Poem: Punggol

Silver river softly rolled, its winding passages
charted on atlases of green veins rising
under tanned skin wrapped over forearms
of men rowing on slivers of sampans

Chinese farmers with their poultry and pigs,
Malay fishermen who have delicately drawn
from provisions of the generous sea, and
between them, a sacred distance of fellowship

Past chapels from which soulful voices rise
heavenward and fall clumsily on zinc roofs
of quiet neighbours like grey singlets slipping
from laundry lines onto a bed of dried leaves;

Beside Babujan Zoo, where the Bengal tiger
wistfully watched the water, wishing,
perhaps, it could drift away, off the edge
of the story of a land, which idly bided

at the tip of a long road paved with loss,
overrun by men on bicycles, chanting
foreign anthems of liberation, lips longing for
their wives and children, which shall soon cease

to give life, but open wide its mouth to catch
the felled, where the river will no longer
carry the wishes of a people who
shall soon be called by a different name.

This poem was featured in Singapore Poetry On The Sidewalks in 2019.

It was also used in this collage work by Lidya Kamal, 3rd year Art & Design student, Glasgow School Of Art Singapore

lidya-punggol

Poem: Traveller

I’m the traveller waiting in transit,

whose flight is not yet fixed or known to him,

in a foreign land whose food he now eats, 

whose language he now speaks fluently in. 

The boarding time—that’s still a mystery, 

but the retail offers make up for it, 

and the cheap spa’s soothing soul therapy, 

one would give up checking every minute. 

Crowds or jostling bother not much longer

than the dated movies showing on screen, 

so other travellers ‘round drinks gather,

forget the land they were meant to be in:

the land of ancestors and native tongues,

of healing and soulful songs to be sung.

Poem: Woman in the Kitchen

The womb is filled with echoes from drops of 

warm pregnant tears, warm as the blood boiling 

within the ribs slow braising until soft—

can humans ever be made from cooked things?— 

with enough heat, flesh melts. The small wet space

beneath lit stove is dark as December, 

nothing lies there but a white flag raised;

the sour smell of rain draws the broken near

and cold wind scatters unused seeds afar. 

So, after hope simmers, loss evaporates,

there’s nothing left except a reservoir

of testimonies noone wishes said.

She spends her hours there long, sipping tea,

preparing dinner to set her soul free. 

Poem: Scrub

Encrusted in the corner, thirteen years’

resignation and leftovers nibbled 

on by mites and her son’s muffled demurs—

he lives not on bread alone, but chewed words

unturned, unlike the rounds he makes around

the flat—enchained unto bed frame, his sake.

I squeeze wet sponge with soap and scrub annul 

long layers pent, rust-toned spirit bits break,

resist a cringe at dirt congregating

on kitchen floor doing their liturgy,

they are offerings in exchange for nothing

but every gift rotten and good deceased;

finally, first light—a grey tile like night dissolved to dawn—sore arms lift in delight.

Poem: Trekking

One step further felt a step too far

past destination sign miles behind—

how long did shepherds trudge in winter

between announcement and touching divine,

or did it feel before the unfolding womb,

like flowers blooming into blood-red figs,

emptied out, waiting room or nascent tomb?—

yet, I was nowhere, as if transfixed

in Challenger Deep, but to plunge forward,

stabbing fears like unseen hedges surround, 

though assured I’ve not stumbled on corpses 

and one man has lived to tell what he’s found.

When at last I saw the familiar path, 

every iota of my flesh leapt and laughed. 

Poem: When The Light Broke

The moment the light broke the atmosphere—

a swirling seal of lost hopes, curses and fears—

 

the sky unrolled into a dark canvas, 

earth and dust ripped open as if in thirst:

 

a vulture dropped the dead, its beak agape;

a sea lion stopped its chase of a school of hake;

 

a wolf broke its fang on a trudging bison; 

a shepherd saw his sheep in a speleogen;  

 

the retina of a pilot went aflame; 

a man with dementia recalled his wife’s name; 

 

a chef laid down his knife, staring at the screen;

a pregnant woman’s dress unravelled at its seams; 

 

a cobbler hit a final nail through a sole; 

the jacuzzi of a tycoon ceased to flow; 

 

an artist splashed crimson over her sculpture; 

stones split apart in the Holy Sepulchre; 

 

the moment was not lost on the few who yearned,

not recognised by those who never learned,

 

and not welcomed by those who did but refused, 

but there it was, and none shall be amused. 

Poem: operation beside private development

its arm bled leaves. an orphaned
stub remained, stoic, silent.
the worker wielded a long blade
expertly, sawing at bone; dust
and sound of blunt metal on wood
flecked onto lifeless leaves.

I saw the whole row of them
standing in line, waiting for execution,
by the metal fence. on the other side,
infant shrubs watched listlessly.

we draw lines with surgical precision
dividing organ and waste, yours and ours,
cutting flesh and soul to which
none of us belong.