Category Archives: Favourite Poems

Separation 

    

“For what separates dawn from dusk is day
And what separates joss from ash is respect
And what separates you from me is time
And if you lose even the memories
Then we will truly be apart”
– from Separation by Daren Shiau

***

I remember that twilight hour. I had emerged from a small bookstore where I had been browsing through Daren Shaiu’s Peninsula whilst broodily negotiating an online sale. It had been a long day.  Earlier I had walked through the bright green compound of Dempsey Hill visiting art galleries, along the way stumbling upon big wire cages full of noisy parrots and a dreamy green pond with fishes the size of small sharks. I had a difficult time in Anna Berezovskaya’s exhibit. It was all so beautiful and whimsical and other-worldly, yet I struggled to immerse myself in it fully because I couldn’t stop wrestling with myself in my mind. The second exhibit (Zhu Yan Chun’s The Substance Series) returned me to mountain paths and natural pigments, and I breathed easier.

 [The day’s clippings]
In the glow of early evening the meandering lanes of Duxton road had me scaling a hill and passing the entrance to a small park where I met a big cat, a miniature tiger-like creature.


I lingered a while in Monica Duxton’s exhibit- A Universal Truth, feeling soothed by light and space. When I stepped out to wander again, I looked at all the corridors and windows a little differently. A universal truth indeed. I also felt curiously tempted to get a drink, after a long period of ambivalence to alcohol.
Stepping out of the bookstore, I walked past shophouses to the main road which was lined with cars making their way home from the city. I felt very subdued, and a little bothered inside.

Across the road was a set of flats. Rows of disorderly bamboo laundry poles stuck out from stacks and stacks of faintly glowing squarish windows. Behind them, the dramatic silvery towers of a newer housing development jutted out like a swords. Pattern and juxtaposition. This is also poetry, I thought to myself. The mixture of lights and street sounds left me mellow and dreamy, and I felt myself suspended, like the light in the sky, between darkness and day.

After a long train ride I would arrive home, where I would make myself very upset with my verbal blunders, overanalyse the transaction I had earlier completed, attempt to clean my room, annoy those around me, and end up feeling very hurt and trapped and childish and taken advantage of.

I’m not sure how the evening ended. But once again the night would have come, dark and cool, closing the day and dividing it from the next. It used to bother me terribly, the way one day did not flow smoothly into the next like verses in a song do. It often felt like someone was taking a scissors and cutting each day and each moment off from the next.

In the end, I am not quite sure how to end the telling of this story. Perhaps I shall simply allow it to retire, close this pandora’s box of memory, creep beneath the covers. The words of Alvin Pang float to mind:

“Let waking divide
this day in which you walk
from the past
which already is less
than whisper, fainter
than a breath’s caress.”

“Make space with your words
so those who come after
may hear their own voices
in your silence, deepening.”

(From a poet is instructed by the death of his master) 

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Mosquito by Alex Lemon

You want evidence of the street
fight? A gutter-grate bruise & concrete scabs—
here are nails on the tongue,
a mosaic of glass shards on my lips.

I am midnight banging against housefire.
A naked woman shaking
with the sweat of need.

An ocean of burning diamonds
beneath my roadkill,my hitchhiker
belly fills sweet. I am neon blind & kiss
too black. Dangle stars—

let me sleep hoarse-throated in the desert
under a blanket sewn from spiders.
Let me be delicate & invisible.

Kick my ribs, tug my hair.
Scream You’re Gonna Miss Me
When I’m Gone. Sing implosion
to this world where nothing is healed.

Slap me, I’ll be any kind of sinner.

– Alex Lemon

 

There’s a war raging on, in our brains, in our bodies. In our day, turmoil is something which is most alive on the inside.

Have you felt it?

from “Daughter of a Tree Farm”

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“When children can no longer devote sympathy, owing to growing up. One mind always engaged or found with labor in order to be. Later on the trees acquired winter. Sent and took and did not go out. The weight of never shedding. We anticipated a cure if come willingly. We were unable to carry out nature. These impressions, fresh, often made me to see his life previous, the principal sadness I had to recognize.

We planted trees. We cleared the pond. Gathered different, undisturbed faith. Gradually the steps further and further withdrawing over the hills, beyond the fencerow. I was too weak. I was often driven, but saw no way. I would never go back.

The difference, between us, not because I remained the same, unable to unalter, but taken from the midst, rarely clouded, and the broken. It was this, which woke me open, opened to an outsider, a stranger.”

The Academy of American Poets published this section of Daughter of a Tree Farm by Carrie Olivia Adams. I know not what to say in response to it, nor do I understand it. But it has intrigued me and been on my mind for the past few days.

I was too weak. I was often driven, but saw no way. I would never go back. 

 

Closed by Elizabeth Drew Stoddard

The crimson dawn breaks through the clouded east,
And waking breezes round the casement pipe;
They blow the globes of dew from opening buds,
And steal the odors of the sleeping flowers.
The swallow calls its young ones from the eaves,
To dart above their shadows on the lake,
Till its long rollers redden in the sun,
And bend the lances of the mirrored pines.
Who knows the miracle that brings the morn?
Still in my house I linger, though the night—
The night that hides me from myself is gone.
Light robes the world, but strips me bare again.
I will not follow on the paths of day.
I know the dregs within its crystal hours;
The bearers of my cups have served me well;
I drained them, and the bearers come no more.
Rise, morning, rise, for those believing souls
Who seek completion in day’s garish light.
My casement I will close, keep shut my door,
Till day and night are only dreams to me.

 

Who knows the miracle that brings the morn? Mornings in our estate are actually uncannily serene. Our wide patio is enfolded by lush palms, ferns, vines – high definition tropical greenery. The swallow calls its young ones from the eaves. Only one quiet road leads into this place.

Last night I was by the old playground, rain dripping and pooling about me, everything tingling and alive in wet darkness. I felt an affinity with my surroundings, a shimmering dampness on my own cheeks. I felt the months pass about me, pondering how this once loathed place now actually feels rather like home. I’ve come a long way from London, inside, me shivering in the tiredness of a depression that has lost even the ability to fuel itself. I’m out of luck, out of answers. The bearers of my cups have served me well… and the bearers come no more.

Perhaps now I’d be a little more ready to pray. But really I’d just like to find a warm safe place and hide myself away, and not come out until I feel better. Till day and night are only dreams to me.

But I say what comes to me from my inner thoughts…

“But I say what comes to me

From my inner thoughts

Denying my eyes.

I begin to compose something

In a single phrase

With many meanings,

Standing in illusion,

So that when I go towards it

I go blindly,

As if I am pursuing the beauty of something

Before me but unclear”

– Abu Nuwas

 

Beginning a difficult conversation, you wonder: How does one begin to talk about the deep things of the soul, the life within your life? You deny your eyes and begin again to compose – construct words, prepare for wordlessness. In the end whenever we begin moving we go blindly. You feel stupid, like you’re throwing away everything that is familiar and you don’t know who or what this is about anymore.  But go on, because something has become important. You may not know all the words, but your heart will tell you what to do. And you will be well. That is what matters.

Morning Nocturne by Jill Bialosky

I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.

 

I am glad today is dark. It was raining this morning. Even before my senses awakened, in my hypnopompic state I seemed to sense it. My spirit deemed it appropriate that it would be.

What more can we worry about? It’s been a strange few days, me swinging between feelings of unease, emptiness and confusion, all with ambiguous source. Perhaps it was the prayer I said, hoping it would help alleviate the sadness I was feeling. I was disquieted by how much it worked. I’m not ready for this sort of divine interference. Or perhaps it’s all this deep talking that I’m not used to. Or maybe this is just regular holiday emptiness. I fear the thrashing of the sea in its unrest

But that’s not it. The current is rising. The dramas are playing out. I spoke of them to someone for the first time – my wild, tender dreams. In my silly little fantasies I envision being woken up gently. To have someone like Cosette’s lady all in white, nice to see and soft to touch, rouse me with a gentle hand, whisper my name. I hope that in heaven I will be small-like. Small and hidden away in someone’s arms, in a quiet forest amidst soft petals and a river flowing. Let the other children explore Narnian seas and conquer mountains, but find me amidst the roses, free of thorns.

My confidante smiled and said, so your wish is for the door to be opened softly. I chuckled and said yes. Start with yourself, she told me. You are already reaching out. You say all this, and that it will never really be, but in your heart of hearts you know…

I know? We all hide our most potent secrets from ourselves. I cried uncontrollably after that conversation because I realised for the first time who it was I have been pining for all this while.

So much for all this Freudian self-discovery. I woke up sick and weak and with a whole lot to do. Mum’s gone out and I still don’t know how to reach her. Some force in me tells me to just tuck these silly longings away and let live. Is that how normal people do it? Perhaps it’s better to be among these sandpipers with quick feet dashing out of the surf than a person who wishes to feel complete.

Consider A Move by Michael Ryan

Consider A Move

The steady time of being unknown,
in solitude, without friends,
is not a steadiness that sustains.
I hear your voice waver on the phone:

Haven’t talked to anyone for days.
I drive around. I sit in parking lots.

The voice zeroes through my ear, and waits.
What should I say? There are ways

to meet people you will want to love?
I know of none. You come out stronger
having gone through this? I no longer
believe that, if I once did. Consider a move,

a change, a job, a new place to live,
someplace you’d like to be. That’s not it,
you say. Now time turns back. We almost touch.
Then what is? I ask. What is?

I first stumbled upon this poem when I returned to Singapore from London, and since then have become quite fond of it. This has been a sad week, because I moved out of my house to a relative’s place, and have been feeling desperately homesick. It’s ironic – I lived alone for so long in London and never missed home, yet a short distance move like this has made me feel so bereft. It was my idea – I wanted the space and the quiet, but now I’m actually missing the angst and the chaos. In any case I shall be remaining here at least for a short while, until there is an appropriate moment to express that I want to return.

The steady time of being unknown. This space does not receive me. I roll on the bed, playing videos and music, trying to fill the emptiness. My body is too heavy. I’m too sad to get stuff done.  I text my friends, hoping for some comfort. I receive a prayer, a few snaps, scattered smiley faces. Not alone, my friend says. Not alone. I close my eyes and try to believe its true.

I drive around. I sit in parking lots, go to school in an attempt to feel like everything is fine. I just don’t feel good, I say. My friend gives me a long hug, buys me dinner, lets me lean on her shoulder. I don’t know why but even the sky looks different, just because I’m going home to a different house tonight.

My mother comes to pass me things. You just need to get used to it, she says. That’s not it, my heart replies, and sinks as she drives away. But if that’s not it, then what is? What is it in the end? Perhaps my heart just wants to go back to a place where it had a chance at being found.

Other Things by Alvin Pang

Other Things

To buy a potted plant is to admit both faithlessness and need. To water the plant, perhaps daily, perhaps once in a while when you remember and the leaves start to droop, is as close to love as it gets.

Other things mean other things.

To light a lamp is to hide darkness in the same closet as sleep, along with silence, desire, and yesterday’s obsessions. To read a book is to marry two solitudes, the way a conversation erases and erects, words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence, and snow undresses for spring.

The bedroom is where you left it, although the creases and humps on the sheets no longer share your outline and worldview. In that way, they are like the children you never had time for.

A cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end.

TV comes from the devil who comes from god who comes and goes as he pleases. To hide the remote control in someone’s house is clearly a sin, but to take the wrong umbrella home is merely human.

The phone is too white to be taunting you. The door you shut stays shut. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe.

Remember, the car keys will be there after the dance. Walls hold peace as much as distance. A kettle is not reason enough for tears.

The correct answer to a mirror is always, yes.

– Alvin Pang

(This poem balances whimsy and lonely so nicely, I feel like I can read it over and over again for a long time.)

Quiet nights in the living room. I’ve been kicked out of the bedroom. The dog blinks from under the sofa, disturbed by my presence but too polite to do anything about it. I can feel time passing around me, time stored in all these familiar shadows, familiar paraphernalia. Only the dog has full access to all our scent traces – the places where our baby hands marked these same objects. Your things remain where you leave them, although like the sheets in the bedroom, they no longer share your outline and worldview. Like the children you never had time for. 

The dog himself has matts near his collar, his toe-nails are always tapping the vinyl floor until once in a while we remember to trim them. On the table a terrarium that never gets sprayed until we recall it is there, as close to love as it gets. 

I often think it would be nice to pick up the phone and be able to call someone, to ask: how am I supposed to sleep, where am I meant to go, and who will love me now? The phone is too white to be taunting you. Instead I wonder around the kitchen, staring into cupboards looking for satiety. Left on the stove for the people who didn’t eat dinner, a cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end. Of course my questions won’t actually be said, they will only linger, the only question is with whom? Words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence. 

Unable to accept rest, I linger on the couch with a book, bookmarking its pages with tears. To read a book is to marry two solitudes. Perhaps my author also wrote in tears. I have to stop crying and being so terribly small and seeing hurt everywhere if not I’ll never be able to sleep. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe. I wash my face, say a prayer, look in the mirror. Mirrors always ask too many questions, but the correct answer… is always, yes.

Good night.