25 March 2006

              The Bureaucracy

              We are a cold hard part
              of a necessary process,

              repeating through the
              years repeating.

              Our names are soon forgotten,
              our faces do not endure,

              and as we pass on and on,
              failing like a memory,

              only our most tenacious
              errors will survive,

              take root, cling to life
              like slow, steady infections

              entrenched in the rigid bodies
              of our harsh institutions,

              repeating through the
              years repeating.
posted by Gilbert at Saturday, March 25, 2006 3 comments

23 March 2006

              Taking 151

              The bus is packed
              and crowded, so try
              not to touch
              anybody else and don't
              (it's rude) at breasts
              or moles on people's
              necks or armpits' black bushes
              when people reach up
              to hold on tight you can smell
              sweat turned sour and
              people's hair
              but here's a turn, the bus
              swings wo-Oaa-oah!
              we hang on
              for dear life like on
              a disney roller in slow mo
              why don't they put more
              handles for us to grab
              on to! Bet the bus driver
              thinks this is fun, the
              creep, his only piece of fun
              driving up and down
              this stupid island.
              Ahh, but when I get my
              seat and window,
              I'll let the air come in
              to kiss me (never mind
              the smog) won't look in
              to see who's beside me
              won't look out either
              or left or right or up down
              I'll just plug into clapton
              yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
              live unplugged at albert hall ...!
              and see if I care about the
              rest of you - ha!
              I've got a seat, a space
              for my body for my mind
              listenin' to the world's
              greatest music
              you can stand there and
              be pressed by other bodies
              but I won't be here till
              I have to get off at
              jalan toa payoh.

posted by Gilbert at Thursday, March 23, 2006 9 comments

22 March 2006

              Chinese Dumplings

              The old, shrunken woman
              sits in her warm
              kitchen on a
              humid afternoon,
              offering instructions
              as her daughter wraps
              glutinous rice
              with bamboo leaves
              into tight, neat
              pyramids of zongzi
              with small beating
              hearts of sweet
              bean paste.

              The younger woman
              frowns as she works,
              fingers memorising details
              of technique.
              The year may be
              her mother’s last,
              and the need
              to learn has grown

              like the strike
              of oars along the
              Miluo river
              as a patriot embraces
              the water
              drowns without
              the forsaken body
              beginning to slip
posted by Gilbert at Wednesday, March 22, 2006 2 comments

19 March 2006

            The Pied Piper of Hamelin

            Yes, they cheated me,
            but it was not I who stole their children.
            I merely played my music,
            and my music is the song of the travelling wind,
            the song of time passing, the song of
            all things inevitable,
            and the children who followed my song
            followed freely,
            chose their own steps
            and left their parents behind,
            as all young things grow,
            and come to leave their nest
            in time.
            Yes, the mothers and
            the fathers gather and they weep,
            but only because they forget
            how it was when they themselves
            were children,
            and heard the song of the
            travelling wind, the song of time passing,
            the song of all things inevitable,
            they forget how they left their
            own nests too,
            bold and reckless,
            followed my strange song freely.
posted by Gilbert at Sunday, March 19, 2006 7 comments

12 March 2006

          What I Didn't Tell You

          We ended up in a bar whose name I didn't know.
          I had a black russian. You had something that you didn't like.
          There was a pianist. He played silly love songs.
          Can't Help Falling In Love. If You Don't Know Me By Now.
          I was all screwed up inside.

          You weren't crying anymore. I felt like having
          Another drink. I said that I wasn't ready. Not for this.
          Not now. All screwed up inside. Had to sort myself out first.
          Take some time. Nothing to do with you, I said.
          I thought that this might be a good time to get drunk.

          So we talked. For a long time. Until the pianist quit.
          A saxophonist came on. If you get drunk, you can say
          Anything you like. Or not say it. Nobody will know
          whether you meant it or not. Nobody blames you
          for anything.

          "Drinks on me, the next time." That was what I said.
          When we were leaving. Just to see how you'd react
          to the words. Next time. I wasn't drunk.
          Didn't get drunk after all. Didn't tell you
          that I loved you.
posted by Gilbert at Sunday, March 12, 2006 3 comments

10 March 2006

          We Were Talking Poetry at a Coffee Café

          And then you took out this poem
          You’d lately written. Work in progress, you said.
          But even as I ran my eyes over its skeleton
          I felt the bright red pain of it, the sense of loss
          Of which it tried to speak.

          This half-shadow lurking in your eyes,
          Like a memory. How much of this was truth,
          How much only fiction? I did not ask the question.
          I feared the answer would be a wound too deep
          For me to even try to help you heal.

          So we discussed the technicals only. The choice
          Of a word, the colour of a metaphor. Where to break
          A line. Sipping bitter expressos, testing resonances,
          We rearranged the bones of your language,
          Studiously avoided its weeping flesh.
posted by Gilbert at Friday, March 10, 2006 4 comments


              At the end of storms,
              we set our paper
              boats free

              into broad deep
              drains swollen
              with rain,

              then raced along
              in slippers yelling
              wild adventure,

              riding the waves,
              dipping, diving,
              defying death

              sweeping ahead
              for miles and miles
              (we imagined)

              till currents crushed
              the boats shapeless
              like wild water,

              and the swirling
              tops of furious white
              pulled us down

              like a memory
              of distant
              childhood days.

posted by Gilbert at Friday, March 10, 2006 6 comments

              Ex-Convict at a Public
              Swimming Pool

              In the men’s
              the deep dark
              brown of
              his wet back and
              contrasts with
              the startling
              white of
              his bare
              where four lines
              of dead hard
              as thick as
              raise themselves
              like ridges
              straddling the terrain
              of skin
              once torn.

              In the cold
              he is singing
              as he vigorously
              scrubs himself
              defying the
              many furtive
              sidelong glances
              and a few
              open stares,
              his scars
              exposed like
              the past
              he will not
              knowing it
              can never
              be forgiven
              or washed
              ......... away.

posted by Gilbert at Friday, March 10, 2006 4 comments

04 March 2006

              Isn’t Really

              Thinking loose, morose thoughts
              is what I catch myself doing
              too often these days.
              Putting them down on paper is
              how I deal with them.
              So if my poems look black and
              bleak, I like to think that
              this isn’t really me.
              I’m a happier, simpler person
              than this. I’m not alone.
              I’m not lonely. Life isn’t these
              four walls and a window,
              one mind listlessly rearranging
              words into gloomy moods.
              I’m quite sure that this isn’t
              really me. It isn’t.
posted by Gilbert at Saturday, March 04, 2006 3 comments

                Family Cat

                skies are bleak
                and grey with rain,
                but here you curl
                in a rattan basket
                meant for
                hug yourself
                like a soft pillow
                and sleep like
                a baby,
                utterly lost
                in love
                with self.

posted by Gilbert at Saturday, March 04, 2006 3 comments

01 March 2006

        Sergeant Talking BMT on Pulau Tekong

        Can you take the training? Ha! Stupid question.
        Look at your rifle, see the signs of age, feel the wear and tear.
        Many men have passed this way before, many more will come.
        You're just another one in a great big crowd. They survive. We survive.
        You're no different from them. Us.

        But if you want some advice - watch your feet.
        Be careful. Look where you step and how you land,
        especially when you're tired. Fatigue has a way of finding
        holes, uneven ground and stones to break your ankle on.
        And army boots are bad for feet if you're not a soldier yet.

        Damn! These mosquitoes. Just grab the air
        and you might catch one or two in your hand.
        Use this net at night. It'll save you more than a little blood.
        Every 14 days you take two pills that bite faster than you can swallow.
        It's bitter poison, to stop the malaria from eating you up.

        In the jungle, if you really must,
        then pee only against grass or other inconspicuous plants.
        Don't laugh. Stay away from rocks, trees and uncommon vegetation.
        Remember to apologise, and remember - speak aloud!
        Not all of them can hear your thoughts.

        I have three stripes but I am NSF like you.
        You're my last batch of men before I leave this stupid army.
        So if you don't give me trouble, I won't give you trouble.
        But you take drugs, kill yourself, go awol or try to homo anybody
        then I'll be very angry. Then you'll be sorry.

        Three months is not so long. Here we like to train you hard
        and keep you busy. There's not much time to think
        when you're busy. Besides, this is just the beginning.
        There are lots of places worse than Tekong.
        Who knows where they'll post you after three months?

This poem is part of the Please Criticise Me project.
posted by Gilbert at Wednesday, March 01, 2006 11 comments

        Golden Oldies

        You were five months old. New in my life.
        One night you lay in your cot listening to nursery rhymes repeated
        idiotically by a battery-operated toy. You couldn’t sleep.
        When “Ba Ba 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 dry 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”.

        You sat there in the dark, propped up on your baby pillows.
        Wide-eyed and listening, you followed my voice and guitar,
        gulping down every note. It was nothing like you’d ever heard before.
        You were fascinated. You struggled to stay awake.
        It was 3 a.m when 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, child, that I’d known all along.
        Of love, and the way the old songs talk of love.
        Every day I teach you words, I sing you songs,
        and you teach me again their possibilities.

Please Criticise Me.
posted by Gilbert at Wednesday, March 01, 2006 1 comments