Tag Archives: Poems

Melamine Breath

I will look back on these moments
as the happiest days of my life.
What rose-flavoured fragrance
of memories – laughter and Darlie teeth.
Like the chirping seagulls that float like buoys
above a murky ocean of plastics and trash.
The shit that clogs our lungs with sorrow
Because your only friend
was the inviting butt of a damp cigarette –
A Marlboro red that you smuggled
from god-knows where and you keep zip-locked
like a sarcophagus of love and regret.



The Monk Wears Nike

Here the Nokia ringtones, screaming babies
among the chants of ancient sutras.
There the selfies with monks, solar panelled
pagodas, and 10 yuan photographs.

600 monks are gathered for a prayer for world peace
Measured in the gigabytes of recorded insta videos.
Here the sonorous wail of the dungchen
There the stomp of ancient drums.
Each metronome is soaked
in the parochialism of history.
Each pendular swirl of a shaven head is
a scar of the longevity of tradition.
It is the typical measure of half-hearted ego
To claim the sacred reigns to world peace.
Signs warning against photography and smoking throng
amidst the camera flashes and choking tobacco of Chunghwas.

And as the prayer concludes with a storm of drums,
the young monks awaken from their slumber
marinated by a thousand-year old boredom
Hurtle out into the sunlight and the cans of coca-cola.
The older linger taking their place behind counters
selling factory-made trinkets blessed to bring
health, fortune, happiness and wealth.
Piles of 1 yuan notes clogs the monastery.
And a tourist throws a paper bank note into a wishing well
It floats above the sea of drowned coins.
Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

The light rain billows into a deluge.
Wet umbrellas find shelter under reconstructed stupas.
Filth washes away into the Tibetan valley.
And the prayer flags swing heavily,
soaked in the acids of the clouds.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Photo taken at Sumtseling Monastery, Yunnan

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The First Days of Summer

Insignificant is the life that trudges out
Amidst the slow incoming tide:
The vapid stupor of a daily train ride,
The desiccated flowers of a moldy vase,
The silent rains that threaten to fall on an island
Suffocated by the humid pantings of the middle-aged
And the dying who in their eyes see the clouds,
And in their hearts know the inevitable,
But in their mouths would never admit it.

This is the end.

What solemnity that drips forth
From the chequered cotton on those laundry poles,
What silence that drifts from luncheon meat ashtrays,
The solitude that blazes from the burning joss of a bin,
How they fade into clouds and
Wash into the grime of the longkangs.


All is cold

It’s because life exists in moments like this:
Where all is still and all is slow:
The orange light turns your hair to gold
And sets the emptiness in me ablaze.

But in a dying heartbeat, in a flickering eyelid:
All is dark, all is cold.


Taxidermy and the Void Deck

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.


He Who Rebelled Against the Sun

I was born under the shadow of its light,
Doomed to the chill of its restless heat.
To forever prostrate myself in acquiescence
To the soundless music of the life infinite
It bestowed and it possessed.

I could not listen. I would not hear.
I turn away from the light that immolates
Regardless of my blaspheming eyelids.

Blood rays, fiery orange.

The light is all that is pain.
And I would surrender myself
To the deaf and blind.

Deafness, self-imposed,
That disables the soul.
Blindness, self-inflicted,
That breaks the better angels of our nature.

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5AM at Pasir Ris beach

Dawn is breaking upon the revelry of drunkards.
They yell all they can
Against the dying tenebrous night
That has yielded them not a denouement.

This beach is cold and nebulous
Dismal and obfuscous.
A bird is screaming out her lungs
in squawks of tuberculosed anguish.

Have you seen the morning tide?
It is a relentless murky blue
Melancholic and ceaseless
They lap these rubbish strewn shores.

The cleaner peddles a soiled dustbin
Dressed not for tropical heat
But the cold drafts of this alien land.
Strewn like cacti in a vast desert
Of sanitised street fluorescent:
The crushed plastic cups and emptied gin bottles
Of decrepit sorrows and buried pains.

There will be no sunrise for this morning.
It does not deserve one.


20 Aug

Few things are as inviting as an opened MRT door,
Preluded by a hurtling wind that sends your hair to the heavens.
It is an air-conditioned existence in an island of heat,
Of draught light in the darkening dusk.

I was reading Dawkins’ God Delusion:
Those blistering covers that incite ridicule
and my blaspheming fundamentalism.
An auntie glares at me, with her glistening pearls of eyes.
She pierces my godless, soulless shell,
With festering agony and indignation in her offended heart.
I gaze back with mere heretical nonchalance.

My ears too have blasphemed: it is the voice of Leslie Low.
Every crooned word is a hollering protest, is an anguished lament,
Of guitar chords smashed by ellen keys
And drums plastered by bleeding fingers

They tranquillise the dark nights of the human soul,
And all its consuming vices of alcohol and sorrow.

Somewhere in this world of grey,
A museum curator is dragged through his heathen streets,
Where blood streams from the emptiness between his thighs,
The emptiness of iconoclastic castration.

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The Funeral

Your portrait stands proudly erect,
vaulted by a noose of chrysanthemums
as white as they are fake.
Your body is cold, decaying meat
in a sack of foul skin beyond
even the saving of a cosmetic cake.
Your visitors bow in prostration
before a gilded box of nothingness:
neither a soul nor a breath nor a heartache.

Oh the solitary loneliness of your being:
The slow sleep of death embalmed,
And the phlegm of thoughts entombed,
Oh the walls of the coffin, in rancid anomie,
Where you have far long since ceased to be.

Those monks that chant
like croaking frogs
spewing incantations of sutras that
sound more like senile curses of which
your unhearing ears cannot despise.
Those gongs and tocking fish-drums that
busk away like a beggar’s croon,
consoling you on your passage
through the eighteen hells of expiation:
deathly and agonised.
And the hell notes and incense
that chock the world’s light,
that lend the only semblance
of grey mournfulness
to the bright, unaffected skies.

They said, in prostrated vigil:
Oh he died peacefully in his sleep,
Such a tranquil smile, such rosy cheeks,
Even in the slumber of repose.
Here lies a great man of great stature;
Here lies a great father, son and brother.
No need for sutras or gospels;
No want for tears or prayers.
His own virtue would guide himself
through the afterlife.

They said, in prostrated vigil:
Oh your virtuous spirit would return
to the earthly realm on the third day.
A final visit befitting of a lamp and
a white cloth plastered on the graffiti
to guide you to your former home:
therein a bed of ash scattered to reveal
where your spirit would traverse.

But all thousands of specks of ash,
like dust in the sky and droplets on a sink,
remain untouched, unanswered.

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Purgatory of Skin

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.
– Beckett


Our longkangs are streams forsaken:
Tributaries of the great river,
Uncountable like the kalpas,
Of filth lowly and dreams forgotten.
It is a drunk malignant liver.


He trudges amidst the froth and shit,
From the gutter of the shallow,
Of mud, of rain and worms
To the wet darkness of the deep.
He seeks the ablution of the soul.

Semangat, Semangat,
A vulgar boy of a spirit mediocre,
Possessed by fearful savagery:
He seeks the requiem of a renewal,
But what there is left for a retard?


Grilled lights of an unrecognisable sun –
Long abandoned is the cold morning haze
amidst the cold trudging waters that churn.
Here is darkness, moss and a barren maze
Where no footstep would ever return.

These are the embers that burn underground:
Fiery ash and curling steam of Virgil’s dread,
An inferno of loath and fire drowned
Where even our dear Dante dare not thread.
These are the suns of a world without light.


Semangat screams an animal’s holler:
In ash and mist he would linger,
Of skin and detritus he rubs,
Of folly and follicles he scrubs,
Of eyes and genitalia he stubs.

A distant thunder barrages –
There is a storm of rage above.
A brutal river usurps our purgatory.


Now there is no more fire,
But your consciousness is aflame.
You are a smouldering iron
In a longkang of grime.

Every pore, every contour,
Of body and soul.
No more stain, no more pain.
There is only new skin:
White, pure and unblemished.


What there is left of our Semangat
But a distant, displeasured cloud?

There’s this installation art piece called The Cloud of Unknowing by Ho Tzu Nyen that I really love. The Singapore Art Museum has it somewhere in storage; I don’t ever know when I’ll see it again. I’m a little depressed over this. It is one of the art works that has served as a muse for my little poem of six parts above.

And I’ve been reading a little too much T.S. Eliot recently.

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