Three Poems from the Philippines

A dense tangle of tropical forest where bananas hang from the tree
Photo: Courtesy of the Author 

As she pleases 

after Tropical Storm Ondoy, 2009 

If only words dilute sediments at the bottom of my gut; if only a tongue can let this pain hydroplane into a song. 

If only I did not get up from the soft eggshell mattress of my old bed; if only I played the lazy student card and stayed behind. 

If only they warned us; if only I/they listened. 

If only those raindrops were not as fat as freshly fed eels; if only I camped out in school and waited for hot bread. 

If only I did not swim in dark floodwaters; if only I did not stare at the flashing blue traffic lights that screamed end of the world. 

If only they did not shout, “repent, repent, repent!” while navigating atop broken concrete barriers; if only I/we did not shout back, “yes!” 

If only I did not open my mouth; if only I did not close my mouth and stopped breathing instead. 

If only I came home earlier; if only I came home later. 

If only no one died; if only everyone died. 

We/you were never the same after the flood; somehow you came out of that dirty dark floodwater with your tummy swelling with survival and your heart still paddling its tiny arms to safety. 

Maybe you like staying there; maybe you like that dank bile. 

Maybe there’s never been a way out of the flood; maybe you do not see a way out of the flood. 

Maybe this is where you want to be; if this is where I want to stay. 


As we please 

for Benjamin, 2016 

The banana tree swayed as you fell from it; nothing new there – you fell from aging mango trees before. Once, you even fell into open sewage in front of a heritage church, then ran into incoming traffic sweating away whatever demon perched on your shoulder. But that day, when you fell, it was a forty degree Celsius afternoon. Even the maya birds stopped singing; the stray dogs curled up under stagnant cars on the street, lazy. You insisted on picking the banana’s heart – a penultimate moment before the large red flower blossoms – so you can serve banana heart salad that night. With your bolo, you climbed the tree and in that climb, the world stopped for you and for me. You fell with your eyes open, dryly staring up at the equator’s sun – this sun we’ve known all our lives – and accepting its betrayal. There will be no banana heart salad tonight, nor will there ever be another forty degree afternoon. I thought about that image of you during that awful winter. As I walked unplowed sidewalks, I could see a banana tree in the near distance and your triumphant grin as you cut away the heart. You drop it on a pile of snow and I pick it up. Dinner’s ready, you say, set the table. Oh, but dad, where is home in all this cold? 


As he pleases 

Winter, 2019 

from where I am, 
El Niño is a god. 

he wakes children 
up by wiping their 
foreheads wet 
with sticky sweat 

when they go out 
to play before lunch, 
he makes sure they 
run back home 
before their skins 
sizzle, blister and 

siesta is sleep spent 
swimming in beads 
of sweat and jerking 
awake from the 
burn of the lazy 3 
pm sun 

if in school, they’d 
be folding their 
Catholic school 
sleeves or ripping 
open the first 
three buttons of 
their brown-stained 
pleated white shirts 

sometimes, Anna 
whispers, “It’s too 
hot,” and Bugoy 
answers, “It’s 
El Niño.” 

This man moulds their 
worlds into pliable 
horizons; where 
the sun at its peak 
bends everything 
that’s 20 meters 
away in sharp 
golden zigzags. 

yet, at night, 
El Niño is the diablo. 

armed with raincoats 
and umbrellas printed 
with a smiling red 
bumblebee, they all 
rush home, running 
in the Crocs they 
keep at the insert 
of their trolley bags – 

lest he sees them; 
lest he strikes. 

he pours into cities, 
provinces, farmlands – 
angry, angry, angry 
and bringing with him 
water that overflows – 

water they needed 
this morning when 
the river was drying 
up from the mud – 

water they needed 
to clean the pigs with 
or to wash the smelly 
dog’s fur – 

he brings so much more, 
like Santa Claus, but with 
lightning bolts that jolt 
30-story condominiums 
and thunder that forces 
children to settle under 
covers earlier than bed 
time – 

El Niño tilts his burlap 
sack and there he releases 
all his pent-up rage onto 
the roofs until the land 
can take no more – 

until the rivers swell and 
the ocean rebels – 

until children close 
their eyes and wish 
for the wet to go away. 

While in another part 
of the world, across the 
ocean that birthed this 
angry man, a blonde 
toddler looks up at his 
father while he swallows 
his beer: 

“What’s El Niño, dad?” 

A heartbeat blooms 
in the silence that follows; 
shreds of snow pelt 
their cold cheeks. 

They say winter 
is mild this year, 
on the West Coast, 
because of El Niño. 

This El Niño feels good, 
the father says, and the 
toddler smiles at him. 
“It’s El Niño,” he says, 
with another swig 
of dry beer. Belches. 

It snows, barely. 

Kelowna, British Columbia 


Rina Garcia Chua (she/her/siya) is a creative and critical scholar from the Philippines who is currently based in unceded tm'xʷúlaʔxʷ (lands) of the syilx / Okanagan peoples. She is completing her poetry collection, A Geography of (Un)Natural Hazards, which is a visual and poetic response to environmental injustice in migrant cultures and liminal spaces.