The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: death

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.

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.

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.

YOU NEVER MADE IT TO 26

photo_2016-10-27_08-07-07_pm

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]

Meandering road

I surround myself with beauty
to distract myself from grief
and throw myself to the reckless wind
to let myself feel alive
yet I myself know that to be a lie
for floating myself amidst these currents
that I myself have no control was
to delude myself
that somehow I have gotten over

you

        left us behind
you left us with all this hurt
you took off without a warning
you didn’t say goodbye.
But there is no more you anymore, is there?
We’re left behind
We’re left with all this hurt
We’re sitting around here
We didn’t get to say goodbye

Dérive, you told me, was a concept originated in Paris
where people criss crossed, crossed people and streets,
where there is opportunity, crisis
unplanned journeys across the cityscape,
getting over delusions that somehow
we have control amidst these currents
when we are really just floating lies to each other
to feel alive recklessly,
throwing grief at beauty
to come to the solemn reckoning that
in the end there is only just

me.

 

[1 month]

To be blessed with faith

I often wonder what you would say to me
when I finally get to meet you
in the afterlife
but then I remember that
I don’t believe
in the afterlife
and that makes me wish that
sometimes
I were blessed with faith
so that I can get to see you again.

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.

The Memorial

Great writers are immortal:
the names of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Frost
still live on today through their works,
through their words;
they live on in posterity.

Josh was a great writer, as we all know.
Anyone who has had the chance to know him knows that.

But we are here today not to celebrate his posterity.
We’re here to celebrate his memory, yes, but let us not forget:
we are here to celebrate all of you and this moment.

Great writers are immortal:
but what do we know about what made Shakespeare smile?
What do we know what jokes Wordsworth told his friends
— verily, who were his friends?
What made Frost weep?
What did Oscar Wilde whisper to Bosie when they lying in bed?

But we do know how Josh made us feel, made us laugh,
feel inspired, challenged, frustrated and how he loved us.
No one but us will have this moment where we can say we have
lived a life of Josh.
Even were his works to live on, no one but us could claim to have
danced with giddy abandon amidst fireworks,
no one but us could claim to have told him
our humblest, crippling fears.

In this room, we have those who knew Josh
not merely through his intellect but knew him
as a big-headed baby growing up, knew him
as an adventurous soul to the point of foolishness.
Knew him to have fought demons, so many demons.

Josh had many demons. Maybe that’s why he liked angels so much.
His mother’s thesis was about angels. And while he didn’t believe in angels in the Christian sense,
he believed a divine other that represented healing and all that is good.
He would tell me about what he did and what fun he had hanging out with his friends because
up until the recent end of his life,
happiness had always seemed out of his reach.
Every one of you represented an angel to him,
just as he was an angel to all of us.

[Speech: 30th July, 2016]

Nobody ever tells you this but the worst thing about administering CPR, especially to a loved one, is that your thoughts are chopped into bite-sized urgency with each compression.

“Come. On. Wake. Up. Wake. Up. Already. Please.”

*checks breath and heartbeat*

“Why. Aren’t. You. Waking. Up. Choke. Or. Something.”

*checks breath and heartbeat*

“Am. I. Not. Pressing. Hard. Enough. Or. What.”

*checks breath and heartbeat*

“Why. Won’t. You. Show. Sign. Of. Life.”

And then, when you stop the CPR, when you had been in a mode where your thoughts were forcibly disjointed, they all come crashing back in one long incoherent jointed sentence hitting you like a brick wall from all that contained pressure like how bedrock fissures when all that regolith is removed.

[2 weeks]