Grandmother is dead.
A tigress in her life,
Now taxidermied in a coffin.
A family of unfamiliar cousins have been mustered.
Peanuts and melon seeds are the pills
that ease the pain of conversation,
The saliva for non-consensual laughter.
Fourth Uncle is the recalcitrant streak
of an insolent red shirt
in a void deck of white –
chrysanthemums, tissue, fluorescents.
The chants of nam myoho renge kyo
harasses the embalmed sleep of grandmother.
The fragrance of morphine lingers stiffly.
But her lipsticked lips are the prettiest
I’ve ever seen on her face.
Sixth Uncle is asleep at 4am,
I am alone in the vigil.
For the only time in our common existence,
Grandmother and I start conversing.
First in my crippled attempt at Cantonese,
The only tongue she knew;
And finally in English,
The language of my generation
that she’d never understand.
Have you eaten? Is it too hot in the coffin?
Are the lights too bright?
Do you still remember my name?
Would you like to hear about my dreams, my life,
my moral complexities and existential anxieties?
How was it growing up during the War?
Was there ever a moment of happiness with grandfather?
Did you find life meaningful and are you glad to go?
And as always and forever now,
There can only be a reply of utter silence.
Not even a crackle of a candle or a buzz of moth.
This is Singapore after all:
A void deck of exhumed roots and unspeaking history,
Of a phobia of the nostalgia and a poverty of memory.