Poems from Filipino idioms – Ivy Alvarez

Cross Purposes by Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA)

Walâng sinasabi

This will be the last time I see
clouds as tall as skyscrapers.

In the city, buildings hover
all around us, insubstantial.

Sunset through a canyon.
Between walls. A decade for sale.

I am unable to fathom nature here.
Rumours in snow melt, the thin wind.

Maize roasting over charcoal,
many hands wave the smoke away.

How could I know what was coming?
A relief to look up and recognise nothing.

Filipino idiom meaning without importance or ability (literally, saying nothing)

Walâng tinátánaw na búkas

the point is, we have this to look forward to
awful today, better tomorrow, we walk, we run
bedroom, bathroom, nod once, hum, then twice

the treadmill’s steady thrum underfoot, to and from
thorny questions best avoided, like            are these your
carpet burns on my glutes, our backs        my lover
waits to enter, knocks, hesitant, precipitant
eight times a second and I’m breathing hard, out, in
years might scroll pleasantly like this, future, past, both

I can look, and might not see, these square instances
want is desire is need, pick one, pick all, pick any
to secure steadfastly with a click, an existential
hurt, gut and quick to soothe our quarrel
still the light thins, still your argument wins

Filipino idiom meaning does not hope for a bright future (literally, does not see any tomorrow)

Nangabuwál sa dilím

we are
too hard to
when one could
we often
the best of us will
take some
so please accept
along with this

Filipino idiom meaning died a hero (literally, fell in the dark)

Nagbibilang ng bituin

Lift the hook from its eye, and I’m in your life, your house a taj
once you’re inside it. I climb to the attic, this excitement tabu.

Very gingerly, tiptoe to lie in your bed ‘til you arrive, lift sheets,
exposing me, but are unsurprised. We learn from each other’s skin, wet

and dry, and back again, slow diligent homunculus, warm sentient yeti,
nocturnal for this encounter, unfamiliar together, strange and antic.

Despite a stack of odds, we fit against the sky and stars. And here we are.

Filipino idiom meaning dreaming, hopeless; counting gain in advance (literally, counting stars)

Nagsukatan ng lakis

When the force of the fist travels at 140 kilometres per hour to connect with tense tissue waiting to meet the blow, damage is sure to have an effect over a wide area, such that a boxer from the US competing with another boxer in the Philippines will have a different outcome to a boxer from Mexico, who punches the jaw of a boxer from America wearing boxer shorts with a divisive design, and the number of people who will see these punches of varying durations and timestamps will depend on who is awake watching a black and white teevee, surrounded by one’s male relatives, drinking beer and cheering on their treasured fighter, and who else might be scrolling through their feed to stop when they spot an image of a boxing match, attendant of glory and commentary, digressions and arguments much like their own.
Filipino idiom meaning fought with bare fists (literally, measured the strength)



Categorized as ANNEXE

By Ivy Alvarez

is the author of The Everyday English Dictionary (Paekakariki Press, 2016), Hollywood Starlet (dancing girl press, 2015), Disturbance (Seren, 2013). Her latest, Diaspora, Vol. L, is forthcoming from Paloma Press in 2019. Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, she lived almost a decade in Wales before moving to New Zealand in 2014. www.ivyalvarez.com