On the day the Manila Observatory
was burned to the ground—I translate
the manuscript word by word inside
the archives—four Japanese soldiers came
to spray the floors with gasoline.
Outside, the sun is high in the sky.
The first astronomical dome in the country
curled into flames, the room that kept
the time shrinking into itself as though
undoing the hours into dust. There is only
one photo of the aftermath, and outside,
it looks as though still standing. Manila burning
in the background, I imagine. The photo
keeps me on the outside. It smells of dust,
and faintly, smoke. The photographer's shaking
hands as Father Selga stood inside the remains
of his Observatory, trying to piece together
the rubble that had once been instruments
for measuring the winds. Five days later,
the Americans dropped liberation-bombs
and finished the job. There is no inside to this
grief. The ruins brought to the ground, bodies
and glass: I cannot think of the noise. They must have
known they would leave eighty years of ash. I do not
know if Father Selga watched the stars that night,
if he saw clouds on the horizon, and prayed
for the rain to still. There are no monuments
for this. I was told once that Father Selga was
a beautiful writer, but I cannot read Spanish.
My dictionary has no word for séame.