31 January 2006

              The State Speaks

              Your identity is
              a number on a pink card
              that the law will not
              allow you not
              to carry.

              Now obey,
              or be deleted.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, January 31, 2006 9 comments

25 January 2006


              .......And I,
              ............ gazing at stars,
              stumbled over you,
              ...................... tripped
              ........ fell painfully in love,
              couldn't get up
              ............... for ages.
posted by Gilbert at Wednesday, January 25, 2006 14 comments

20 January 2006

              National Leadership

              In this country,
              a fine young leader
              is no accident.
              He wins the right
              thinks the right
              is selected for
              rapid promotion
              giving him
              adequate altitude
              to practise his
              helicopter vision.
              His confidence
              is carefully cultivated
              through the years,
              to achieve the
              arrogance of the
              truly great.
              Yes sir, we are always
              who we are,
              simple honest people,
              but sometimes
              we still long too hard
              for heroes.
posted by Gilbert at Friday, January 20, 2006 6 comments

17 January 2006

              Midnight Arpeggios

              In the fierce quiet
              when words fail
              and the mind strains
              ............... against the
              ........................ silence,
              the fingers can still
              defining the curve
              of each
              ...... emotion
              against the
              .......... dark wood.

              Now you’re gone,
              but I shaped a chord
              on the old guitar
              and wrote these
              ................. words,
              the old melodies
              we played
              .......... together,
              all the colours
              .............. of moods
              ..... and meanings
              you taught me
              ... on these
              .......... strings.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 7 comments

14 January 2006

Lo Ching.

            Foreign Worker Cutting Trees

            On this island, the branches of tall trees
            in public places are not permitted
            to grow as they please

            but must be regularly trimmed on
            hot restless sun-drenched days
            by foreign workers

            bearing electric saws, climbing
            with bare hands and feet
            up into alien treetop territory.

            Today I held my breath as I watched
            one of these men make his way
            twenty metres up above ground -

            if he fell he would surely break a limb
            or back or otherwise kill himself on
            this hot, forgettable afternoon,

            a thousand miles from home.
            Knowing this, perhaps, he kept pausing,
            looking for right places to put his foot;

            taking each small step with an infinite,
            enduring patience. Finally reaching a safe perch,
            from which he knew he could not fall.

            He put down his saw in the fork of two
            small branches. Wiped the sweat from
            his face with the back of his hand.

            And sat down, legs dangling, to rest a while,
            amidst the spreading arms of the giant
            rain tree, to catch the view.

            It struck me then, how simple, how harsh,
            life could be. You thought only about one thing
            at a time. Where to step next. How to cut

            a branch. How not to fall. How not to think
            of your wife or lover, back bent, planting padi
            seedlings in the rain-soaked fields

            of another country. All your days
            were slipping by, up in the leafy treetops of
            a distant island. You could think,

            as long as you liked, on these hot
            endless afternoons. There would always
            be enough trees for that.
posted by Gilbert at Saturday, January 14, 2006 6 comments

12 January 2006

Girl with a Mandolin, Picasso


            Of late, I’ve grown suspicious of my poems.
            With age, they get crude and cranky, grow defiant
            and get from bad to worse. I can almost smell
            the senility creeping in. Last night,
            the keyboard sulked, a theme protested,
            and all my metaphors went missing.
            My fingers typed this line –
            "We’ve gone on strike, so stop the kissing."
            I’m still wondering what this means.
posted by Gilbert at Thursday, January 12, 2006 8 comments

10 January 2006

Photo by El-Branden Brazil.


              We return at night
              from work
              we enter lifts
              press buttons
              exit lifts
              press ourselves
              into our units
              their shapes so similar
              we briefly forget
              the walls that stand
              Along the common
              we glimpse those
              other lives –
              old school shoes
              left outside,
              small altars of
              red Chinese gods,
              sad, neglected
              a woman’s voice
              raised in anger
              against defiant
              The names are blanks,
              the faces familiar
              and forgotten,
              each story
              brief and incomplete.
              Now a door opens,
              then shuts,
              and a window slides,
              then slides back
              and another day
              closes like a
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, January 10, 2006 7 comments

07 January 2006

Catholic School

Every morning we lined up at the courtyard and said our morning prayers before singing the Majulah Singapura. Tall and thin, clad in white, Brother Michael stood at the microphone. His deep, calm voice leading us through the ancient words, leading us like a steady hand through the darkness of our closed eyes. Our Father. Hail Mary. Prayer of Saint Francis Xavier. The murmurings traveled like wave upon wave inside your head, going deeper and deeper till they vanished into nothing. Then the first strains of Mari Kita began and it was like you’d suddenly just woken up and stepped into a real, more solid kind of world.

The school was very old. It had stone floors and archways and long corridors. The Japanese had used the building as a base during the Second World War. They killed some old missionaries here. Chopped their heads off. It was true. You could read about it in the history books. You imagined the Irish priests kneeling before the executioners, heads bowed as if in offering to the bayonets. The sturdy silver blade, stained with blood, repeating the downward stroke. You wondered how holy you’d have to be to tell yourself then, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".

There was a library. Dusty books stacked so high you had to stand on a chair to reach them. On geography, science, maths and history. And on theology. T-h-e-o-l-o-g-y. You remembered Father Tseng saying that word once, during Bible Knowledge class. An old man with stooped shoulders. Plucking precise verse out from memory. Speaking about the agonies on the cross, the betrayals of a traitor, forty days of wandering in the lost desert conversing with the devil. You looked at Father Tseng, grey-haired, frail and distant, moving around slowly with his battered, dog-eared bible in hand. You imagined him standing calmly before the Japanese – yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil. You suspected that somehow Father Tseng, like God, might live forever.

At recess, Daniel Mark said that Kok Cheng was going to hell when he died. "You're going to burn, Kok Cheng," Daniel Mark said, sounding evil. And very sure. Daniel Mark would go to heaven because he was Catholic and went to church every Sunday. Kok Cheng looked scared. He never said his prayers at morning assembly. His parents were Buddhist. Also, he had a girlfriend from the convent school down the road and he said he’d fucked her. Twice. Kok Cheng said he didn’t know then that it was a sin but Daniel Mark said that God knew he was lying and that everyone ought to know that fucking was a sin. "It’s too late now, Kok Cheng," Daniel Mark said solemnly. "You’re damned."

I felt sorry for Kok Cheng. You couldn't help it if your parents were Buddhist. You couldn't help it if you had a name like Kok Cheng, instead of Michael, Abraham or Daniel Mark. I didn’t know anything about fucking, except that it was something dirty and you had to study it in Sec Three biology. I didn’t want to fuck anybody. I wasn't Christian myself, but I said my prayers anyway. Our Father in Heaven. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Amen. Amen. It was easy enough. I was quite young and I didn’t know a lot of things. But I knew it was better to be safe than sorry.
posted by Gilbert at Saturday, January 07, 2006 5 comments

06 January 2006

Art by El-Branden Brazil, Carrion Delights

            The Dead Poems

            You printed them out and
            read them aloud to test them.
            But you knew already that
            they were not strong enough.
            Still you tried. You crafted them
            further and did your best
            to make them breathe.
            You offered them to friends
            and editors, fellow poets,
            but they frowned and shook
            their heads, apologetic.
            So you came home and the
            poems suffocated into
            liitle paper balls. You threw
            them into the waste basket.
            In Microsoft Windows,
            you pressed “Delete” and
            like a coffin, the Recycle Bin
            opened to claim them.
            Their ranks swelled over time
            and they grew numerous
            like names forgotten in an
            old graveyard.
            It was you who killed them -
            you and your bumbling
            lack of inspiration.
            You could sense their silent
            reproach, their mute accusations
            of your failings.
            More than once, you were tempted
            to click “Empty Recycle Bin”
            and erase their memory
            for good. But guilt stopped you,
            and so you left them there,
            in the cemetery of your
            hard disk. A final resting place.
            There they lay, the dissatisfied
            dead, the complaining corpses
            of your poetic misadventures.
posted by Gilbert at Friday, January 06, 2006 13 comments