18 May 2019

21 April 2019

How the Quacker Croaked (and other Stories)

Dear duck, I missed you. I still do, sometimes. You stank, you quacked too loud. But in your own way, you were my funny, charming friend. I thought you had run away, squeezing out through the gap in the fence. I was angry that you'd left, but anyway I made a wish that you'd be safe, and that you'd even find a bigger, better sort of pond, beneath a bluer, brighter kind of sky. A week later, Grandma let slip that the plate of meat we had last week was duck, and that duck, which I ate with sour plum sauce, was you. I still like to think that my wish came true. Maybe it did. Maybe this way you really found your way to a bigger, better pond, somewhere up there in the great blue sky.

Siamese Fighting Fish

Deep blue betta in a bottle,
you rise like a temper,
sink like a sullen ship.
Your fins flare like sails
in a strong wind as you stare
into your cold reflection.
Do you dream too of wider waters,
of somehow being free?

Peace

In the temple
where my father’s ashes lie,
a path winds its way
from the house of urns
and memories,
past a bamboo garden
where the wind sings
as it rustles through
the stems and
shoots,
to a sudden pond,
with waters
still and clear, like
mirrors.

From the
small red bridge,
I can see the
brilliant colours
of koi,
shimmering in
reflections of sun
and sky.
Arowana, with scales
as silver as the
blades of
ancient swords,
glide through the
water like
prowling dragons.
On the rocks
a solitary tortoise sits,
perfectly still,
its little head raised,
lost in thought,
contemplating the
history of
its quiet universe.

In the evenings
after rain,
my father comes here too,
standing by the red
bridge, to watch
the fish.
He says nothing,
but he smiles,
so I think he is at peace.
Timed Prompt: 10 min for 1st complete draft. From page 6, The Daily Poet.

Prompt: Write a poem about something you want to protect. It can be a relationship, a memory, something in nature, or something in or about yourself. If this is a first person poem, allow the speaker to be vulnerable.

Scar

I had a hole
in my heart
and to patch it up
they broke
their way through
my chest
then later closed
it back up
with metal
clasps.

This scar,
10 inches running down
the middle of my
upper body,
is what was left
behind.
When I showed it
to you, you ran
your finger
gently along the
thick raised
line,
and kissed it
gently.

Boy, Playing Chess

Timed Prompt: 20 min. The Daily Poet, page 218. Write a poem that is a study of a human being in motion. Describe your chosen person's actions and imagine their thoughts. Suggestions for whom you might study: a waitress, a postal worker, a lifeguard, a conductor, a chef , your mom in the kitchen.



Boy, Playing Chess


The boy with the
baby cheeks
is plotting murder.

He's sitting on an
adult's chair, his legs
dangling in mid-air,

as his face alternates
between scowl and
frown

while he calculates
variations,
manipulating the pieces

on the black and
white squares
in his mind's eye.

When his small
hand reaches out to
advance the

critical pawn,
his adult opponent
winces and squirms

a little, but the boy
doesn't seem to
care or notice,

his eyes stay fixed
on the board,
and the pawn grimly

soldiers on, heading
for the queening
square.

My Bedtime Monsters



            My Bedtime Monsters 
            Look at the monsters beneath my bed!
            One is purple and the others are red.
            Their eyes are bright and their claws are long
            They play all night, as they sing their song:
            "RoOo-ah woO-ah RooOo!" 
            They hide in the day from dear old Mum
            When Dad's around, they're rather glum.
            When I'm alone, they giggle so loud
            From under the bed, they come tumbling out
            "RoOo-ah woO-ah RooOo!" 
            They hop on my pillows and dance on the floor,
            But first they will always close the door.
            They don't really want my parents to know
            How loud they are, when their voices go:
            "RoOo-ah woO-ah RooOo!" 
            There's Starky the Stink, and Polly the Plump
            Fannie the Fink, and Grolly the Grump.
            They're fun and friendly, like friends should be
            And I'm so glad that they're friends with me
            "RoOo-ah woO-ah RooOo!"

20 April 2019

Spectrum / Near The End




            90, and he still doesn't quite believe in God.
            "Forgive me for that," he nearly says,
            he almost prays, when alone,
            as if half-suspecting some sort of afterlife.
            It's like his old hunch,
            that great grand theory - the whispers of Marxist,
            Marxist, Marxist echoing through the church,
            then turning strangely into empty air.

03 June 2011




          Lost

          Heading home, bone-weary,
          riding on the last train for the northeast line
          with his eyes closed, his mind fading out on itself
          one dark memory falling into the next,
          collapsing into dream. From within,
          the doubts emerge, one by one, like small,
          implacable stars, tugging at each other
          from distances impossible to resolve,
          until that sudden light, at tunnel’s
          end, breaks into consciousness,
          the doors sliding open, the last passengers
          shuffling out, as he wakes to see that
          he’s gone too far again, missed his stop
          searching for himself on the
          way back home.

22 May 2008


              The Widow

              He died.

              She lived,
              or rather continued
              to exist,

              standing at a distance
              from herself
              to watch her days
              fall away like leaves.

              In her mind, she began
              to rewrite the
              unhappy plots of
              their marriage

              creating fictional,
              improved endings to
              better justify
              her grief.

              Slowly, she withdrew from
              the babble and noise
              of the outside world

              into the secret inner
              temple of herself

              where she alone was martyr –

              the one betrayed by the other
              who left too soon.

              Her prayers were never
              answered

              but she remained in
              that cold,
              familiar place

              where all was safe,
              and always

              numb.

21 May 2008


              Terminal

              Sipping a little water
              he calmly talks of pain.
              He trusts in Jesus (I do not)
              believes in heaven
              (I do not), and for a
              last wish, would have me
              trust and believe too.
              Then he coughs, once,
              very hard -
              blood and phlegm
              spilling from his mouth
              landing on his shirt,
              a dark patch like cancer.
              As I reach for the tissue box,
              he lifts his arms slightly
              away from himself,
              a look of mild disgust
              and annoyance
              on his face,
              as if his body were
              a broken old TV or car,
              a piece of machinery
              soon to be thrown
              away.

10 May 2008



                Hong Lim Park

                a fat man stands
                announces an opinion
                as if it mattered

                in the hot sun
                the trees yawn and
                almost sigh

                the retirees wish
                they had their
                park back

03 May 2008



                On Foreign Talent

                All the world’s a stage.
                We are actors.
                The script of my country
                has been rewritten
                for new and foreign
                stars.
                I could leave to act
                elsewhere,
                or else forever play
                the minor parts.
                “You’re dispensable,”
                says the director.
                It’s his call.
                Although I feel cheated,
                I know that his show
                must go on.

29 April 2008


            The Execution of Nguyen Tuong Van

            Death came on a quiet Friday, before sunrise,
            Slow as the final footsteps to the prison yard
            Abrupt as a broken neck.

            So you've crossed, Nguyen, into the clear light,
            A place without need for answers

            While we who sleep in darkness
            Grope and wrestle with our questions,
            Stumble through our savage dreams.

20 March 2008


              Business Travel

              Between one delayed flight and the next
              I orbit in airport lounges,
              drift from one cup of coffee to another,

              my mind slipping from the pages
              of a meaningless magazine
              into memories of life elsewhere,

              your touch, the sound of your voice,
              like signals from a distant planet
              that I'd missed, and miss again.

16 February 2008



              The Trains

              You sit and wait and watch.
              As the train approaches, you get up
              and you walk, to the yellow line,
              beyond the yellow line,
              and you
              ........ fling yourself straight
              down on the tracks.

              But you don’t.
              ......... You only think about it.
              You sit and wait and watch.
              The doors open. People, real people
              walk, to the train,
              ........... to the yellow line,
              ............................ beyond the yellow line,
              into the train. Then the doors close
              behind them,
              and they’re gone,
              ........ back to their own lives,
              slow at first, then faster, faster
              until the train grows thin
              in the distance,
              .......... becomes nothing.

21 January 2008



        The Schoolgirl Kills Herself After Failing an Exam

        She jumps from the tenth floor of a housing block
        into the brief wild terror of freedom, and transforms
        into twelve paragraphs of newsprint in the Straits Times,
        cool and objective, black and white, the verifiable facts only.

        We are told that her classmates are "shocked".
        And that her parents refuse to comment. We know that
        for her last exam she scored 41 marks, a fatal result.
        A teacher describes her as a "quiet, hardworking girl".

        We feel obliged to pause to reflect. We wish to search
        our conscience. She was only eleven, we remind ourselves.
        There must be others like her. There must be another way,
        we suspect, for children to grow up in this country.

        But yesterday’s news is quick to slide into the grey of memory.
        She will become another incidental casualty. We turn the page.
        We forget. Again we trip and fall head first into the future,
        down into the depths of a national urge to never stop excelling.

11 October 2007


              On Faith

              I disbelieve all religion
              and ask God's forgiveness
              for this.


              Meditation

              To be still, but for breath
              And to watch its rise and fall.

              To sit in your own mind
              And know that you are sitting.

                  Enter the soundless void
                  and understand

                  That you have never been
                  Anywhere else

                  For there has never been
                  anywhere else to be.

      10 August 2007



                  Not Home

                  I was eight, and alone.
                  Waiting in the garden I talked
                  to trees. Seeds sprouted.
                  Crickets sang. In the house
                  Grandma lay dying.
                  Caught an insect, held it
                  in my hand. Plucked a leg off,
                  as I softly sang. Very cruel,
                  very bad. Surely Papa would
                  come home, if I were bad.
                  Make me hurt, for being bad.
                  One more leg then, and another.
                  Time crawled. I lost count.
                  Finally there were no more legs,
                  but Papa wasn’t home.
                  I dropped the useless insect
                  on the ground. In the house
                  Grandma went on dying.
                  On and on her body twitched,
                  till I crushed it with a stone.
                  Papa wasn’t home.

                  Osho on Love

                  You fall in love with a woman
                  because she is so new:
                  the physiology, the colour of her hair,
                  the way she walks, turns, says hello.
                  Everything is new, the territory unknown:
                  you are drawn like a moth at night
                  to a glass-walled flame.
                  As you approach, she runs away:
                  that is part of the game.
                  If she simply says, "Yes, I am ready,"
                  the mystery would fade that very moment -
                  in fact you would think of
                  how to run away. Man is a hunter,
                  so when the woman is chased,
                  running away, hiding here and there,
                  avoiding, saying no,
                  the man gets hot. The challenge
                  becomes intense, the woman must be
                  conquered. Now he grows ready
                  to die for her, to do whatever is needed,
                  his heart will flutter, he will fly,
                  singe his wings on her heat,
                  beat his small head on her glass walls.
                  Before the night ends, he will
                  take her, yes he must, before she too
                  burns out in the first cold
                  light of dawn.

      20 January 2007


                My Father Growing Old

                I imagine him getting up early to make
                his own coffee. Reading the papers.
                No plans for the day. Turning on the radio
                a little louder than it has to be.
                Alone at home. Then the phone ringing,
                he goes to answer it and finds me
                on the line. His son, a grown man now,
                calling from another country, increasingly
                distant, more and more a stranger.
                The call cheers him up, nonetheless.
                He says, “How are you? How’s everything?”
                He really wants to know. He is my father,
                after all. He is growing old. But I don’t
                know where to start. I want to tell him that
                I love him and that I’m sorry I have to
                live my own life now. But these are not the
                things I know how to say from a distance.
                These are things I may never learn to say.
                So instead we speak of smaller daily things,
                and soon the brief connection between us
                will unmake itself, and expire.

      25 December 2006

      The Adoration of the Magi


                December Shopping

                Here comes Christmas. Take it, strip it down,
                wash it clean, then doll it up, prettify,
                package, add a ribbon. Now offer it up for sale,
                an orchard road product made new again.
                See the santa claus reindeer at centrepoint,
                touch the gold-dusted wings of angel
                mannequins, feel the softness, the warmth
                of cotton-wool snow, meltproof against
                the little coloured blinking bulbs.
                Do you not rejoice, would you not sing
                along in a fa-la-la-la-la sort of way?
                Meet baby jesus and holy mother,
                starring as takashimaya decorations,
                the three wise men as props.
                The crowds are awful, the roads too long,
                for roads that lead nowhere,
                but the lights are bright and the sales –
                oh, the wonderful sales! – are truly
                a shopper's paradise. What you buy is
                what you are, and what you are is here,
                on display, for sale, at a discount,
                very, very cheap. What joy! What happiness!
                What a birthday bash! Give thanks,
                for the power of visa, the size
                of your December bonus, for this
                great offering of material things.
                Let us eat, let us feast like gluttons,
                swarm like flies, drown in proverbial milk
                and honey - it’s christmas, after all,
                Singapore’s greatest shopping season.

      08 December 2006


                Training

                Running means that you will
                never die. That’s why you come back,
                year after year, day after day
                to your training routes
                the sound of your shoes hitting the ground
                like a dream of heart and rhythm
                one beat at a time, then another and another
                that horizon in your mind still invisible,
                beautiful, always beyond reach.

      05 November 2006


                  ondaatje’s handwriting

                  this fine distillation
                  of moments
                  on your pages
                  so cool and
                  clear

                  like one raindrop
                  moving slow
                  along the edge
                  of a leaf

                  then, at the tip

                  pausing

                  as if time itself
                  was
                  ...... breathless.

      23 October 2006


                  Breathless

                  When I hold you darkly
                  on crumpled linen
                  in passion
                  without words –
                  search my eyes then
                  you'll know I think
                  ................... you're
                  ........... beautiful.

      04 October 2006


                Confession

                If I could stand away from myself
                And look at me, I think I would be amazed.
                I fear I’ve gone a little crazy.
                I sit alone in cafes pondering mysteries.
                I hear voices where none should be.
                “Follow me, follow me,” they say.
                When the weather changes,
                I read the clouds for messages.
                Every person passing me on the street
                is an omen. Most of all, I have seen
                how all of us are one,
                Wrapped in the same mystery.
                When I am cut, you bleed.
                Now this sight is stripped from me.
                Now I cry. I weep. I want to write down
                What I saw. I am an error,
                I am lost. What is given can after all
                Be taken away. I want it back.
                What’s the meaning of meaning?

                Men and Women Can't Be Friends

                Now when I was a kid I watched a movie
                called "When Harry met Sally" which I suppose
                must be some kind of classic by now.
                I think it was Harry who said to Sally, or
                maybe it was Sally who said to Harry,
                that men and women can't be friends
                because sex gets in the way.
                It's sad that this is true, because right now
                as I sit and talk to you, I'm wondering
                what you look like in the nude.
                Because you look really sexy today.
                My girlfriend would hit me if she knew,
                and your boyfriend would hit me if he knew.
                You would hit me too if you knew,
                or maybe you'd be flattered.
                But anyway the point is I can't stop wondering
                what you look like in the nude.
                I'm not going to kiss you or hug you or
                touch your breasts or anything like that.
                But I really can't or won't stop wondering
                what you look like in the nude.
                And maybe this is why men and women
                can't ever be friends.

      30 September 2006


                Games

                Somewhere along the way,
                I became familiar with these games
                of words and politics.
                Learned to play them well.
                So did you.

                Now we know how to smile
                when we say the things we don’t mean.
                The half-truth is a useful tool.
                Every day, we’re masking objectives
                and planning new manoeuvres
                in the dark.

                Although you have my respect,
                you do not have my trust.
                We play these games too well.
                I smile at you, and remain wary.

                Any Different

                Work hard, live long, sleep well,
                don't think too much, and remember
                to die quietly when it's your turn to go.
                Accept the standard definitions,
                for resistance is useless.
                Have we not all yearned to be artists
                or martyrs from time to time,
                to wear a face in a faceless crowd.
                Haven’t you learned yet?
                In the dark we are all the same,
                just the same, and all your grieving
                will not make you any different.

      26 September 2006



              Camera

              You think you know my camera well.
              The Nikon F2, the reliable silver one, the one I carried
              For years with me to weddings, birthdays,
              holidays, the convocations of favourite nieces.
              To the gushing Merlion, to the National Day Parade,
              to the sunset views from the Benjamin Sheares bridge.
              To our vacation on the island of Mauritius
              where we made much love and swam together
              in a picture-perfect blue-green sea. To all our days
              together that mattered, and to those that didn’t.
              Wherever we went, that old camera came along
              like a silent witness, preserving what I saw
              through its clear lens. At home, you browsed through
              the thick collections of our days and seemed surprised
              by how people were always happy, smiling,
              looking the right way. Even inanimate objects like rocks,
              flowers and the white sands of beaches took on
              a calm, benign personality. They seemed to assert
              that the world was full of love and other good things
              and would stay that way. You did not understand
              my art. You did not know what my hands and eye
              had done to those moments, how this camera had closed
              in what it wanted to see. With care and precision.
              With a skill I’d honed for years and practised,
              almost like deceit.

      22 September 2006



            Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M

            You were five months old. New in my life.
            You lay in the cot listening to nursery rhymes
            repeated by a battery-operated toy. You couldn’t sleep.
            When Ba Ba Black Sheep came on for the fourth time,
            you wept with what sounded like despair.
            Already you had a taste for the better things in life.

            From the closet I took the old guitar.
            I hadn’t touched it for years. I wiped the dust off
            with a cloth. Tuned up the sad, neglected strings again.
            But my fingers did remember and my ears were still there.
            So I played. I sang Yesterday like a clear memory.
            And there was Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence,
            and Presley’s Love Me Tender. All oldies even
            back when I’d first heard them myself.

            In the dark you sat, propped against your baby pillows.
            Wide-eyed and listening, you followed my voice and guitar,
            gulping down each note. It was like nothing you’d heard before.
            You were fascinated. You struggled to stay awake.
            At 3 a.m, the last beautiful stanza of If by Bread
            finally pulled you into sleep.

            But I sat there by myself, playing on. Cradling the guitar
            close to me. You remind me of things, son, that I’d known all along.
            Like the sound of a simple major chord. And the way the old songs talk
            of love and tell a story. I teach you words, I sing you songs,
            and you teach me again their possibilities.

      09 August 2006

      Francisco de Goya, The Third of May


                  National Day Parade

                  I had a small part in a
                  Big show of a great little nation.
                  My uniformed mates and I were
                  To march out, swing left,
                  Turn twice, and get off the grounds
                  In twenty seconds flat.
                  Meanwhile the music boomed,
                  The lasers splashed,
                  And the darkened crowds hit
                  A new high of pre-planned,
                  Programmed excitement.
                  Later at home, my mother replayed
                  The video tape five times
                  But couldn't tell her tiny toy-
                  Soldier son from any of the rest.
                  "That one is me," I said,
                  Pointing at the screen.
                  I couldn’t be sure.
                  Still we laughed and clapped
                  Our hands like children,
                  Knowing that it was never
                  Supposed to matter.

      04 August 2006


                ching ming

                to bright hill temple she has gone
                carrying joss and money
                bringing food and drink
                for her mother-in-law’s soul.

                lychees oranges and one apple
                two bowls of white rice
                three vegetarian dishes
                ang ku kueh and bean paste buns

                joss sticks chopsticks
                a vase to hold the flowers
                two chinese cuplets
                to hold the chinese tea.

                with a weary heart
                she kneels before the urn
                to explain for those
                who are not here.

                ah seng cannot come
                he is too busy at the office
                tua gor cannot come because
                she is in poor health

                ah leong will not come
                now that he is baptised
                ji gor is not coming
                but i do not know why.

                so today i come alone, mother
                i bring your favourite dishes
                this money i burn for your
                use in the other world

                the years pass and we forget
                but i am here, mother, and today
                you shall not be lonely
                in the season of the dead.

      29 June 2006


                  Happy Birthday To Me

                  33 years old, and starting from scratch.
                  The world as womb. My time has come.
                  As young, and as old, as I'll ever be.
                  What lies beyond? Which doors do I close,
                  what part of me do I take with me?

      27 June 2006

      boys

                    Rainbow Fish

                    Teck, remember
                    when we were kids
                    wading barefoot
                    in the stream
                    behind our home,
                    catching rainbow
                    fish those small bright
                    lights making
                    ripples widening
                    in the water?
                    Now we sit here
                    on a rainy day
                    over beer and
                    peanuts,
                    scooping up
                    old memories
                    in a netful of small
                    live colours,
                    see how they gasp
                    in surprise
                    and leap crazily,
                    still alive,
                    after all this time
                    their silver bellies
                    still vivid in
                    the sun.

      24 June 2006


                Poor Speaker

                I have a habit of mumbling.
                My tongue grows thick and I myself can hear
                how from my mouth
                one word emerges indistinctly into the next,
                like porridge poured onto other
                shapeless porridge.
                This often happens when I am caught
                in one of those social situations
                where I need most
                to appear sophisticated, intelligent and articulate,
                in other words, those occasions
                when people talk too much,
                say too little and hardly listen at all.
                At such times, in a certain ironic way,
                the incomprehensible sounds
                escaping my lips
                are in fact the most appropriate things
                I could possibly say.

      23 June 2006



                Paddy Chew’s Last Show

                Life is real. Art is its mirror. Or is it the
                other way round? Paddy Chew has forgotten.
                His life is here now, on stage, Paddy starring as himself,
                the final act, before the curtain falls
                and the lights go out forever.

                “This is me,” he says to the audience, “take a look.”
                He lifts his shirt up. A stunned silence.
                Ribs cast shadows on other ribs. The flesh
                has fallen away, the body a territory conquered
                by the relentless virus.

                This is what Paddy tells his audience:
                I liked women. I liked men too.
                At least that is what he remembers.
                These days his body yearns for nothing, not sex,
                not food or water, nothing but its own breath,
                exhausted, in and out, in and out,
                an almost unnatural thing.

                Lies are for the living. Truth is for the brave.
                Masks fall away when death comes close.
                “I am so close,” Paddy says, “to dying.”
                All he wants is to show the audience
                what he has seen. That all of us are dying,
                and none of us should die alone.

                Paddy dies, but not alone. In a way, he lives on too.
                Love is his message. Love endures. I did not know him,
                but I know what love is. I wrote this poem
                so that others like him will live,
                and die, but not alone.

      22 June 2006


                    About My Father

                    Back from the hospital,
                    two weeks after the surgeon cut
                    his heart apart and sewed it
                    back together again.
                    He resumes his normal life.
                    Fixing breakfast in the morning
                    for the family - bread and jam,
                    and coffee - then settling down
                    to read the paper.
                    Only occasionally speaking,
                    to express surprise at some event
                    reported in the press.
                    It is as if nothing has happened.
                    When he has truly departed
                    I shall remember him
                    as he was, here.
                    A man of few words, inscrutable.
                    Drinking black, hot coffee.
                    His eye steady on a world
                    he'd already begun to
                    leave behind.

      20 June 2006


                Dental Check-Up

                The week before my
                appointment, I abstain from
                coffee, upgrade my brand
                of toothpaste,
                and religiously brush
                the most difficult crooks
                and crannies of
                my teeth,
                regretting chocolates
                and other recent
                sins.

                Now I open my mouth,
                peer hard into the bathroom mirror,
                move my tongue from
                side to side, self-
                examine, anxious
                and guilty.
                Doctor, forgive me,
                it's been too long
                since my last
                confession.

      19 June 2006


      Waiting for Inspiration

      I’m trying to write a poem in the shape of a circle
      but all the words are still lingering
      on the edge.
      I hope they will step in soon.


                  Beautiful

                  You want me to say you’re beautiful
                  but I won't use these tricks
                  on you -

                  moonlight walks, sweet words,
                  unexpected flowers,
                  fine wine and candlelight
                  jazz moods,
                  professions of love forever
                  in silly poems
                  on rainy nights made
                  for two,

                  it’s the clever men
                  who know these tricks,
                  the women never do -

                  when I hold you darkly
                  on crumpled linen
                  in passion
                  without words
                  then search my eyes
                  you'll know that I think
                  .................. you're
                  ......................... beautiful.

      11 June 2006



                Alone

                In a secret place, a very secret place,
                with the world so faraway
                that I end up whispering to myself.
                No one knows I'm here,
                and no one will hear me speak.

                Just beside me, a clear little stream,
                running over pebbles, passing moss-covered rocks.
                If I slipped and hit my head,
                I think I might stain the water red
                and die here.

                Listen to how it breathes, babbles, all nonsense,
                rushing to irrelevant destinations -
                see how it ignores me.
                I just might want to slip, hit my head,
                to stain the water red
                and die here.

      04 June 2006

      Caravaggio, The Holy Family


                  Family

                  Late at night I return home
                  from work and find my wife and child
                  fast asleep together.
                  When I lift him from her breast
                  she sighs in her sleep as if lost
                  in distant dreams.
                  But in the dark my son stirs
                  and clings to me,
                  fighting off the drowsiness
                  that drapes him like a cloak.
                  His small arms, recalling
                  his father’s body, lock around my neck
                  as if imagining a drowning.
                  So here too is the language of loss
                  the fear of loss,
                  and this is how he learns to love,
                  as we ourselves have learned.
                  We forget, we crowd
                  our lives with white noise,
                  bright colours, a thousand
                  irrelevant things,
                  but in the end we return
                  to all there really is –
                  the sons, the fathers
                  the women whom they love
                  and in all the nights ahead
                  this great black fear
                  of absence.

      02 June 2006


                  Third Party

                  The woman I love
                  is yelling at her mother
                  who is yelling back.
                  I try to intercede,
                  to make peace.
                  She snaps, “Shut up,
                  it’s none of your business.”
                  On this point alone,
                  her mother fully agrees.
                  I sit back, roll my eyes
                  at the ceiling.
                  Taking the spectator’s
                  back seat.
                  They turn back to their
                  rudely interrupted
                  quarrel.

                  When I Was Little

                  Dragons used to dance in the sky,
                  and strange animals stretched as far as the eye
                  could see, cotton white against brilliant blue.
                  They would not speak, but I saw them going through
                  their lazy movements, changing shape with the wind,
                  sometimes disappearing, then reappearing,
                  sometimes looking down to watch us crawling
                  about on earth. They knew we wouldn’t notice.

                  Bako Island

                  Thirty minutes by boat takes me from here
                  to a village where people make their living
                  tossing nets into the sea;
                  but at sunset on Bako
                  no footprints walk the beach but mine
                  and all the world is sky and ocean.
                  Still it seems that no one knows
                  this place, no one remembers
                  how a hermit crab defies, marking
                  a wind-swept, wave-swept beach
                  with the sandy trails of
                  its lonely travels.

      29 May 2006


                  church wedding

                  The handsome groom, smiling like plastic,
                  systematically shook two hundred
                  well-wishing hands.

                  The nervous, excited bride constantly
                  touched her frizzled hair as she mingled
                  and made silly small talk rapidly.

                  The balding, cheerful pastor, arriving
                  slightly late in his immaculate suit, delivered
                  his well-rehearsed, eloquent sermon

                  on God, love and the bonds between
                  man and wife. The non-Christian guests held
                  brown little hymnbooks and opened

                  their awkward mouths, as others rose
                  to their feet and sang `Amazing Grace'.
                  Somewhere at the back of the chapel,

                  a baby burst into violent tears,
                  and her parents hushed and shushed,
                  trying in vain to stop her.

      25 May 2006


                  Swimming

                  My breath
                  is bubbling
                  …………nonsense
                  ……talkative
                  ………but my body's
                  a silent shadow
                  ……… gliding on the blue
                  ………………….. of pool bottom.
                  …. Flecks of sun dance
                  breathlessly
                  ……….on my skin
                  …….but in my ears
                  there is only gurgling,
                  ……silence,
                  …………gurgling, silence,
                  as i submerge,
                  ………….emerge, submerge,
                  ……..emerge merge
                  with the arc of
                  ………breaststroke
                  ………………..pulls.
                  Those of you who fly
                  …………………will mock my
                  ….sluggish strokes
                  and call me
                  ……….a poor little frog
                  but i'm really just
                  ……………….a very lazy whale
                  ………..with one lifetime
                  to cross
                  …..my oceans.

      24 May 2006


                    Social Ambitions

                    I’m doing
                    all the
                    right things
                    moving in
                    all the
                    right directions
                    spiraling up
                    all the
                    right circles
                    to my dreams
                    in society’s
                    higher places.
                    The higher
                    I get,
                    the further
                    I have to
                    go -
                    I’m always
                    almost very nearly
                    there,
                    but never quite
                    there yet.
                    It seems that the
                    same goes for
                    nearly everyone else
                    in this peculiar,
                    perpetually
                    hungry
                    little nation
                    of ours.

      22 May 2006


                  House Lizard

                  He thinks the wall is his,
                  and the ceiling too,
                  the little monster,
                  his eyes beady black,
                  his fat body growing fatter
                  as the months go by.
                  Night after night he feeds
                  like a glutton on the
                  helpless bugs
                  that, drawn by the table
                  lamplight, unsuspectingly
                  fly in through the window.
                  He shits on the sill,
                  leaving black pellets of
                  digested insect,
                  and when I'm not here,
                  slithers impudently
                  into my mug as if it’s
                  his goddamned sofa.
                  When I'm in the room,
                  he prudently sticks
                  to the ceiling,
                  beyond my easy reach,
                  going tsk tsk tsk in his
                  patronising voice.
                  I swear he's laughing.
                  He’d better watch it,
                  or one of these days
                  I'll shoot him down
                  with a thick rubber band.
                  Bang. Thwack his fat little
                  head good and proper.
                  He'll fall to the floor
                  with brains puddling
                  around his head,
                  tail leaping off
                  his corpse giggling
                  like a muscle
                  in the throes of
                  death.

      19 May 2006


                    Turtle Pond

                    Theirs surely is a small universe,
                    yet they sit perfectly still on the rocks,
                    little heads held up,
                    lost in thought
                    contemplating philosophies
                    too profound for me
                    to imagine.

      Writing Poems

      Some kind of
      hunting has been
      going on

      and it’s the thrill
      of capture
      that I’m after,

      the victory of
      pouncing
      on a piece of life,

      trapping it in
      the net
      of language

      pressing it down
      into black and
      white

      16 April 2006



                    Editing Poetry

                    I am at work
                    today
                    crafting language
                    polishing
                    my lines of
                    verse
                    humming to
                    myself
                    as I bring out
                    the quiet
                    shine
                    of these
                    small
                    creations.


                  The Beggars in Chinatown

                  One of them approaches me now,
                  small and bent-over, shrivelled
                  by age and history.

                  She mumbles and stretches out
                  her wrinkled paw to ask for coins -

                  but I look away, apologetic.

                  I do not see her.

                  I tell myself that by now she must
                  be used to being invisible.

                  The poor do not usually exist –
                  they merely inhabit some mysterious zone
                  beyond the range of our
                  normal vision.