ghost dancers

Bhakti Issa Urra
3 min readOct 30, 2022

This is an homage to Mary Oliver and her poem Ghosts — her moving sermon for the lost bison herds of the American pioneer west, killed to starve the Native American tribes out.

It is also a eulogy to the sakadas of Negros Island — the migrant Filipino farm laborers who watched their children helpless as they starved to death, at the height of the Marcos martial law sugar plunder.

In a decade of deliberate historical distortion the dictator’s heirs have returned — brandishing their ill-gotten wealth in a bid to retell the tale of their ugly, nasty past into a burnished fable of their own making.

Bayan Negros protest streamer says, “behind the smiles of MassKara lie hunger and poverty.”

The recent local MassKara Festival was the ideal event for the Marcos grand rehabilitation campaign. To have the dictator’s son so grandly feted and hailed back — on the very land where so many lives were lost to government corruption and brutal military tactics when they were in power.


Have you noticed?


Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts

lay down on the earth and died

it’s hard to tell now

what’s bone, and what merely

was once.

Enemies and innocents tortured and murdered — their bodies left to rot and turn putrid in the boiling tropical humidity — while loved ones and neighbors stood immobilized, afraid to bury their dead for fear of vengeful retaliation.

The golden eagle, for instance,

has a bit of heaviness in him;

moreover the huge barns

seem ready, sometimes, to ramble off

toward deeper grass.

The sugar monopoly imposed by Marcos and his cronies forced sugar planters into debt and bankruptcy. Over 190,000 sugar workers lost their livelihood and over a million sacadas and their families in Negros suffered during the 1985 Negros Famine. Across the island people bowed down — broken and desperate.



near the Bitterroot Mountains:

a man named Lewis kneels down

on the prairie watching

a sparrow’s nest cleverly concealed in the wild hyssop

and lined with buffalo hair.

Proclamation 1081 — read by Ferdinand the Father on national TV placed the entire Philippines under Martial Law. In a pre-emptive move — Ferdinand the dictator ordered the arrests of all his unarmed political opponents, journalists critical of him and his, businessmen, professors, students, and all left leaning organizations. Or whatever else Ferdinand the Goon chose to claim.

The chicks,

not more than a day hatched, lean

quietly into the thick wool as if

content, after all,

to have left the perfect world and fallen,

helpless and blind,

into the flowered fields and the perils

of this one.

At the provincial hospital hundreds of malnourished children lined the floors tended by their desperate mothers. Past the countryside through cane fields and small towns where skeletal children sat silent and listless lining the roadside. Over 100,000 children in various degrees of malnutrition were put on feeding programs to save those they could. We are left to wonder how many were saved.


In the book of the earth it is written:

nothing can die.

In the book of the Sioux it is written:

they have gone away into the earth to hide.

Nothing will coax them out again

but the people dancing.

In local news the year’s MassKara theme was under fire — balik yuhom meant to put the smile back on our faces — turned sour in the wake of a blatant Marcosian agenda and comeback.

Crestfallen faces greeted the visiting VIPs — their entourage of blaring sirens blocking traffic, their cordon sanitaire brandishing bling — blinding the public. Chaos and havoc with not much else accomplished.

Pretentious VIPs who won’t return or generate tourist traffic — just their one time-big time blowout as the island nurses its hunger for more. #makeachange or #moveon? #focusonpriorities or #partyparty?

Since they left the island has been devastated by yet another tropical storm. While homes and lives are washed away in surge waters and floods the president and his vice sit and wait it out — doing nothing.

Halfway around the world — former VP Leni Robredo, busy lecturing at a leadership program in the US — makes calls and mobilizes teams on the ground — remotely managing relief efforts and rehabilitation all around the Philippines.

This wonder woman wins the day — as usual.

Originally published at



Bhakti Issa Urra

canvassing consciousness, constantly curious — ever challenged & changed