Saturday, April 19, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 17: Intimacy

peel me
like a new-boiled egg
like birch bark for a whip
like a grape from its skin
until my thoughts are laid bare
an onion stripped of layers
an artichoke heart plucked clean


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 16: Reclaiming No

As girls we’re taught to fear it
To believe that the root of all evil
Lies in saying: No
No this is not right
No I will not submit
No you will not have power over me
No no no no cries the woman who wishes
For a life of her own
And tongues wag and old wives condemn
Calling her rebel, calling her faithless.

Like a mantra we tell our children
Yes. Always, say yes.
Yes until the bottom of your well runs dry
Yes until blood flows and bones shatter
Yes until nothing remains
But a dried-out husk.

We tell ourselves that to say yes
Is to be virtuous
Not knowing that No is power:
Power to create negative space
To push away distractions
To regroup, to grow in the darkness
Like a germinating seed
That to reclaim the power of No
Is to begin to blossom and live.


NaPoWriMo Day 15: The Gift

She greets me with a quick smile
Bright as a sparrow’s eye.
Her taxi-driver husband
Unable to make my pickup today
Has, with rare kindness
Recruited her help.

Her name is Rosemary, her voice
Lilting and laughing, her chequered shirt
Yellow as  sunshine.

Her friend Joan, coffee-skinned and trendy
Wears pragmatism and sunglasses
Like antique pearls.
Around one mobile wrist
Her Pandora bracelet overflows with charms:
Statue of Liberty, a ship
A green glass bead
Glowing like an idol’s eye.

They banter, these two, with the ease
Of old friends, comfortable
As soft flannel pajamas
On a cold night.
No awkwardness, not even with strangers
Their conversation invites, even welcomes
Drawing me in.

Their gift of intimacy, their benediction of kindness
Stays with me long after the afternoon ends.
Having received, it is now my turn
To freely give.


NaPoWriMo Day 14: Elegy

For Robin, in memory of Shane Gibson

Earth and air.
Earth, warm and bold
In each smile
Each goofball moment.
No airs, no pretence
None needed.

Air. Aire. Music
Soaring like air to the heights
And beyond
Virtuoso skill
Drawing life, love, breath
From taut strings.

Troubled Apollo, crafting beauty
From the ashes of your pain
Who knew that your song
Would be silenced so soon.

Lay your weary head down
Upon your strings.
Earth and air:
From grief, from brokenness
Your memory rises from the pyre
From the fire
Like a phoenix, evergreen.


NaPoWriMo Day 13: War Song For Teachers

This is a song for the children
For the broken
For the ones who always hear
You are not good enough
In subtext, in words, in actions.

You are not the sum
Of anyone’s thoughts.
You are not defined by your mistakes
But by your actions and reactions
Your future is more resilient
Than one bad grade.

I will not give up on you.
Success and failure do not define
The sum total of who you are
And will be.
Fail when you try
Fall when you learn
But stand up and try again.

 I will teach you to believe in yourself
That there is nothing you cannot achieve
Through discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.
I will not let you give yourself excuses
I will not allow you to blame others
For your shortcomings.

This is both war song and love song:
I will fight to break those words
On loop in your psyche:
Failure, stupid, useless, ugly
I will not measure you with these standards
But by the yardstick of your capacity.
I will stretch your horizons and show you
Worlds beyond, for you to explore. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 12: To The Person Who Stole My Shoes

May your feet rot in everlasting agony.
May gout strike you and keep you prone
And may your liver sicken with unknown cancers
And give up mysteriously on you.
May your hair drop and your eyes blear with cataract
And may your thieving, greedy hands 
Thicken with arthritis and atrophy in two weeks.
May you never know a month’s wage or even a day’s pay
Because no employer will keep you for longer.
May everything you care about
Be taken from you and may you be destitute
For the rest of your mean, useless life.
May nothing you set your hands to prosper
And may everything you touch wither and be destroyed.
May every traffic light turn red for you
In your worst hurry
And may diarrhoea strike you in the middle of a 4-hour jam
With no lavatory in sight.
May roaches infest your house and mice your kitchen
May your children be devoured by snakes.
May your blood vessels burst and give you aneurysm
And may you not reach hospital in time to prevent brain damage.
May your skin crawl with the pain of shingles
And may you find no rest nor cure.
Be stricken with terminal illness, and be unable to die.
Be humiliated, and unable to defend yourself.
Be cuckolded, time and time over, in public
May pain and suffering strike you over and over again
May you be paralyzed and unable to move
And may you have not a single moment's peace or relief
For the rest of your blighted, unsightly, unproductive life.



NaPoWriMo Day 11: Drawn Threads

A tiny snip. The careful separation 
Of warp and weft.
Drawing out threads, meticulous 
As a weaver bird crafting its nest.
With needle and thread
Fashion patterns from negative space -
Intimate, delicate, lovely.

Teach me to endure:
To see each hardship and pain
As a drawing forth of threads
Making space in the close fabric of a life
To exhale – to breathe –
To create from its sparseness
Transcendent beauty.



Friday, April 11, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 10: Challenge To A Self-Styled Indiana Jones

Archaeology: the study of human activity
Through clues and artifacts
Left behind from the past
A puzzle to interpret
A key to understanding.

Excavate me
Like a geological strata
Like an archaeological dig.
The clues are there to interpret
The artifacts open for understanding.

NaPoWriMo Day 9: The Secret Life Of Phone Booths

Note: I know I read a poem ages ago about levitating phone booths, and I cannot for the life of me find it anywhere online - the book's in my hometown. So, apologies to the poet whose name I can't remember - this is a fond tribute, not a rip-off because I have very fond memories of that particular poem.

The secret lives of phone booths are complicated.
They stand, solitary street confessionals
Inviting telephone confidences.
Unwilling eavesdroppers of conversation
Each graffiti mark has its tale:
Marz luvs Joolz. Call Me xx-xxx
U sounded like coordin8s 2 avoid were an invitation 2 bed
Down with taxes! right next to Have more sex, it’s free.

Phone booths hold the weight of the world
Within their cramped, four-walled confines.
Close, heavy air laden with secrets
Claustrophobic with anxiety and sweat
The rank odour of dead dreams and stale food
An insistent, insidious permeation.

Such gravity is hard to carry.
Last night I heard a phone booth whispering to another
Through the telephone line:
A soft, dull patter like the rustle of directory pages.
They stopped politely when I made my call
Coins dropping through the slot like cheap marbles.
When I finished, I heard them resume
Before I put the receiver down.

When I exited, I swear I saw my phone booth float
Two inches off the ground, then lift off quietly
Into the air where another phone booth waited
A silhouette against the crescent moon.
But in the morning, it was back in its place
Solid, unmoving, a perfectly ordinary phone booth
On a perfectly ordinary day.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 8: Love Letter To A Girl

At eleven you might have showed promise of height
But genetics defeated you.
By thirteen you sat at the front 
Of the classroom again.
Awkward, sharp-tongued gypsy with just vocabulary for defence
You built book castles in the air
With thoughts for companions.
At sixteen the whole world knew you'd never attract the boys.
Too many angles. Too outspoken.
Too self-sufficient to be easily charmed.
Too much the lone traveller on uncommon paths.
You buried your pain in words
In letters to a man-boy who'd break your heart in college
Though in hind sight, it was inevitable.
Back then your rage moved mountains
Fuelled by wounds that had no voice
Save through paper and keyboards and online games.

In the dark of a summer's night you wrestle with loss
Future balanced on the point of a kitchen knife.

Little one, I reach through the glass of two decades
Hand on your ghostly shoulder to tell you:
Your world did not end.
Your heart will break a thousand times more
Before you find your footing
But the past will not drown you.
You will make mistakes
The darkness will come again, many times
But you will fight, and you will live to sing the survivor's tale
Like lilacs in a dead land, your roots will go deep.

I will tell you, future to past:
Forgive your failures. Love yourself
A little more.
This is not the end, child with the face of my girlhood
It is only a colon.
In the end of this, is your beginning:
You fade into me, and I become you.

NaPoWriMo Day 7: Resurrection

Yesterday's pain will not dictate today.
One step forward culminates
Several backward steps past
The past does not hold the present
In its death grip.

Rise soldier, from the ashes.
Stand.
From the embers of grief and pain
Blaze forth in pure fire.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 6: Frozen

Easier to thread a camel 
Through the eye of a needle
Than to believe this too shall pass.

Easier to break diamonds barehanded
Than to thread me
Through the eye of your heart.

NaPoWriMo Day 5: The Dame to the Dude

Tell me something I don’t know.
Tell me that you love me, and maybe
Just maybe, I’ll believe you.
Marry me a little – oh, I’d marry you
A whole lot more than just a little
If you’d let me.
I’ve been too late since birth:
It’s a chronic disease.
Too late for pageants
Too late for sports
Too late for love
And too late for you.
(That last is what sticks most.)

High-octane dame on a two-bit cylinder
You’ll crash and burn, they say.
Well I crashed into you long ago
And I’m still burning.

You had me at Prufrock’s table
You, and those sharp grey eyes.

(I’m denying all this if you see it.)



NaPoWriMo Day 4: For Brian

April is indeed the cruelest month.
How times flies - two years almost to the day
You left us so suddenly.
Perhaps we could have loved each other if we tried -
Solitude is hard to break for lone souls
In hindsight, there was wisdom in our 'no'.
Perhaps I could have been kinder
Perhaps I could have tried harder
To breach the distance.
Perhaps
Perhaps
Perhaps.
But time heals all things, even regrets
And April, however cruel
Remains bittersweet - a rosemary wreath.
Forgive me, corazon, for lost time.
I wait in my dreams for you to rise
A forgotten angel with tattered wings.
Here are my hands, outstretched
Holding this last kiss for you.




NaPoWriMo Day 3: Jalur Gemilang

Note: Jalur Gemilang, or Glorious Stripes, is a name of honour we use for our Malaysian flag.

Unstitch me this flag
Where colour is creed
And coconuts in a bomoh's hand
Weigh more than Justice
On a scale.

Unstitch me these lines
Dissecting this land
Where divisions of skin
Count more than conscience
And social need.

Redraw the boundaries of What Is and What Should Be -
Truth is a hard mistress but Lies
Decay the soul.

Break the ground with brittle promises
Suppress the brutal honesty you fear
But weeds, so tenacious, will grow through cracks:
Let the truth rise from the least of these
Let our flag fly -
Undivided by colour or creed
United by this common coat of scars.




NaPoWriMo Day 2: The University Choir Before Its Debut

Dwarfed by space and silence they stand
A flock of colourful sparrows, fluttering doubts
Flitting over each expression.
Can we pull this off? their stances ask
The space surrounding them
Electric with nerves.
Skitter-shy as colts, they wait
Champing at the bit as the music begins
Then the drop of the beat and they transform:
No longer sparrows but nightingales
Soaring on wings of song.



NaPoWriMo Day 1: Victorian Wedding Portrait

I hadn't actually even considered doing NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month, not until a good friend posted the link and drew my attention to it. 30 days of poetry is a lot of commitment, and I was quite sure I wouldn't have the time.

With a few insanely busy upcoming months, including 3 classes and a whole lot of work-related projects, it would have been the height of folly to even think of merrily joining in.

So I did.


Victorian Wedding Portrait

The camera loves her but she does not love it back
Profile solemn, black bird wings of hair
Tamed by gauze and pearls.
Grave as a novitiate she sits
A comma in a sentence
Uneasy in her white dress, pale and still
A fresh-faced vanilla orchid
On the cusp of blooming.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Unseen Hook and Invisible Line

Returning from a country not my own is always a fresh revelation - a new set of eyes.

I came back from Australia yesterday, and I never felt so happy to be back in the dusty, haze-laden over-heated oven that I call home. Malaysia isn't perfect, but many of my most complicated emotions are tied up in this yam-shaped mass of land on the map. To quote Chesterton's Father Brown, it's embedded in my heart 'an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.'


Kuala Lumpur coast line from the air, shortly before landing

I come back. Time and time again, despite my best rebellious efforts, I come back.

Last Thursday night when the plane took off, I wrote a letter.

Last night when the plane took off, outside the window it was a constellation of lights from the city, all of it outlined against the jet black sky. Bright twinkling yellow speckled through with colours, just like proper stars. A constellation needs a name - I kept thinking of what I might name it, and fell asleep before I could.

When I woke up, there was the most glorious sunset outside the window. I’ve never seen such vivid colours, ever - deep burnt orange to fire-streak flame, dividing the blue of the sky and the darkness below it. I took a picture of it for you.



There’s frost on the window - tiny little needles of it on the edges of the glass. I can feel the cold on my cheek if I go too near. Below is a mottled, greeny brown landscape of snaking tributaries and patches of darkish green that could be trees. There are straight lines that must be man-made roads. They dissect the land like compass points.

Behind us, it’s misty like a mirage, a cloud bank - and then suddenly, as you pan across to the view ahead in my window, the scene sharpens into focus.

There are gullies, and now towns, and little clumps of civilisation. Big shimmering bodies of what could be water. The sky’s lightening up now, the colours no longer as startling.

We’re entering Gold Coast territory. This is the Australian outback below me, and I am suddenly struck…dumb? No, not dumb, just bereft of words. I don’t know how to feel. I’ve read so much about this land all my life, in stories, in poems, and now suddenly I’m here.

The outback is unforgiving as it is arid, but there’s a stark beauty in its austerity too. The sun is unforgiving too now - bright, hot, fierce.

And it’s morning. My first morning in the Great Australian Continent.


When we finally landed on the tarmac at the LCCT yesterday, my first thought was, 'I'm home again.' The feeling was indescribable. Almost like falling perilously in love, tumbling into a dangerous liaison.

I'm home again. This, too, is a kind of happiness.