"The Void" Contest Winners / March 2014 (Issue 23)

Going Back to the Island

by Arlene Yandug

The motor boat groans under the bundles of tobacco leaves plus all of us.

Are we anywhere near the island now?
Touch the wave, taste it. The saltier it gets, the nearer we are.

What is the smell of blue? A whiff of toasted coconuts,
the smoke rising from the kilns. Brine sprinkled over a pail of corals.
Lime squeezed over the sky, the lone albatross.
The tangy sea breeze from us to you.

A hundred-year-old-woman sweeps the floor of her room.
In her hand, a small broomstick. Her hand:
a field of rivulets cooling our brows,
the smell of earth and tobacco enveloping us.

The smoke from charcoal fires, the midnight blue sizzling
on the skin of mackerel tuna whose limpid eyes show the pools
we swim into again and again. The tart from singed plantain
leaves sticking to rice cakes blushing and cracking on the top.
The strange odors of volcanos and blossoms
rising from fresh ferns steamed in pan.

What’s the color of egg? Blue.
As waves are green. As love is blue.
The chaste confidence of my three-year-old sister
who said ‘it’s blue.’ The laughter of big-boned women in the wake
of the word blue: subterranean rumbles shaking the blue afternoon.

There are one hundred stone steps on the dike,
the dike barring the water from spilling
into the village during the wet monsoon.

My body sliding or rather falling on the dike’s slope,
the fine gravel sticking on my knees, the smell of torn skin
sticking on the dike. I am six,
I am ten,

I am sixteen. What is memory?

An onion my mother peels skin
by transparent skin, each
time, she squints her eyes.

I say it’s a field where etcetera
grows, enlarging ourselves:
sight, whisper, mackerel, pebbles
the color blue, etc.

At night, the river rushes like flaps
of wings, water busting from the pipes
that are never shut. So much water
splashing in our chests.
The sand glitters in our hair,
on pillows, in dreams where
we look for jade, opal, sunsets
our feet slipping on shifting river
bed where we run and tumble
and roll like moonstones
over the dike.

There are one hundred stone steps
leading to the clouds.
Before the clouds, a rusty gate.
The gate creaking under the weight
of dome nests and cadena de amor.
Amid the crosses, we’re looking for

a tombstone and another
and another.

                     Once a year
we used to do this
and always we were lost.
This year, we watch closely
for signs: a frangipani trunk branching
into a lopsided Y, a certain way
a bougainvillea cling to the gray cross,
its flowers a passionate red
against a field of tombs.

Wax melting, the smell of coral
flames quashed by fingers.
The smoke rising from candle wicks,
rising in curls from a pyre
of leaves over which we
all jump.

Mother says touch the wave,
taste it. The saltier it gets,
the nearer we are.

We taste brine before waves touch our lips

What is the color of the distance
from us to you? Blue. As waves are
green as ____ is blue.
This is the Third Prize Winner of Cha's "Void" Poetry Contest. Read a description of the poem by Arlene Yandug here. [Read Daryl Yam's commentary on this poem.] [Return to the "Void" section.]
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