First Winter Passing

by Naya

Yes, it’s the wrong season (who wants to think about winter with summer not even ending yet?). But with all the poetry flourishing on this site, I thought I’d post something too. Here are excerpts from a longer poem entitled “First Winter Passing”:


Tell me about your country.

A constellation of islands
near the world’s waistband.

Tell me what it looks like.

A crouching old woman
with a walking stick
and a hand on her hip.

I don’t mean on a map.

You mean from a plane?
Through window panes? A mirror?
Describing seven thousand selves
in one sentence is impossible.

I’m not asking for it.

No, you’re better at imperatives.


Silver white winters that melt into springs
not my song, not my seasons. In my country,
summer is warming up, doing morning stretches.

Here, his fingers skate on my skin. My blood hisses
as I parse his vocabulary of sighs. He tries hard
to say the word mahal, which means both love

and expensive. His tongue teeters over kita,
a possessive pronoun roping You to Me, as well
as the interrogative “See?” I want him to stutter

his way into my archipelago. Later, our breaths
interlace in the frosty air. The specters
of our unsaid things look white and willful.


News from Manila My father had a stroke Of bad luck
Bad blood Blood clot causing Traffic in his brain
I should have called Long distance When I dreamt of him
Playing Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise Last song over Warsaw radio
Before the slaughter Why do I know this My father loved
The piano Loves My poems Ways of passing time
My lover brews espresso to keep me going He had a French girlfriend
Does the taste of her persist Fall back I will be patient
Under observation Hospitals skew hours My father gets impatient
When his fingers press the wrong keys Ice plummeting
From the CN Tower Keeps us indoors He has no key yet
Miles between us Arpeggios Chords like a phone ringing
My mother’s voice Metallic and rusty With relief
Wheeled to a private room Spring forward This is good
He can’t stand up on his own Yet He holds my hand in his sleep


At the bakery, the women behind the counter
converse in Filipino. They are shorter than me,
browner, more at home. When my turn comes,
I smile, Hello. Magkano yung tinapay sa dulo?

One of them looks at me icily, their circle
broken. The other replies in perfect English—
That would be four dollars, plus tax
A’s overextended, twang taut with defiance.

I hold the bread to my chest, negotiating
the slushy sidewalk. I need an interpreter,
not a translator. When I tell this story
to my lover, he says proudly, Oh, mahal.

Naya S. Valdellon grew up in Manila, Philippines and has won Palanca and Meritage Press awards for her poetry. Having arrived in Toronto just two years ago to take her M.A. in English and Creative Writing at U of T, she is still looking for full-time work, adjusting to the schizophrenic weather, and craving kinilaw and sisig at odd hours of the night. Her personal blog can be found at

~ by Caravan Girl on August 19, 2008.

5 Responses to “First Winter Passing”

  1. brilliant and lush!


    Is this meant to be read or heard recited?

  2. wow.. i am so moved and impressed by this amazing piece. it’s so inspirational to have you post this on our blog!

    i can’t help but picture images and music to this. i’d love to hear about your process in creating this piece.

  3. Salamat, Len and Reese! 8 sections were written in a span of 2 days — though I still want to add to them. And I’ve never actually recited or performed this piece, but if I did then part 6 would definitely be read breathlessly, in a disjointed rush of emotions. Music would be great, and maybe an actor and a voice-over… oh the possibilities!

  4. indeed!

    (music, voiceovers, actors… this can all be arranged!)

  5. Beautiful!
    But why only even numbers?

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