16 April 2006
- 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
14 April 2006
- The Death of Ong Jia Hui
Your son dies. Your only son dies.
Your soldier son dies, not in war,
but in peacetime, not in peace,
but at sea, drowned in a training accident,
an accident they say, but they don’t
tell you why, they don’t tell you
how it could have happened
when others were there, everywhere,
in the water, on the boat,
yet no one saw him sink,
no one saw him slip beneath the waves
the singing waves, the rifle
slung round his body like a rock or noose,
a great fatal noose
with God’s hand pulling.
No one heard him call for help,
which finally came of course,
but came too late,
so late that all you have now
for a son is his body,
some damned medals and the memory
of that body, so pale and
cold and clean, and now as you sit
in your small neat kitchen
with the solemn, grey-haired colonel
you find that you have no more tears,
and though the colonel tries
he too has no more words
Mrs Ong, I'm so sorry one more time.
As he stands to leave,
he puts his hand on your shoulder,
a strong firm soldier’s hand
like your son's,
as if that could stop the hurt
or answer questions,
all your pointless questions,
they swirl in your head
and just won’t wash away.
13 April 2006
- You Had A Nightmare
Then the wide-eyed
shock of waking
the surprise of bedsheets
street lights through
the usual windows
and these arms of mine,
again around you.
12 April 2006
- Why The Buddha Smiles
Shen Hsiu the senior monk rises from meditation
And writes this on the monastery wall:
- The body is the tree of enlightenment
The mind is the bright mirror that stands before it
Take care to wipe it constantly
Let not the dust settle
Hui Neng the kitchen boy rises from his sleep
reads the wall and in reply he writes:
- There never was a tree of enlightenment
Nor any bright mirror standing
Since all is empty
Where is dust to settle?
11 April 2006
10 April 2006
07 April 2006
For three days now
a guppy has been dead
the aquarium filter.
Each night I come home
late from work
and observe the further
stages of its
the slow collapse of
fins, tail and
Bad things linger
in our lives
because we don’t
have the energy
to deal with
to fish them out,
no, we only
as if hypnotised
while they rot
as they will
a slow and lethal
02 April 2006
- The Plant at my Window
I want to be the potted plant
at my window because it exists
without fear or worry
it understands that its sole purpose
is to live and grow
and in the most adverse circumstances
it will not complain against
fate or cruelty.
Having nothing to hope for,
it will not despair,
and as it does not know the
meaning of giving up,
there will be always be a new leaf
a new flower, or an old root
pushing deeper still
for water, for as long as
this is possible.
A final day will come,
as it must for all that live,
but the end, as I imagine it,
will be painless and without regret,
without a sense of being
or a need for courage,
without even a trace
- The Ugly Duckling
In later years, the swan became
even more beautiful.
The lake was his second sky
and across its clear surface he glided
like a dancer.
But sometimes in the evenings
he paused by the reeds
at the lakeside
to watch the toads in their season.
Like a swarm of cold grey warts
on infected skin,
hundreds of them gathered to mate,
belching out their vile croaksong,
their ancient sound of
.......of life itself.
Watching them, he would recall
his ugly duckling days,
and again he would despise himself
for his weakness,
for his fear of living in a world
that would not regard him
........................... as beautiful.
- One Picture of the Two of You
So that night, you grew wistful,
telling me about the man you loved,
and why he could not love you back.
He was my friend too, I could
not hear this, and uneasily I steered away
from the private convolutions of your heart.
Get over it, I counselled, return for a while
to Malaysia, see your family, and remember
where home is.
So I said what came easy for me,
excusing myself from your confidence,
how lightly my words moved within
the maze of your emotions.
Neither I nor you nor he could have guessed
then that in a year's time you'd be dying
in a KL hospital, an unexpected disease
spreading wildfire through your marrow.
He would be the one packing a hasty bag,
sleepless on the last train rushing north
in darkness, arriving late again,
too late again as usual.
If only you’d known this earlier, or he, or even I,
then things might have turned out differently.
Then again, perhaps not.
I permute the possibilities, ponder
the what-ifs, imagine reversing the clock.
The futility is mocking. I know absolutely that
none of this can matter now.