Poetry: El Niño & A Three-Day Retreat in the Hills in Malaybalay by Arlene Yandug

Arlene Yandug

Arlene Yandug earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She teaches literature and creative writing at Xavier University where she also works as manager of XU Press and editor of Carayan, an online literary journal. She is currently editing an anthology of writers from Northern Mindanao, while working on her manuscript for her first poetry collection.


El Niño

(After Philip Schultz)

The hours were endless suns on our skin, on jaundiced leaves.

On the door jamb were notches of my height.

On the walls, my sister’s name, written in reverse

for the mirror to read.  Flies descended

on the silence like random dots. I warn you,

this is not about the door, nor about my sister,

nor my mother.  But there’s something about the garden

of absent flowers.  The frangipani tree, it was always there,

thriving in neglect.  Everyday my sister and I climbed its branches,

watched flowers drift from their world to ours.  In the backyard,

one or two sparrows would peck at the tips of petals

while our last hen scratched the ground blindly, her eyes

covered with crusts.  “She lacks vitamin A,” father said

as he put the Nutriplex beside the Laughing Buddha.

But really this is not about the hen, so forget it.  I am talking

about the endless suns, how they seeped through jaundiced leaves,

our skin, our hair, while mother kept spooning us with syrup.

God what is it, what is it about that summer?


Is it the cracked ground?  How the eerie quiet

of noon made me think of a concept  like universe

 and what it meant to be there?  So there.

And now going back to the hen.

Yes, she’d cackle weakly,

a soft cry in the blistering white of noon….  I remember one

or two feathers floating from a small pit in the  backyard

where father carefully put the soil back while the sun,

the sun just gave down all the light.


 A Three-Day Retreat in the Hills

in Malaybalay



July, but up here

it’s always December.


In the ice-blue silence

we drink the restfulness

of stones lying

in soft loam;


breathe the details

of butterflies,

petals skittering

over rivulets.


In the ice-blue silence

the phones lie

like June bugs

in a box.


A woman is suddenly

sick with vertigo.

Does the mind see

what’s no longer there?

The sudden calm making

the inner eye dizzy,

ears turning deaf

from too much quiet?


Here is a world

pure as a dot.

No exclamations

of spoons against cups.

No rumbling of trucks.

Only stones whispering




to stones:


But the earth is merely

playing possum.

In the dark beyond

the mind’s orbit,

it’s hurtling in space,

relentlessly growing,

invisibly expanding.


Hills away,

cattle ranches slide

away from the pines

like carpets.


On the slopes, the monks’

coffees  draw strength

from the black earth.


Cornfields ripple

under the moonlight, their

tassels busy growing

like mustache.




And then today, the third day,

the bright glissando

of voices shatters

the glass night.


The vertigo woman

boogie woogies

with a boy in the hall.

Some play charade,

others play the piano;

all play laughter

like an old game

learned anew.


Then tomorrow

we’ll switch on

our phones and head


for the world,

old as the hills,

young as the grass.


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