The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Diary

Second Saturdays

I regularly attend what is known as the “Second Saturdays” reading series — an open reading session that showcases Singaporean and often American writers. People — amateur and experienced writers alike — are invited to share their work and at the end, a featured writer usually reads from his or her published work.

For the last session of Second Saturdays, before it goes on hiatus for the summer, I decided to read something that came from my own work and also that of Josh. I always saw the series as a great way to bring Singaporean and American writers together, and what better way to end the season than a piece that came from both places?

Before Josh died, he was very protective over his writing and never let anyone read anything he wrote — I’ve scarcely seen any of his work. Upon his death, with access to his lifetime of thoughts, notes, and writings, I wondered if his ghost would be angry at me for 1) reading something he never felt comfortable sharing 2) sharing a part of his work with strangers 3) deriving a piece from his and my collection of words.

Combing through his thoughts was difficult: his verses were often dark and macabre; testament to his life’s tribulations. But to represent his true self to others is to preserve his words in their entirety — life, death, foolishness and wisdom unedited.

Combining Josh’s work and mine was an endeavour. He had a penchant for profusion, I gravitated towards brevity. His ideas were surreal and mine were grounded in observational reality. Quite like the differences in our personality, our writing styles clashed. It was a wonder being together had even worked out. I had thought I would need to weave in and out of his poetry to integrate his words with mine for the collaborative pieces — that attempt felt contrite and was a failure. In the end, I found out that the best way to marry his work with mine was simply the way we had worked out — by coexisting side-by-side, without needing to become one.

The three pieces I read at the session are: An excerpt from a 10-part poem he wrote, a poem I wrote on my recent visit back to Singapore, and finally a poem which I had used his poem fragments and a part of one I had shared on this blog.

A Southern Gothic

3.
Pairs of lampposts
thunder towards us
at 60mph — two eyes
that widen, and then are overcome
by the next pair of posts,
more crooked than the last.
Tributaries of concrete,
the bloodlines of an efficient world,
blast their way through forests
and limestone walls.
Mechanical beasts shift their trunks
into the sides of pumping stations
and savor the black blood of the earth.

From time to time I will be at the wheel
and awake with a start:
Am I heading the right way?
And my grandmother whispers in my ear,
Let them pass you,
let them pass,
as they always will,
let them face the wrong way signs.

And now I can face the fireflies — the one spark
in the dogwood on the left,
then a torch of beings on the right
that ignites the forest into an enormous,
seizing strobe. Canals of concrete writhe
with the bodies of fallen bugs,
blinking like turn signals,
like lighters at a funeral,
like a child’s sparkler
on a hot and hazy
Fourth of July —
flowing as a gluttonous river
into the eye of blindness.

Washing Machine

When I was young
my father once punched a hole into the washing machine.
We were suppose to leave on a trip
but my mother had dallied.
I remember the yelling, the gesticulating,
and in a coup de grace,
he slammed his fist into the toploader
and plastic gave way to flesh
but not before leaving a gash
and he held in blood and pride
with a paper towel.
My mother was left speechless —
not solely because the appliance had been left splintered
but what is one to do when your husband
batters a daily household convenience?

I used to peer through the hole of the washing machine
and watch my worries spin cycle away.

Today,
the strength which punched a hole into the washing machine
now stoops and pauses to take more naps
as the anger has left
and all that remains is bitterness
from memories of an era bygone.
The rage which punched a hole into the washing machine
has crystallised into salt
that the elders supposedly consume — more than we do rice —
as we sit around and nod our heads
in obeisance.

NPY

I watched you bargain with the end of your cigarette,
contemplating, ruminating,
obsessing
with the concept of a minute
and how you wished you didn’t understand it.
You exhaled
and life and smoke exited in a curlicue.
“Everything is a spiral motion,” you said.
— Embracing arms, ivy choking a tree,
adulthood, regression, the corkscrew plot of our later years.
I frowned, and you silenced prematurely the dying ember
that hangs from your fingers.
We taste each other with our bodies
and read the future in our bones
and in our newfound knowledge,
we roll over to sleep.

I woke up and found that I have wet my bed
with tears that I cried into cupped hands
that slowly seeped through my fingers
because I forgot what you looked like.

A pile of clean laundry lies on one side of the bed
because I can pretend that you are there
as you used to enjoy jumping on top of it
when it is fresh out of the dryer.

Who will help me put the covers on the comforter?

I still sleep on my side of the bed
with my head faced away from the middle
I still try not to snore when I sleep
so as not to disturb your ghost.

Anyhow Noodles

“What are you making?” you asked, as you walked into the kitchen. “Ugh, you’re using that giant ass wok. It’s such a hassle to wash,” you said.

“Hey, this wok is feeding your ass so don’t complain,” I replied.

“So what are you making? It looks like you’re just randomly throwing things into the wok and frying shit up.”

“That’s right, I’m making ‘Anyhow Noodles.'”

“Anyhow Noodles? What the heck is that?”

“It’s where you randomly throw things into the wok and fry shit up. When you understand cooking enough at my level, you can throw anything into a wok and it’ll turn out fine.”

“So what goes into Anyhow Noodles?”

“You have to have noodles, that’s why it’s ‘Anyhow Noodles’ and not ‘Anyhow Rice,’ right?”

“I can see that…”

“And then, you add in vegetables, meat, brown sauce and you’re done!”

“Wait hold on. Brown sauce?”

“Yes. Brown sauce. It’s sauce that’s brown.”

“And what goes in brown sauce?”

“Brown flavour.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It does back home. Everyone knows what ‘brown sauce’ is. It’s an established flavour.”

“You’re making shit up. You’re fucking with me.”

“If you don’t believe me, go ask your friend Cassie. She’ll know what ‘brown flavour’ is. All Asians know it.”

……

“Ok I don’t believe it. She told me ‘brown’ is totally a flavour. Her mum makes food with it too, what the fuck. That’s so weird.”

“Well I’m sorry the food you’re eating is weird.”

“Ok then what’s the meat that goes into Anyhow Noodles? ‘Has-legs’? ‘Living-creature?’ ‘Matter???'”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just beef.”

Wontonception

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Everyone knows what goes into a bowl of wonton mee (云吞面). You typically have egg noodles, baby yu choy or equivalent greens, char siew (roast pork) and wontons, of course.  It’s a fairly simple dish with no frills. However, what if you wanted to frill it up and make it unnecessarily complicated for a potluck party in which you would fish for compliments?

Then you flip the script and create mee wonton.

You see, I go to this potluck party fairly often where people have come to expect that I bring something interesting each time (I brought kueh pie tee previously). But I can’t keep bringing new dishes all the time! Even new animals and drugs are discovered at a faster pace than new dishes are invented. I wracked my head for concepts and deconstructed a dish I practically ate all the time as a kid.

The concept I had in my head was: take the mee, take the vegetables, take the char siew and put them all into the wonton. If you had a wonton stuffed with wonton mee ingredients and put the wontons in a bowl of wonton mee, you can achieve wontonception! I had no idea how to achieve that since I wouldn’t consider myself an expert wonton maker. However, I was determined and set out to try.

My first attempt involved brushing two egg wonton wrappers with oil and putting it into a muffin tin, putting the ingredients in and baking it. It didn’t work. It resulted in a thin-crackling skin that was not very palatable. You see, I was trying to avoid deep frying anything, since deep frying always resulted in grease lingering the air for days. My kitchen did not have a vent and I had to manually vent anything out of the window with a box fan.

Plus, using two wrappers on top of each other wasn’t enough to contain enough ingredients to make for a satisfying bite. I had to figure out a way to expand the working surface area of the wonton, and came up with the idea of overlaying wonton wrappers and then gently rolling them to compress them into one oversized wrapper.

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On it, I had mee pok noodles, baby yu choy, char siew I made from scratch and fried shallots. I used mee pok (flat egg noodles) rather than mee kia (thin egg noodles) because mee pok is the superior noodle and gives a more substantial bite than mee kia anyway. I tossed the noodles with fish sauce, a little soy sauce, and some of the char siew sauce I used to make my char siew. I stirred some sesame oil into the vegetables. The oversized wrapper has roughly six points, like an odd hexagon, and I folded it top-down, lower left and right corners, and then the upper left and right corners before sealing it with some water.

I tried baking the wonton again in a muffin tin. I was really trying to avoid deep frying anything. When the wonton came back out with a disappointing skin, I was like, “Ok fine. I will deep fry you bastards.” And so I did. The smell of grease permeated the air and mocked my failure at avoiding deep frying. But the wontons came out fine. Deep frying solves everything.

I cut into a deep-fried wonton and the contents tumbled out, a mess of char siew, vegetables and mee pok. My job was done. I had created a chimera that I will parade around the dinner party and bards will sing praises of my endeavours. I brought along some sambal belacan chilli I had made to go along with the wontons.

Most people didn’t stop to listen to my big exposition before eating the wontons at the party.

YOU NEVER MADE IT TO 26

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Hi.

I’ve been trying hard to smile extra hard for you, but it’s hard, you know. The stone that moves not, know not how to smile, but tries hard, for hardness is its nature upon which churches and houses have been built. But belies the surface is molten rock; undulating, unsettling, unsure, undone. To rest is to solidify into igneous rocks — glowing embers that ultimately fade to black.

Resting atop a rock lies a temple. In the temple, a pebble falls and clacks on the stone floors, stone-on-stone resounding off of the walls. Clack–clack–clackclack–whirl to a rest. A restive mood permeates the temple that stands on top of a rock. Within the temple lies the echoes of a hundred chants unsaid, mantras unrecited. “What if…” “What if…” “What if…?”

Wind scowls around, tendrils of air swirling around rough exteriors that exude toughness. Howls abound of “Happy Birthday” peel away at stucco and linger wistfully with the hopes of prayers that would never reach your ears. “There is nothing happy about this day,” I thought, picking at paint chips at wedge away so satisfying like scabs over wound. I take care not to bleed. On your wall, layers and layers of well wishes applied on by various people, each a different shade of “missing you” and well-meant love; all bereft. I chip away as they dry.

For my birthday, you got me a Toblerone and some white chocolate with coconut in it, to “share with friends.”

I chant, from beneath bedrock where glowing magma moves from within: “If only I could share it with you.” If only magma could become lava.

 

Through my eyes

imageedit_2_8380050066I walked in, hollow as a shell, into the floor of the Stella Maris monastery in Haifa, Israel. I took a seat in the pews in the back. Virgin Mary was on display, as waves after waves of people came to pay their respects and take pictures of her. Waves after waves of people washed in, genuflected, chanted, prayed, touched some monuments, took some selfies. I clammed up as fervour rose around me, rocked around as I waited for the rush to recede, flurry to fade. And then they washed out, and I was allowed to be hollow again.

And in my emptiness I was allowed to fill myself with feelings I had kept at bay.

And then the brine came — salt rinses, stings, preserves, cleanses. Virgin Mary looked upon me, face unchanging, witnessing a scene instead of being witnessed for a change.

Through my eyes, the tears tore through the tear that was tethered together too quickly, too haphazardly, and I was empty and ready to let them come.

Through my eyes, I am seeing sights you sought so much as you sailed in search of something significant other than what your life was.

Then let me be your eyes, for you are unable to see.

Because your eyes had been sewn shut.

[2 months]

I compile

It’s been a wild ride. I have felt a lot, thought a lot, and subsequent written a lot. But I have also not felt enough, not thought enough, and not written enough. It’s been tiring, I am tired, and I think I will be ok.

Day 0: The Death
(Thought)
Day 1: The Dishes
Day 2: The Deadline
Day 3: The Darkness
Day 4: The Detectives
Day 5: The Determination
Day 6: The Drafts
Day 7: The Seventh Day
(Thought)

The Funeral
The Poem
The Interment

After the fact:
Music hurts
as I remember
but friends remind me
Music heals

It had been a month, and I thought about

Afterlife and Anger

Two, and I travelled in search of truth.

ささやかだけれど、役にたつこと (A Small, Good Thing)

I’ve always been fond of Shibuya-kei, and have even written about it on this site. While I can’t fully grasp all local references, I’ve been listening to this Shibuya-kei song by Kaji Hideki (ヒデキカジ). It’s been helping me close the chapter and impelling me along.

君が旅に出た それも突然
You went on a journey, it was sudden
こうして僕が旅から戻ってきたのに
Because of that, I came back from my journey.

ドアの向こうには もう誰もいない
On the other side of the door, there was no one
恋してたのは僕だけじゃなかったはず
I’m not supposed to be the only one in love.

ささやかで役に立つ インスタントでできた
A small, good thing, INSTANT things can be
夢もコーヒーもすぐにさめなければ
Be they dreams, be they coffee, even if they turn cold
いいなと僕は思う
I think they’re still great.

そしてまた僕は次の旅に出る
And so I begin my next journey
例えば この空から雨が降るように
Like, for example, rain that falls from this sky.

ささやかで役に立つ レイモンドは語る
A small, good thing, RAYMOND says
青い空に白いシャツが合わないって事だってあるのさ
A white shirt that does not match the blue skies.

キミドリの庭を上 犬たちが飛び回る
Above the yellow-green garden, dogs are circling overhead
こんなによく晴れた日々君からの手紙が届く
A letter from you arrives in these sunny days.

きっとまたどこがで会おう
Let’s definitely meet somewhere again.