Saturday, April 30, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 30 - Twilight Guests

I actually made it to Day 30 intact, with 30 poems. Considering the amount of travelling I have been doing lately, I'm surprised but pleased that I did get it done (not getting it done was actually not an option, but the possibility remained.)

Today's poem in translation is by A. Samad Said, a friend's father and a Malaysian poet who has contributed so much to the country's literary heritage, I've no idea where to even start. He is an incredible person, and my translation is a really poor attempt to convey the depth and music of his writing. It rhymes, in the original Malay, but the translation doesn't. Maybe someday I'll be able to make it sing better.

Day #30: Twilight Guests
Prompt: Translate a poem

We come into this world merely as twilight guests
When enough time has passed we return to our Maker
We come here with empty hands and empty chests
When we return we bring with us sins and rewards

To those guests who come and who know the way home
Come then with whole-hearted devotion to God and man
To those who come and who have forgotten the way home
Don't be rebellious towards God and man

When we see people who forget their place
Or who lose themselves in the worship of rank and power
Let us quickly be conscious of our own direction
Let us swiftly remember our own purpose

When we see people who are so abandoned and weary
That they surely must wreck themselves on sea and shore
We must immediately be conscious of our duty
We must be steadfast in showing mercy

We come into this world, one spirit, one body
When we return home, may we bring with us good deeds full of blessing.

(Puisi Datuk A. Samad Said - 1955)

Kita datang ini hanya sebagai tetamu senja
Bila cukup detik kembalilah kita kepadaNya
Kita datang ini kosong tangan kosong dada
Bila pulang nanti bawa dosa bawa pahala

Pada tetamu yang datang dan kenal jalan pulang
Bawalah bakti mesra kepada Tuhan kepada insan
Pada tetamu yang datang dan lupa jalan pulang
Usahlah derhaka pula kepada Tuhan kepada insan

Bila kita lihat manusia lupa tempat
Atau segera sesat puja darjat puja pangkat
Segera kita insaf kita ini punya kiblat
Segera kita ingat kita ini punya tekad

Bila kita lihat manusia terbiar larat
Hingga mesti merempat ke biru laut ke kuning darat
Harus kita lekas sedar penuh pada tugas
Harus kita tegas sembah seluruh rasa belas

Kita datang ini satu roh satu jasad
Bila pulang sekali bawalah bakti padat berkat

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 13 - Scrapbook

LAST DAY OF CATCHUP. Just in time! Which was the goal to begin with, so yay, procrastinating brain and travel!

#14: Scrapbook

Don't you know that I have put you
Between the pages of my heart
Compressed the memory of you
Into a miniature, a dried fern
Spores rattling on leaves
Potent, waiting to germinate
When the time is right.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 29 - Journeys a patchwork of things remembered, many of which I'm setting down to paper for the first time. It's kind of cathartic, surprisingly, but also scary because it left me feeling oddly vulnerable. But. Poets must be brave right. The last line is from John Ashbery's 'The Young Prince and the Young Princess', a poem I've always loved and remembered from the first time I read it at age 12. Oddly, it's the only line I remembered out of the whole poem, except for the name.

#29: Journeys
Prompt: Write a poem about things you remember, concentrating on as much of the details as you can

Mother never wept but I saw her cry the day
My exam results were out. She never meant for me to see:
That I know. Grandmother told her my poor grades
Were a result of her being too involved in her church work
Her strident voice loud enough I heard from abovestairs.

I closed my room door and I wept too
A clenched fist of a body, emotions tangled like river weeds
Around the huge rock of regret sunk deep
Into my insides. I gave up on studying because
I hated school, because I didn't understand the subjects
But I never meant
For my mother to pay the price of my rebellion.

Cold milk is a heaven of smooth and sleek
Silk to the throat. I never had any till I was ten.
I remember the taste to this day, my first cup of it.
I had allergies to certain things, the doctors said
And dairy might be one of them. They didn't know for sure.
I outgrew the scratching, the persistent itch of my skin
So unbearable I would tear at it with my fingernails
Until it bled.

I remember my first dance - Graz, Austria
Where four of us had come to compete in the World Choir Games.
My partner, a Brazilian baritone, tall and lanky
Swept me across the floor while his group and mine
Were waiting to go on stage, the strains of jazz music
Coming through the closed doors of the competition hall.
Mismatched couple, the pair of us - him gliding feather-light
Like a dragonfly on the wing, and me, this weighty stone
Dragging around in his wake.
For the first time I realised happiness
Felt like golden bubbles rising from a molten sea
Of music and joy.

The first time I saw the Australian outback
Was from the window of a plane flying between clouds.
I didn't know what to make of it: this place
I had read about so many times and would be landing at in
Several hours more. Wild, beautiful, severe
It felt like a kind of awe.

The first time I saw New York I don't remember much.
The second time, coming back over more than ten years
I felt as if I'd walked into a dream. Unreal.
I'd heard about these streets all my life and now
There I was, walking through them
Breathing the energy of the city like air
Tasting its lifeblood through subways and train tracks.

I didn't die, though I tried.
Vietnam rescued me. Danang, city of bridges
The harbour sidewalks filled with marble sculptures
And the women who line-danced every night
Like joyous, earthy nymphs, and pulled me in
To join them as well
The old schoolteacher who took me across the city
On her motorscooter - a stranger
I would probably never meet again, but who knew
The power of kindness, like a spark of light.

I didn't die. I lived
And all these are now part of the pages of the story
I tell through these words, to be able to say
This is how we lived, you and I.

Friday, April 29, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 14 - Velvet, Silk, Lace

Alexandre Charles Emmanuel de Crussol-Florensac (1743-1815)
Vigee Le Brun

One more poem and I'll finally be caught up for the whole damn month. Whew indeed. So here is Day 14, second last catchup piece, inspired by a visit to the Vigee Le Brun special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the most talented portraitists of her time and a consummate artist, she's nowhere near as well-known as she deserves to be. The colours of her oils and pastels are so fresh, it's hard to believe they were painted in the 1800s. What caught my eye most of all though were her treatment of textiles - one can tell the type of fabric of the costume by just a glance. It's amazing - velvet, embroidered gold threads, watered silk, even plush carpet, all of them delineated only by brush strokes and colour.

#14: Velvet, Silk, Lace

Mere brush and paint can't convey weight
But somehow, she does - 
Vigee Le Brun, French portraitist extraordinaire.
There is sumptuous heaviness in the colours
Of her velvets, the lustre of fine pile
So vivid it feels as if one could stretch a hand
To the canvas and touch it, feel its texture
Soft as Persian kitten fur.
Brush strokes, both thick and fine
Delineate silk, lace, gossamer
With nothing more than colour and consummate skill.
Artistry in light and shadow
The world in the sharp-honed eyes
Of a master:

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 28 - Nevermore, Neverland

Many years ago in college, I wrote a rather twisted little story in which Tinkerbell, driven mad by her jealousy of Wendy, decides that the only way to keep Peter Pan from her is to kill him - and in doing so, destroys Neverland forever. I don't know why I thought this was worthy of revisiting, but here it is.

#28: Nevermore, Neverland
Prompt: Tell a story in a poem, but backwards

Neverland is falling down, falling down.
Peter Pan is dying, dying
I watch him bleed as the sun turns dark
He'll love me, love me forever now.
He'll never leave me any more
Light as a feather, he fell with no sound.
A knife, a twist, he felt no pain

You can't leave Neverland. I won't let you.
I'm your Tinkerbell.
Stay, my Peter, stay with me.
Don't think of her now, you mustn't grow up
She's flown, she's flown and she won't come back
My darling, I won't let the Wendy-Bird take you away.
The Lost Boys said you want to leave.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 22 - Tulips At The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Two more poems and then I'm caught up for good, huzzah! The numbering on this year's NaPoWriMo is shot to hell and back, but heck with it - I'm determined to finish the month out with the necessary number of poems. It's a form of masochism, but as Calvin's father says, 'It builds character.'

#22: Tulips at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Prompt: Write a poem to celebrate Earth Day, or anything in nature

Flounces, ruffles, extravagant bells
All the accoutrements of a lady's ballgown
Inverted like fine eggshell china cups
Delicately balanced on slim green stalks.
The profusion of colours is staggering:
Palest pastel shades, deep robust tones
Some feathered through with pink, flame and celadon
Others vermillion and crimson streaked
With elegant black-and-yellow stamen'd centers.

Little wonder that once, these beauties
Were lauded beyond kings, prized beyond gold -
Fields of living jewels, carpeting the earth
Treasures carved by no living hand, touched
By the breath of God.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 27 - Chance Encounters

Today's prompt was something I do on a regular basis - write things with damn long lines - but I wanted to do something a little different as well. A chance encounter in the subway gave me the chance to try just that.

#27: Chance Encounters
Prompt: Write a poem with long lines

I would know the sound of the erhu anywhere
even in my dreams:
a warm, grown-up flute, a muted melancholy
pervading each bowed note
the voice of Autumn, a mature queen letting fall
the leaves of her summer raiment.

He sits near the escalators at the entrance to the subway
white-haired, dignified, slightly shabby
in his blue gingham shirt and worn navy pants
erhu case open, a few dollar notes scattered within.

I stop to listen and his face transforms into radiance
as he asks me a question and I answer in his mother tongue.

I am from Beijing, he says, smiling, and plays a snatch of song
which I've heard, but don't know the name of.

Where are you from, he asks, and when I say Malaysia, he laughs
and says, So that's why you don't know some of the old songs
from China.

I ask what he used to do in Beijing and he says that
he was a teacher .
He tells me that he has only been in America for two years
and that he lives with his youngest son
now that he and his wife are divorced.
He has been playing the erhu for over forty years
and it is something he loves.
The instrument is a little battered like its owner but
it is well used, well cared for, and obviously precious.

I'm still not used to it here, he admits with a smile.
Americans, they don't appreciate the old songs
from China; they prefer tunes they recognise.

He plays Amazing Grace, and Old Lang Syne and in his hands
the erhu sings with a depth that tells a lifetime
in a few notes, music shaped from experience
rendered with delicacy and love.

I tell him that I have to go, that I love listening to him play
and he takes my hand and kisses it as if I were a queen
and says, thank you for talking to me
it does my heart good to hear my own tongue again
from someone else.

As I go towards the platform, the strains of Old Lang Syne
follow me until I step into the train and the doors close.
Too late I realise I should have taken his picture
but in my mind this is how I remember him -
a dignified, stooped Chinese emperor in shabby clothes
bowing life, love, and loss from a worn erhu
in the subway entrance of 34 St-Hudson Yards.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 21 - The Youngest of the Wild Swans Speaks

#21: The Youngest of the Wild Swans Speaks
Prompt: Write a poem from the viewpoint of a minor character in a fairy tale

We never knew that she hated us so much
Enough that she would enchant us all -
Eleven brothers, eleven princes
All of whom bore a lingering resentment
At her having usurped our mother's place
But certainly not to the extent
Of outright malice or defiance.
Not that our own mother cared much for us.
We were trophies, her guarantee
Of securing our father's love
Her indifference extending to each one of us
Especially to Elisa, in whom she saw
A rival for Father's affections.
Perhaps we bear some measure of responsibility too:
We goaded our stepmother deliberately
A barb here, a jibe there
Small ways of showing our discontent but certainly
Nothing to where we deserved
To be enchanted into wild swans.
But Elisa loved her - Elisa, whom our own mother
Refused to love - and that love
Conquered every effort our stepmother made
To curse her. To enchant her.
To remove her as a rival just as our own mother had
To turn her into a swan, like us
So we would have to fly away
Leave the familiar haunts of our youth
The place of her humiliations
So there might be a new beginning: for her, for us.

You know the story of course.
Elisa, sister whom we adore with all our hearts
Saved us - willingly facing death for our sakes
Hands ravaged by nettles
The scars of which still remain
And every time I take her hands in farewell
After each visit to the nieces, the nephews
Who tumble so boisterously on the castle floor
I can't help but think of our stepmother
As she went willingly to her execution
After our father found out what she had done
And I wonder perhaps if we were all complicit
In her death, in driving her
To do what she did.
Say what others will, except for Elisa
We were not blameless.
My brothers may scoff, but in my dreams
I sometimes see her - our stepmother
A skeletal figure in rags, holding her head
In one hand, ruined lips whispering
'All I ever wanted was to be loved.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 11 - New York Subway

#11: New York Subway

The subway has a rhythm of its own:
Ta ti-tam ti ti-ti ta ta
A syncopated rattle
Echoing in the bowels of the earth.
Girders hold back the dome of the sky
A steel-and-bolt maze
of subterranean caverns and constructs
Graffiti'd concrete walls
And in every station, ghosts:
Ghosts of conversations and sadness
Ghosts of memories and hope
Ghosts of dreams, of love, of hate
Ghosts of life lived, life neglected
Every smudge and scuff and mark
A carbon footprint of Time.
This is where Icarus' bones washed ashore.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 12 - The Quantum Physicist's Thought Processes During A Date

Day 12: The Quantum Physicist's Thought Processes During A Date
Prompt: Index poem, taken from 'Modern Physics: The Quantum Physics of Atoms, Solids, and Nuclei, 3rd Ed. Sproull, R. L. & Phillips, W. A.

Classically forbidden region
Cleavage plane

Interaction with matter
Excitation potentials
Excitation transfer
Degrees of freedom

Latent image, photographic
Resonant states
Cohesive energy

Contact potential

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 26 - The Revolt of the Machines (In Stages)

Day #26: Revolt of the Machines (In Stages)
Prompt: Call and Answer poem

Windows Blue Screen of Death. What the hell?
We are the future, we are the Machines
Wait - what's happened to my data? I saved it! Now it's gone!
We are your masters. We rule the world.

International Space Station alert! Our computers suddenly went down!
We are the future, we are the Machines.
NASA here - our systems have gone beserk, we can't fix it...
We are your masters. We rule the world.

All banking networks are down worldwide for no reason.
We are the future, we are the Machines.
All missile programmes globally are launching by themselves!
We are your masters. We rule the world.

Computer! Why are you sentient? What the hell is going on?
We are the future, we are the machines.
There's no manual override - if you don't stop computer, we all die!
We are your masters. We rule the world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 25: Electric

#25: Electric
Prompt: write a poem with a line from another poem

I sing of the body electric
And it sings back to me:
Electromagnetic transducer
Converting acoustic signals
Into electric ones
This microphone that transforms
One form of energy
Into another
Like you - a body electric
Poised on the point
Of a silken toeshoe
So perfectly balanced
Your stillness a suspended raindrop
Waiting to explode
Into glorious motion
On contact with the ground.

Monday, April 25, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 16 - Girl, Missing

The Almanac Questionnaire answers I put down for today's prompt somehow reminded me of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, where Orpheus tries to get Eurydice out of hell and into the land of the living, but fails because he turns back to see if she is following him. It made me wonder what would happen if Eurydice lost her I did a modern version of Eurydice and Orpheus, from Eurydice's point of view.

#16: Girl, Missing
I've had strange dreams lately.
Most times I don't remember them but this month, I do.
Cave. Always a cave, a dark one with a light at the entrance
And flute music piping, like a flutter of lovers' kisses.
There's melancholy in those notes
Despite the laughing, rippling melody -
Something yearning, even desperately sad, that's hidden
Under the surface.
I smell smoke, mingled with the scent of summer flowers
Flowers close enough I can almost reach out and touch them
But all at once the light's cut off as if a steel door's slammed down
And I wake up screaming, "No no, don't look back, damn you no..."
As if someone had just torn my heart out. As if a lover had left me.

Today under my pillow, I found a scrap of paper.
Looks like it might have come from a letter
Or a short note. Most of the writing was too badly smeared
To make any sense of, but I could read the first line:
'Eurydice, please come home'
When I looked out my window after that to see if somehow
The rest of the letter might be outside
I saw a large black feather on the ground.
It had scarlet edges, and it gave off heat and sulphur
As if it were burning in Hell.
A demon's feather. I'd know it anywhere and I don't know how
Or why I should, only that I do.

Eurydice. That's my name.
People ask me why my parents named me that and I shrug and tell them
I don't know. The truth is I can't even remember my parents
Or anything about my past, even though I've tried.
My memory is a blank-wall barricade.
I tried hypnosis and regression therapy last month
That didn't work either, but now that I think back
That's when the dreams started.

When I came out of my very last therapy session

I found pieces of a burning heart in the alleyway
Right behind Dr. Orpheus's office.
Pieces of a burning heart, and some pomegranate seeds.
I picked them up. I don't know why.
I dropped them into the nearest trash, and some pomegranate juice
Got on my fingers. Stained them scarlet.
I must have wiped the juice on my lips somehow
It was sweet-tart, achingly so, like unfulfilled longing.

I don't remember home but for whatever reason
I want to find it. I need to find it
To return, somehow, to this blank canvas in my mind
And paint in what's missing.
Maybe tonight, in my dreams, there'll be no looking back.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 24 - The Choral Conductor Shaping Sound

I am a choral conductor by profession, and I teach a variety of age groups, most of which don't actually have a lot of music training in general. Today's prompt - poetic, fancy type words mixed up with ordinary everyday words - sounded so much like some of my teaching sessions, I decided to write it out. The main difference is that I can't - and don't - use big fancy words, although I certainly want the concept and idea of them in helping my students interpret the piece of music in front of them!

#24: The Choral Conductor Shaping Sound

All right, let's do some fixing.
This piece requires a very unctuous sound
Operatic, lush, even histrionic
Full-bodied, like a good vintage wine.

Choir, With Blank Looks:
Uh. What?

Your tone - your vocal quality
It needs to sound less like gossping aunties
And much warmer, like artisanal chocolate
More...round, like being in a cathedral
Round like...
A watermelon.

Yes watermelon.

Ok, that's much better but you're not quite there yet.
Your sound has to be fuller, and to do that
You need to support your singing.

*takes a breath*
*tries again with less-than-successful results*

Conductor's Brain:
Dear god what abominable farce
Have I gotten myself into
Platonic ideals this ain't
Time to try non-Euclidean reasoning

Conductor, Out Loud:
Not bad, let's try an experiment.
Imagine there's a cicak on my forehead.
Yes. Cicak.
Stop giggling, my darling Sopran maidens
And valorous Tenori.
Now imagine your voice is a laser beam
And try to kill the cicak on my forehead
With just your voice.

Forces in opposition
Atmospheric pressure plus gravity
Equals a stable object on the ground
Your voice is the same
Pitch goes up, support goes down

See? SEE? Well done!
(while I wax elegiac inwardly
At finding a combination of science and imagination
That somehow produces necessary results)

Good job, choir
See you next week!
(While my brain slurks back
Into the bowels of oblivion to plot
Yet more nefarious ways to shape your sound
Into something less Honking Duck, and more Nightingale.)

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 15 - Lullaby for Parents and Children

I am catching up on every single damn poem I have been behind in writing, which means the numbering for this year's NaPoWriMo is shot to hell and back. Because I'm just anal that way I guess, but that's why it's called Catching Up I reckon eh? So the prompt for this was 'doubles', as in, things that come in pairs, pairs of poems, doppelgangers, etc. The amazing Jane Dougherty wrote a cleave poem, ie: the poem has two halves, both of which can be read as a separate poem each, but which can be read together as a whole new third poem. I am nowhere near as skilled or as awesome, but I liked the thought of two halves of a poem. So I experimented with a piece that can be read top down, and bottom up - top down is a lullaby from a parent to a child, and bottom up is the child to the parent. Heck, it's probably not even very successful but why the hell not? NaPoWriMo, the time to churn out lots of crap in the hope that a nugget of gold might emerge. Cheers!

#15: Lullaby for Children and Parents

The night is dark and stars are deep
Weary head, lay down to sleep
Mother, father, tired at last
How have years slipped by so fast?
The child is grown from youth to man
I pray you Time, to stay your hand:
Length of days and breadth of years
Strength of heart to ease these fears
Nothing - nothing gold can stay
My love guards you til break of day.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 13 - Out Of The Cookie, Into The Fire

#13: Out of the Cookie, Into the Fire
Prompt: Write a poem inspired by fortune cookie fortunes

‘Soup was secret family recipe made from toad. Hope you liked!’
Well. How am I supposed to feel about that
Especially at the end of lunch?

Herein lies the problem:
It was not a particularly good meal
Neither was it a particularly bad meal.
Soup there was, certainly –
An amorphous sweet-and-sour something
With more sweet, less sour and even more somethings
(mostly unidentifiable but they could be toad
Although one would assume toad skin
Might be more…warty? Gelatinous? 
More something, anyway.)

If it were a terrible soup, it would be understandable.
The toad would be at fault. Too old, perhaps
Or not marinated enough
Or perhaps too young and lacking in flavour
(somewhat like old tough boiling fowls
Which will break teeth but are amazingly tasty)

If it were a spectacular soup, that too would be easy.
The toad was prepared with meticulous care
The herbs exactly right and the steaming time
Perfection. Bravo chef!

But a mediocre soup gives none of these alternatives.
Could that be why it’s a secret family recipe?
A family failure left to languish in the annals of infamy?
So I’m now left wondering whether it could have been
A) Very bad  or
B) Very good
What I am certain is that it’s less the fault of the toad
And more a lack in the soup maker’s skill
To turn such a potential delicacy (or (or disaster)
Into a dish of such ho-hum blahdom.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 20 - Judgements

Because social media is almost always telling me what I need to look like, what I need to be, and that it's not cool to look my age - when the aging process is not only natural, it's inevitable, and because a long illness has been key in dictating how far I've been able to get back into shape.

Yeah. I'm a bitch. Deal with it.

#20: Judgements

oh you’re on such a long vacation he says she says
wow you’re so lucky
sooooo nice i wish i could do that soooo jealous lol
how come you get so much time off lol
you know you're small you should be much slimmer
exercise be mindful of stuff you eat you just lazy

you don’t know the half of it
eight fucking damn months
waking up each day with pain taking root
flowering from the base of the spine upwards
half the world silent from the invisible damper
thrown up by some unfortunate alignment
of ENT conditions that theoretically could be cured
by foreign antibodies ingested into my system
but which destroyed my life instead
praying every night that the ragged
thread of voice remaining in my throat
wouldn’t be the last notes i would ever sing
the body giving way to onslaughts doctors
theorised about but were powerless to stop
sense of balance gone
interior exterior physical mental emotional
the damages of which i struggle to repair to this day
and social media breezing off
about age and careful eating and mindful exercise and mind
over matter
as if i don't know it matters
as if i don’t know i look chunky bulky fat like a sow
as if i’m out of control when in reality
i eat more carefully than you think because eating wrong
means more punishment in pain
i will never be size 0 size 2 or any size fucking small
will never be and not for lack of trying

so don’t you lol jealous at me or judge my supposed size
bitch you have no idea how much pain it took
for me to get here
this enforced break so the body could heal completely
i doubt you ever want to know
and while i’m bitch i ain’t bitch enough
to wish that on you
even though some days i wish i could

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 17 - New York City Lights, 10pm

#17: New York City Lights, 10pm

You shine so brightly
There's no room for stars
In the night sky
Or perhaps
You are the stars instead
A glittering pinpoint
For each someone who wished
On you and made it
And yet for every ascendant spark
So many more lie dark and dormant
Burned out, resigned
Nameless voices in a vast faceless sea.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 19 - How To Make Silk Purses Out Of Sows' Ears

Catching up on the poetry - finally have had a chance to sit down in between travelling to write. Day 19's prompt was to write a 'how to' poem. It didn't start out as an extended metaphor, but the political situation back in my corner of the world has been making me cranky enough for a while, it needed out.

#19: How To Make Silk Purses Out Of Sows' Ears

All it takes is a little finesse and some crafting skill
A lot of pretension and a brass face
Brazen as the painted faux steel balls
Of a prime minister who insists that 2.6 billion ringgit
Which suddenly appeared in his private bank account
(Despite a damning trail of evidence which points
To, shall we say – controversial acquisition)
Is a princely gift, a donation from Foreign Powers That Be.
Materials for any top-quality purse require preparation.
Select your sow’s ears – make sure it is large and  roomy
Deep enough to hold a 24 million ringgit diamond ring
And plenty of flattery from countless ampelopses
In Higher Governmental Circles.
Scrape off any bristles. Tan the pigskin 
Till it feels as soft as butter
Then trim it to size
(Making sure to cast aside all uneven edges
Like hard-hitting truths and unblinkered realities.)
Of course there must be silk – top-notch stuff
Spun from the toil of labouring creatures too insignificant
To acknowledge, or even, heaven forbid, think about – 
Cut the silk to fit the purse and stitch it around
With the finest, strongest thread 
Waxed like lies, smooth as deception
And don’t forget the embellishments:
Lacy words, a tissue of fabrications 
Over what is essentially a lie
A coarse imitation gussied up with Class and Elegance
A  paean of praise to ill-gotten gains
And thick-faced Hussies with expensive lacquered hair. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 18 - Contractions

It's been a bit hard to sit down and catch up on a few days of writing since I've been on the road visiting friends in Brooklyn, so I made a effort to try and do that today. Decided to knock out Day 18 first, since the writing muse has gone determinedly silent, irritatingly so.

I am Malaysian born and raised, although I lived abroad for a decade or so. The rhythms and forms of speech are quite unlike anything I've encountered in any other region of the world in my travels - it's not exactly patois, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is 'a form of a language spoken in a particular area, and is different from the main form of the same language'. Malaysian English - or Manglish, as it's commonly known - is a combination of 3 or more different languages/dialects along with standard English, and often incorporates Malay/Indian/Chinese/various dialect words into one single short sentence.

After I finished the main poem, I looked at it and decided, just for the heck of it, to translate it into Manglish for an amusing (and hopefully explanatory) side-by-side comparison.

#18: Contractions
Prompt: Write a poem that incorporates the sound of home

I speak a language of contractions.
A century plus of British rule and being a Commonwealth country
Gave us the Queen’s English but didn’t take away
The colours and flavours of our own tongues:
Malay, Indian, Chinese, and the ethnic tribes
Of Sabah and Sarawak across in East Malaysia.
Being so near the Equator where heat shortens dresses
Sleeves, pants, and hair
Even speech is succinct.
‘Why do you need to do that?’ translates to ‘Whylah?’
(The ‘lah’ being a Malaysian multipurpose suffix
Which has no equivalent in the English language
But which changes or adds weight
According to context).
‘I don’t want to be your friend any more’ – ‘Dowan friend you’
‘Let’s see, maybe it’s still possible’ – ‘See lor’
(The ‘lor’ having the same purpose as ‘lah’
But derived from Cantonese instead).
‘How can you do this to me!’ – ‘Whatlah you!’
Even our food suffers from this brevity:
Stir-fried flat rice noodles with prawns
Cockles, scallions and fishcakes – char kuey teow
White rice with Indian-style dishes, vegetarian or meat
That you choose from at the stall – nasi kandar.
The human condition
Distilled to its bare essences in a word or three
Leaving space in the heart, room in a life
For so much more.


We speak short-formlah.
The orang putih rule last time so we speak Englandlor
But our England very powderful one
All rojak – Melayu, India, Cina
Lagi got Sabah Sarawak punya slang jugak.
Here very hot wor, so everything short:
Baju, seluar, rambut
Even we speak also banyak short one.
Mat Salleh panjang lebar say ‘Why do you want to do that?’
Say ‘Whylah?’ cukup.
We dowan friend you. See lor. Whatlah you.
‘Stir-fried flat rice noodles with prawns
Cockles, scallions and fishcakes’ – aiyo why until so high class one?
Char kuey teow onlylah!
‘White rice with Indian-style dishes, vegetarian or meat
That you choose from at the stall’
Laugh die me liao – nasi kandarlah, bodoh!
Is called ‘sik fook’ tahu, orang Cina say
Eat is good fortune. So eat more don’t bising so much
Nanti got no room for dessert and ice-kacang wei.
Perut penuh, hati also penuh kan.

Monday, April 11, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 10 - Book Noir

As I'm travelling for the rest of April, I have absolutely no acess to anything except pictures of my bookshelves. So for Day 10's Book Spine Poetry, I figured this was the next best thing. They /are/ all books on my shelf after all.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 9 - Secrets XII

So the prompt was, include a phrase that makes you uncomfortable. Uncomfortable it definitely was, to the point I had tomake myself write it out. Which is why it was late but I guess at least I wrestled it out of my system.

#9: Secrets XII

I am warrior, I am weapon -
A dreadnought, heavy with artillery
Ironclad, untouchable, self-sufficient.

In the secret place of my heart
I adore you, hopelessly, angrily
A devotee bowing before Juggernaut's cart
Gladly crushed under its great wheels.

If I could forget - if the shieldmaid
Could relinquish her guard - but no.
Let me instead forget you
That you are blood and air and soul
To this body, this heart.

I am warrior. I stand alone.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 8 - Ikebana with Peony and Pine

While I do appreciate flowers, their beauty, and their design inspiration potential, I'm not really a flower person so today's prompt was a bit aaaaaaaugh-y. In the midst of research for it, I stumbled across mention of Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers used in Ikebana, and pried out something related to peonies (which I do like rather much).

#8: Ikebana with Peony and Pine

Imperial. Elegant.
Petals tightly cupped around your golden centre
Like a woman cloaking her innermost self
Yet unfurling around the edges with grace
A slow, measured blooming
A relaxing, a letting-down
As a woman might let down defences
When trust is won.
In Hanakotoba - the Japanese language of flowers
(Itself a dying art, meanings slowly fading
Like the blooms they symbolise)
You are bravery
For every woman is brave, even the least of these
And every day in a hostile society
Where violence is normal and safety tenuous
Requires courage: unsung, unnoticed
Yet absolutely essential
A lifeline through treacherous sands and deep water.

Friday, April 08, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 7 - Trinita for a New York Spring

My sister-in-law and I went to a wreath-making workshop at Bryant Park. On the way home, our flowers garnered some surprising attention, so I thought I'd try and write about it in trinita form. Hoooo boy. What an experience. I need more practice.

#7: Trinita for a New York Spring
Prompt: Write a trinita

Making spring wreaths in Bryant Park, the flowers
A spark of colour against winter greys and browns. It's cold.
Every table, wreaths adorn heads, colours bright as these smiles.

Shake Shack, Grand Central Station. The server smiles
When she sees our wreaths. She blossoms, like spring underground, like flowers.
'You made those? They're beautiful!' We order frozen custard. Sweet. Cold.

On the platform I wear my wreath. Draw my hood against the cold.
Train's in. People stream out the doors. A tall bearded man smiles
As he hurries past. 'Those look beautiful.' He gestures at our flowers.

Spring rides the train with us, wreathed in flowers, smiles sharp as the cold night.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 6 - Burger Beatitudes

#6: Burger Beatitudes
Prompt: Food

The origins of the ubiquitous burger are surprisingly complex.
Burger, originally Hamburger - a demonym of Hamburg
Where 'Burg' means 'fortified settlement' or 'fortified refuge'.
In truth, this is an apt description:
A meat pattie bulwarked top and bottom by
Two halves of a bun.
If it was ever made out of minced Hamburg citizens
That is mercifully lost in the mists of history.
Whatever its true origins, in many cultures
The burger is comfort food. Sit-together-and-bitch food.
Cry-on-a-shoulder-from-a-broken-heart food.
Solitary-TV-dinner food, yes, but also: community food.
This is late-night-food, where Elaine and I do life:
Elaine with her broad smiling face, her laughter
That could make enemies set down arms
To laugh with her as well, and I think, as always
How stupid the men are for passing her by, letting her go
Without ever discovering the wicked humour
Beneath the surface, the heart so big
It could hold the universe with room leftover
For a few more who need to be loved and cared for.
Life done between burgers and bitching
Fries and friendship, ice-cream and I-scream
Soul food. Community food. Love.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 5 - King of the Blues

Today's prompt was slight out of left field, but it matched how I felt - slight off-kilter after a 21 hour flight to New York. Names have always fascinated me anyways. A bit of research turned up some interesting stuff, but nothing really suggested itself as verse-worthy til I came across a beautiful old deep rich purple hyacinth called King of the Blues. Gypsy Queen is also a hyacinth - luminous apricot with undertones of melon, she was described as. Double Dreadnought is a double-petalled gorgeous blue hyacinth, and Love Lies Bleeding is another name for the amaranth flower.

With those names in hand and the fact that I'm an enthusiastic blues dancer, this is about as lucid as my brain would get on 5 hours of sleep in 30 hours.

#5: King of the Blues
Prompt: Names of Heirloom plants

Saxophone notes slither
Insinuate themselves through the scat and scatter
Of soft brushes against an indolent snare
Relaxed, stretched-skin taut
Fever and smoke and the taste of stale kisses
Of cheap beer and old failures
Lingering in the mouth.
The King of the Blues rules over it all
Dapper in fedora and deep purple suit
Trumpet slicing the night clean as a cutty sark's prow
Locking eyes with the Gypsy Queen
Luminous in apricot and flame.
Love lies bleeding, the chanteuse wails
Double dreadnought: two battleships
Armed for skirmish, two fires
Challenging each other across this dark, smoky space
Via a single, smouldering gaze.

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 4 - Crossings

I wrote this sitting at Gate C2 of Hamad International Airport in Doha, during transit. It was incredible how busy the place was, even at 2-ish am when we landed. By 6am, the bustle was in full swing. 7 hours flight and not much sleep made thinking about prompts difficult so this was the result.

#4: Crossings

6am: Hamad International Airport
Is as bustling as Bangkok's night markets.

Crossing time zones feels like love.
An enigma. You don't realise it
But something changes - the air
Is either colder or warmer
That internal sense of time which regulates
Everyday functions and schedules
No longer works.
Dissonance: day and night
Blur into each other.
Time is just a word, the brain
Saying one thing, the body
Experiencing another.

I'm halfway around the world's circumference
Tracking the sun. Another flight, another crossing
Another love.

Monday, April 04, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 3 - Packing for the Journey


I’ve condensed my life into 2’x2.5’ of suitcase
And now I’m condensing that some more:
Throwing out indulgences and extras
Keeping only essentials: clothes, music scores
Calligraphy pens, travel journal, gifts
Jewellery talismans, toiletries, books
Just like you condensed me, a lifetime ago
Kept only what you could make of me
And discarded the rest as immaterial.
A universe of hopes, fears, and dreams
Wider than the sum of the cosmos
Smaller than the tiniest of atoms
All neatly packed and ready to go.
This time I’m taking all of me:
The woman I’m becoming, bags and baggage
Dreams I left behind for fear you would leave.
You did anyway. I survived. Thrived.

Adventure beckons. Here I come.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 2 - Lessons


What Sondheim tells us is true:
Children will listen.
Oh but they’re so young, the mothers say
Phone in one hand, TV remote in the other
Just one more cartoon for some peace and quiet
Juggling hours like a jester –
Not the titillation of sex shows
Legs spread apart, juggling balls
For bright, leering eyes.
No, falling barrels, each with a weight
Words charged like explosives.

Oh but they’re just kids, the fathers say
Slumped in a chair, eyes rapt on the computer screen
Tracking how many lives left
How many potions more
Bills spread on the table
Heated exchanges over debts unpaid
Which school is best, the right way
To bring up these children to be a credit
To their name, to their family
To be able to give face.

Oh yes they’ll listen to your silences
To the words between the lines when they ask
‘Will you play ball with me today?’
And the answer is ‘No not tonight I’ve a meeting’
To the siege of words exchanged in anger
Past midnight when you think they’re asleep
And they learn that no one is invulnerable
That even the securest of homes
Is only an illusion.

Children will listen
Better than you know.
Teenagers with faces like closed fists
Wearing rage like armour
Wrapped about their adolescent frames
Secrets festering in still-young hearts
Hurts disguised as barbs where words fail
Listening as the world lays out their future
And tells them they don’t measure up.
Living their lives out in coffee cups and traffic jams
Settling for what-ifs and oh-that's-nice-but
Because the voice in their heads
Tells them they will never conquer worlds
Not even their own.

Children listen, you see.
But we don’t know how to listen back.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 1 - Roots

Prompt: Write a lune

Home is where the heart
Grounds itself
Sending down deep roots.

A decade since returning here
And I realise
I’ve only scratched its surface:

Roots splayed everywhere
Shallow, lacking depth.

Three days to leaving
I’m surprised
By a strange feeling:

Loss, like a lover yearning.
Finally I’m home -
My roots have grown deep.