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