IVY ALVAREZ.March 2020


Photo by Jeff Sirkin



I wanted to say it myself

hey, your house is burning

where are you going with that toothpick

what good will that do

hey, smoke, I smell smoke

at least save the cat

on these occasions the most

practical thing you can do

is also the most obvious

the egg beaters can’t help you

or your collection of Dolly Parton

records from the 80s

hey, the walls are charring as we speak

maybe we should love maybe

we should go while we can still walk

no I won’t have a cup of tea

no no coffee      no thank you

sure tell me a tale

it might take my mind off

the smell of things burning all around me



Filipino idiom meaning to make fun of (literally, make the head round)


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*** ** ***



cracks had already been appearing

fissured like the earth

suspicious of happiness

the lack left us cold

every morning the air filled us

oxygen sparking in our veins

every street full of remember whens

the night the tower exploded

a fiery welcome

we could begin again but we won’t

it does not last

might as well keep a raindrop

in your hands



Filipino idiom meaning quarrel (literally, broken head)


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Don’t know how I managed it, who I have to thank, the bank of luck, of benevolent gods and ancestors watching over me, letting me withdraw as much as I want, as much as I deserve, which isn’t much, being a product of circumstances and society, of crushing piety, and my credit isn’t good, could be better, is improving all the time. The queues are long but part for me, when I need them to, and I need them to, constantly. Often. I need to see the manager, maybe for a loan, an advance, something advantageous for the next twelve months, when we find out how the pendulum swings like a blade to cut and cut and cut.



Filipino idiom meaning one who lives an uncertain life (literally, shrimp’s life – when it leaps, it’s dead)



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the tingling sting on my tongue

hot surprise chilli flake burn

you bring a dowry of yourself        saving

a hope chest of promises

we wake up to whiteness

when snow covered our land

and every edge we can see

white as mothballs

close as a cedar chest of hope

drove around Europe looking for a toilet

and I was holding it in

every colour but white on the walls

a welcome hit of salt

a taste of patatas bravas

how much is this worth

how much have you put by

nothing a white dress couldn’t teach

what did we know when we started

nothing a silver ring couldn’t reach

encircle and embrace

face to face      hand to hand

here’s a gold coin for your trouble

all I can afford



Filipino idiom meaning dowry (literally, give what you can)


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when I disconnect my lie detector

for you     my happiness index swings

up up up                            all you say

I could inscribe             on my hand

on my heart

either one will do at this stage

I did that for years       or months

we hide what we buy

and the interest mounts

this morning

fog turned the air milky


it’s been months

since everything

stopped by it’s time to switch

this machine

see that needle swing once more



Filipino idiom meaning believed everything (literally, bought the store)


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everyday I can’t remember the details of how we got here

we will soon be apart with a final stroke it is apparent

we broke our promise though we tried through every premise

presented to us it was only the last bullet through us

we couldn’t stop with our bare hands couldn’t adopt

a new way a new frame of reference the pictures hung true

when I take them down one by one every possession

a reminder attached to a memory an emotion a notion

one day I stopped making sense our world nonsensical

blackness in our days months decades leapt ahead

when I want every moment to belong to me and maybe

if the leaving were to happen slowly enough we won’t

notice we won’t see or feel how it hurts the core of us



Filipino idiom meaning something given to please (literally, give inside)


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*** ** ***



stab me once with a pencil point

and now I have a tattoo                the years

connect us dot to dot                     there aren’t

that many pictures of us I notice

and that’s deliberate       the first time

I was alone everything scared me

the garage hollow with echoes

I locked the doors             double checked

my situation                        everything impending

peace elusive                       waiting to heal

I formed a blister              then popped it.



Filipino idiom meaning useless person (literally, stone in the street)


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Ivy Alvarez’s
poetry collections include The Everyday English Dictionary, Disturbance, and Mortal. Her latest is Diaspora: Volume L (Paloma Press, 2019). A Fellow of MacDowell Colony (US), and Hawthornden (UK), her work is widely published and anthologised (twice in Best Australian Poems), with poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, she lived in Wales for almost a decade, before arriving in New Zealand in 2014. ivyalvarez.com


To download a printable PDF version of this page, click here.


Photo of Ivy Alvarez (above) by Veronika Mironova


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March 2020.IVY ALVAREZ

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