to do whilst leaning back and consuming an author’s words: to fully digest these ardent pieces and assign meaning to them. This task, more often than not, may be difficult. Although, there are times in which it becomes an interesting and fulfilling one, once accomplished — such is the case with Ericson Acosta’s poem, “Walang Kalabaw sa Cubao” and Bienvenido Santos’ poem, “The Gods We Worship Live Next Door”.

One of the things we must look out for is the central metaphor to fully understand the purpose of a piece. The central metaphor for each poem can be found in their respective titles. The use of kalabaw (carabao) and the gods.

First, let’s dissect Acosta’s poem. A poem with a whirlwind of events and emotions — vivid imagery that overwhelms you. Quick and repetitive lines describe a certain district of Quezon City: Cubao, a place known for being highly commercial. Through the use of instantaneous images, one after the other, Acosta’s poem gives off the sense of something always happening: people always moving, trying to make a living, busy crowds during the daylight, individuals having different motives and movements throughout the day. The imagery and continuous events being portrayed in the poem leave you confused, perhaps even lost. It induces an existential feeling.

When you find yourself in a busy crowd, you (more often than not) don’t stand out. Acosta uses the image and national symbolism of the carabao to give off the feeling of importance. Highly useful to the livelihood of our country’s farmers, the carabao is a vital part of our agricultural systems. We cannot deny this. A source of meat or milk, a useful companion in preparing areas of land, and often recognized as the country’s national animal, the carabao is a relevant being. Pair this with the image of a bustling district within the country, the poem tells you that you are insignificant. The numerous social areas, infrastructures, and speedy movements of the area are certainly a sight to behold, but among the people, you would not be a standout. There is no carabao in Cubao. We all have our own ambitions, tasks to be done, and whatnot. We tend to mind our own business. To the normal passerby, you are a fly resting on a Carabao’s back, a small unnoticeable creature that almost blends with the backdrop. The city is the sight, and you are an insignificant speck in its confinement.

The use of the carabao as a central metaphor is something one might not immediately pick up on in terms of its significance, but it is clever. After all, the carabao is a symbol known to many if you think about it.

Second, let’s dissect Santos’ poem, one that I’ve encountered numerous times in my life but never fails to receive my appreciation each time. The poem utilizes contrast. Having gods as the central metaphor, you think of someone powerful, one that has the ability to turn a situation in their favor, one that can bring about bolts of lightning among those who oppose their will. What follows after the initial use of ‘gods’, however, is a complete contrast to what we associate the word with. The poem goes on to describe what is, surprisingly, a human being. Brown, like us. Their skin doesn’t glow, they don’t tower over us. Their selves are easily affected by the forces of nature: they get sick or can simply die of a disease brought about by the cold winds.

We realize, soon after, what the poem tries to tell us. The people we worship, may it be the idols we follow, the well-known celebrities on our television screens, or the politicians that internally threaten us with the power they hold. They are human, too, much like us. They may even be a regular customer at a local shop, or perhaps even someone as simple as a neighbor living right next door. Time and nature can whittle down their power, and we, too, have the capability of being one of them. Authority and power is something of the mind, if you think about it, as even you can be a so-called god.

The use of this contrasting concept as a central metaphor is extremely effective in getting its message across to the readers. It makes you think critically: the concepts in the poem are certainly opposites, so what does it all mean?

Both poems are highly interesting in terms of how they deliver their messages. Acosta’s poem brings you on a slightly disconnected journey through a read, with how the sudden images are all so vivid on their own — like different colors of neon lights that clash when next to one another. Despite this, the poem’s elements are still united and all fall into place in giving you the main takeaway: a feeling. Although the images are so different in color and vibe, they all give you a single feeling and are all effective as one when trying to deliver the message. On the other hand, Santos’ poem is less mismatched, despite the contrast in concepts used. It’s calmer in delivering its lines and takes its time, but this is still effective in getting its message across, too.

Once more, it is a reader’s job to see meaning in a certain piece — to make interpretations and learn something from the words of others. Poems like that of Acosta’s and Santos’ certainly make the job more interesting, and further my appreciation for the poets of our country and their meaningful works.

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