The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Poetry

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.

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Wandering to get to the far side of the desert

As my foot lands, a gentle swirl
exhales from my shoe as it crunches into the ground —
a breath aspirated with every step.
Rubber soles against
fine, particulate sediment
strum a succession of crunches
— an arpeggio that
wafts its way up to the ears
but is heard most intently and immediately
by the feet.
“Shrack, krack. Tracht, wrecht,” it sings.
Inventing words are not the sole purview of the lips, tongue and teeth.
Heel to balls articulate
the songs of a journey,
aided by the voice of the earth,
as I venture towards
mountains in the distance laid blue by
sun rays cleft into singularity by
Rayleigh scattering.

I lay down in the sand —
that seems burnt red from above
but shines brown around me.
An itchy embrace, but warm
— is it from today’s kindling
or remnants of yesterday’s flagration?
If my heart beats hard enough
a vibration of random motion,
would I create heat?
Perhaps then I could ignite a passion
so hot it turns the grit around me
into glass — not quite diamonds
but it would sparkle close enough;
bright enough for you.

The arrhythmia would kill me
but then I would at least be human enough for you.

20170606_143758

Sheets

Bed

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.

Paper

I had to put pen to paper
my heart willed me so.
But when the nib came down to scrawl
my hand began to waver.

There was no way I could get the soul
of this yawning desire
with merely just the ebb of ink
as my finger rolls.

I cast away the pointless tool
and looked within the fount
where words did not flow but tears did
until the page was full.

The sheet was tender, wet
and slowly began to dry
to a wrinkly prune, like fingers
that’s sat in a bath too long.
And as the sun took more tears away
the paper began to stiffen
to a hard crackling that threatens to snap;
Exactly what I wanted to write.

Deaf, dumb, and dead

My heart clenched with pain
when I heard that song on the radio
that I knew you liked
and can no longer hear.

I spoke your words the other day
to help your friend in need
who needed to hear your voice.
But I can never be you.

Faith ignites a message that falls on stone ears

Faith

A red glow spreads as
electric lotus lamps burn
from a rosewood altar.

Ignites

Three sticks of incense
stuck into the ashes of previous attempts
to reach you.
I flick the dial of a lighter
and it goes “schick, schick.”
A few sparks and the flame is lit,
a covenant made on one end.

Three sticks of incense
rouse and extend fragrant tendrils skywards.
An extension to the heavens —
patch me through, operator.
The sandalwood dance this way and that,
seemingly reluctant to secure the connection,
but like all prayer,
one speaks regardless
of whether the other side is listening.

A Message

“Tua Pek Gong ah, Tua Pek Gong,
my grandma looked to you
for conferrings of harmony
the pious could achieve.
For those who hold their faith each day
in sticks of burning wood.
Structured sutras calm the heart;
metrical relief.

I washed upon these concrete shores,
a boat with much to give.
And countless leagues I’ve had to cross
to berth my anchors in
a port of gold, or so I’m told,
where dreams are to be had.
But all I have to moor the tide
are merely ropes of tin.

Tua Pek Gong ah, Tua Pek Gong
I do not know the form in which to speak
the words that my ancestors would beseech
protections that would sooth the stormy seas.
But would your red auspices run its course
In lands where red is mixed with white and blue?
Where ships are not the vessels they were built
but kindling from the boards that have been stripped.
I rely on mantras that I borrowed
in hopes of days where boats could be ships

That Falls On

Rectitude is all I have when
circumstances bend my back

My communion withers
as three sticks of incense stand
on their last legs.

Stone Ears

A ceramic smile
glazed upon a statuette
could never waver.

For two hearts to beat as one

You came to me in a dream
and I laid my head on your chest.
You were cold and had no heartbeat
just as you were when I first discovered you
many moons ago.
But somehow, in that dream,
when I told you
“You are cold and have no heartbeat,”
we both knew it and
we both twitched a wistful smile;
a calm took me and I knew that
it took you too and
we both were of the same heart
for the first time in
many moons.