Singapore Writers Week – English language poems

The Other Tree (by Ian Chung)

 

Deep in the forest, a clearing.
At its centre, we find a tree.
As we approach this tree, it looks
no different from the others
surrounding the clearing, verdant
and almost obscenely teeming
with life. Most days, the sun beats down
on birds roosting on the branches,
on flowers blooming at the base
of the tree, drawing butterflies.
What an idyllic scene, we think
to ourselves, how picture-perfect.
It would be enough to rest here,
to bask in the sun and birdsong.

So we do that, and our pleasure
is pure and uncomplicated.
Until one day, no different
from the others that we spent here,
we think we hear a sourish note
from the birds. The more we listen,
the more dissonances we find.
Then we catch a glimpse of shadows,
the silhouettes of bare branches.
We circle the tree, attempting
to find proof of this other tree,
but it eludes us, hides behind
its impossibly perfect twin.
It haunts us, always out of reach.

 

evacuation instructions (by Joshua Ip)

 

when you decide to go for good
don’t write, don’t leave a note.
instead, open the fridge, take out the coke
and salt it all. add lemon. boil it, even,
until the fizz has quite gone out of it.

then put it back right where you took it from
so it is cold when i get home. i’ll shout a bit,
won’t find you, but instead, flat icy coke,
which will be how i know that you have left.

that first sharp sip of bittersweet surprise
of sour-steeped, flat, fizzles, salty coke
which is also an excellent remedy
for other sundry household illnesses –

 

Reunion Dinner (by Loh Guan Liang)

 

Peace sits on the front porch overlooking her garden. A breeze brushes her silver hair and sways the sunflowers. Her dog sits beside her.

“Did they call to say when they’re coming home?” she asks as Hope comes out the door. It still feels like yesterday when Strife and Wisdom each took a handful of sunflower seeds from their mother and went off into the world. Strife traded his seeds for arrowheads, while Wisdom planted half of his and gave the rest to the birds.

Hope rests his hands, calloused with waiting, on Peace’s shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he says. “They struck out on their own because of you, and it’s because of you they will return.”

 

In the End (by Alvin Pang)
(an epitaph)

 

the things we love give back
our names. One handed me a
plain stone to carve into something
better. Another returned the long
lost user guide to my left brain.
Someone passed a slip of paper,
my inscrutable handwriting
on one side, and on the other
in bright colours, the words
“I Want It All”. Others brought
flowers – irises, daffodils,
the soft unpeeled heart of a rose.
None of the clothes fit any longer.
I put aside the books I’d read,
and hadn’t read, they took flight
as endless stairs, circling
beyond my years. But I loved
most of all the quiet
Sundays, when fingers of rain
would write themselves
on the clear page of my window,
dying to tell me their stories.

 

#2 Lovers (by Tania De Rozario) 

 

It was over when she asked me
to change: not as a person, but out of
the dress that I was wearing. We were
going to lunch: could I please put on

something nice? I knew it was over
not because I fought back but because
I obeyed: I stop fighting once I stop
caring, and once I slipped out

of that dress, I slipped out of her grasp.
The next three months she spent picking
fights, I spent unpicking us. This meant
that when we finally split, the threads

came apart with ease. I went back
to my dress, she went back to dating
people who agree that the clothes
on your body reflect what you embody.

My taste has since improved.

 

from Leaving: Tutorials on How & When

 

Homesick (by Grace Chua)

 

I am standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
Somewhere a telephone is ringing –
in a red telephone box
standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
The call comes like geese
from a distant place.
Frost clings to the branches
as I make my way
to the telephone box
standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
If a telephone rings
in the forest
and there is no one to hear,
is it still ringing?
I pick up the phone.
Winter, she says,
is coming. Are you wearing a coat?

 

 

I don’t know if it was before, because
or when he first developed symptoms that
she left him. In any case, his body started
to turn to bone. His neck and shoulders flared
up, hot and red and swollen; then it spread
down his body, back to front, his own
flesh harbouring beneath the surface a coarse,
rebellious, calcifying mass that slowly
became new bone, following the same
process of skeleton formation in
an embryo. His bruises healed as bone,
his joints grew uselessly sealed. Surgeons said
more bone would grow if they were to operate.
He was seen by specialists and famed professors;
none could tender a solution, as
there was no cure; he had a strange disorder
caused by one gene broken. So he grew
more vertebrate, more blasé and more mature,
some say unfeeling also, like a stone;
but that was wrong: he felt, although he made
no bones about what life had dealt him. He
had none to remonstrate with; his DNA
had spoken, other people merely cut
him to the bone with words like knives. Years passed
that stretched out prone inside a nutshell, like
a richness of unknown longings and fears.
He could hardly move, his urgency
diminished, and his only consolation
came in needing none, accepting his fate,
not shelling out blame for having to become
a Gregor with an exoskeleton;
and in that same dwelling without desolation,
as his parents rallied round their son,
I do believe he found a perfect love.

Author’s note: The poem is based on a rare, real-life disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. 

Reprinted with the author’s permission, the slightly revised poem is from The Enclosure of Love, Landmark Books, Singapore.

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