28 February 2006


          Ten to midnight, in the middle of the week.
          Go to bed feeling lost. Waiting for sleep.
          Pondering over a friend's statement that
          "what you really need is a fresh start."
          Wondering if this is true. And how he’d know.
          Hoping that when I wake up tomorrow,
          all this vagueness in my life will have resolved
          itself into something harder. Knowing that this
          won't happen. Not so lucky.

posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, February 28, 2006 2 comments

21 February 2006


            When I was four or five,
            Mondays were always so faraway.
            I stayed with my uncle.
            We took walks every day.
            To the playground, with its creaky
            old swings with rusty chains.
            Along the road where we lived,
            peering into other people's houses,
            wondering about their
            kids and dogs.
            To the scrap yard behind
            our own house,
            where hundreds of dead,
            useless cars piled up in long rows.
            With hardly a soul in sight.
            I could choose any car I liked.
            I could climb in and pretend
            I was driving fast. Vroom vroom.
            Grab the steering wheel and turn it
            this way and that. My uncle would stand
            outside the car and wait.
            Laughing at me until he grew bored.
            But I didn't care. Vroom vroom.
            Years later, six lanes of traffic would
            rush through where this scrap yard
            once was. And all these battered,
            broken cars would be gone.
            But at that time even my uncle,
            who knew a lot of things,
            couldn’t have known that.

            If it rained then we couldn’t go
            for walks. I’d sit in a room and read
            old National Geographics
            with my uncle. Well, not read.
            I couldn’t yet. But I’d flip through
            the pages and look at the photos
            of lions and spiders and
            dark people with no clothes.
            “Those are pygmies. They live
            in Africa and when they’re far apart
            they talk by using drums,”
            my uncle said.
            That was interesting. But I liked
            the animals better. There were
            other books. They had children's stories
            and nursery rhymes. I liked
            National Geographic best.

            Sometimes we’d go to the reservoir.
            It was only a few bus-stops away.
            We’d bring bread. We’d tear it up
            into pieces, and throw them
            into the water. Terrapins and fish
            came up from deep inside the
            dark green water to gulp the pieces down.
            Sometimes two fishes would fight
            for the same piece of bread.
            At the water’s edge there were tadpoles.
            Small, black, squiggly things.
            There was a wooden platform
            raised above the water so you could walk
            from the shore some way out to
            where the really big fish were.
            At least that's where my uncle said
            they were. I never actually saw any.
            He'd sit on a bench to rest
            and read the newspapers and
            sometimes even fall asleep
            while waiting for me.

            When we got back, my aunt would
            make me a snack. “Do you want milk
            or Milo today?” she’d ask. Humming a happy,
            absent-minded tune under her breath.
            She was always humming.
            I wanted black coffee like
            my uncle but I couldn’t
            until I grew up.
            But I could have a sandwich.
            With ham, eggs and tomato.
            Butter on both sides.
            Or marmalade. I liked marmalade.
            No one else in the house liked jam
            so my aunt's marmalade was
            all for me. After I finished,
            she would make me take a bath.
            With hot water and Dettol soap.
            And lots of baby powder
            after I dried off.
            "So that the germs won't come
            to visit you tonight, and you can
            sleep properly," she'd say.
            I didn't want the germs to
            ever come to visit me.

            On weekends, my real parents would
            come to take me home.
            I never wanted to go. I’d cry.
            Furiously. I’d cling to my aunt,
            or to a table, or the fence.
            Holding on fiercely,
            with all my strength.
            “Please, boy, let’s go,” my mother said.
            She sounded like she was
            going to cry too.
            My father looked on, angry and
            embarrassed. He would've liked
            to smack me hard.
            “Be a good boy,” my aunt coaxed,
            prising my fingers from
            the fence wires. “You’ll be back
            here on Monday. We can go to
            the reservoir again.”
            I cried more furiously.
            When I was four or five,
            Mondays were always
            so faraway.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, February 21, 2006 10 comments

16 February 2006

              A Nothing Kind of Job

              I come to work
              in a shirt and tie
              I draft contracts
              my clients call me
              all day long
              to ask me questions
              & wrap up deals
              their deadlines
              sound like threats
              my palms sweat
              as I reply politely
              & tell myself
              be cool, it’s a
              nothing kind
              of job

              I go for meetings
              where they talk about
              companies & money
              not art or happiness
              just companies & money
              they draw charts
              I take notes
              they talk numbers
              I take notes
              when they argue
              I take notes
              sometimes I say something
              like please stop fighting
              & they listen
              I draw cats and dogs
              when no one’s
              I tell myself that
              most people hate
              their jobs

              Once I tried to quit
              I gave my boss the letter
              he said why
              I said I don’t know
              he said you can’t do this to me
              I said why not
              he said it’s the money
              I said it’s not
              you’re lying & I’ll raise
              it 500 bucks, he said
              I said ok & took
              my letter back
              he smiled
              I felt sorry for myself
              I knew it was a nothing
              kind of job
posted by Gilbert at Thursday, February 16, 2006 14 comments

14 February 2006


              In this season,
              if pa was in a good mood
              he'd come home with a
              gunny sack of thorny fruit,
              which we, the children, would
              gingerly roll out onto
              old newspapers
              and then we'd wait,
              in wide-eyed anticipation,
              for some adult (we couldn't do it)
              to prise open with a
              butcher's knife
              the hard green shells
              exposing sweet yellow flesh
              on which we sucked,
              like eager babies
              on an offered nipple.
              Grandma would cluck
              disapproving, saying
              that too much durian
              makes you cough, but
              excitedly, we'd pronounce,
              with all the experience
              of our tender years,
              on the quality of
              what we’d just eaten -
              the taste, texture, smell,
              the milky feel against
              our pinkish-red tongues.
              Nothing made pa happier
              than to know that
              he’d picked
              a good durian for us.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, February 14, 2006 6 comments

Klimt, Death and Life.


            Each poem, a living thread, and each life, different,
            Winding its way through the tapestry.
            The body is real. The body grows. The body dies.
            We come to the same great darkness.
            Free verse is illusion. We have no choice –
            Always the story will tell itself. The words record the people,
            The words record the places. Once we were here.
            The answers slip away, and lie in silence,
            Between the lines, between the shadows of
            The things we leave unsaid.
posted by Gilbert at Tuesday, February 14, 2006 5 comments

06 February 2006

            Kuala Lumpur

            Outside a noisy bus station
            on a bright hot day,
            I met a young man
            about my age
            who wore jeans, a singlet
            and a smile as bright as
            his twinkling eyes.
            He knew I was from
            out of town and
            to make sure I understood him,
            he spoke in Malay, Hokkien,
            Cantonese, Teochew
            and broken English,
            offering to get me anything,
            anything I might possibly need -
            a taxi, a cab, a place to stay,
            a coach ticket or a woman
            ("All my girls, clean!" he said confidently)
            and a room to go, immediately available,
            here he jerked his thumb up
            to point out the upper floor of the
            old coffee shop next to us.
            Downstairs, there were students,
            clerks and blue-collar workers
            having lunch, but
            upstairs, by a
            dark narrow stairway,
            was another kind of trade altogether.

            That night I stayed at the
            hotel puduraya,
            looked out from
            my eighth floor window,
            and saw him, still there,
            on the other side,
            cheerfully accosting passers-by
            with his offers.
            I could not help but
            imagine it:
            in a little room
            above a coffee shop
            to the sound of honking traffic
            warm naked flesh pressing mine
            working hard
            while downstairs he talks
            to strangers, trying to get
            my lover
            one more body
            for the night.
posted by Gilbert at Monday, February 06, 2006 9 comments