Reincarnation (4): Remembering Campbell St.

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Sun-
Set.
Town zipped electric wires overhead;
Crowds spilt from the edges of the island’s soul.
My working mother in the emporium said
Dad would come soon to take me away.
I said Yes Yes YES! out we would go into
The sweating street where my favourite Indian
Restaurant was always ready to serve up
Curries of the dreamiest kind.
But dad did not come and I
Stepped outside by myself
(The street rang with bright lights and shone
With restive passion air chatter) –
To find the years slide backward
To a time when the same street was
Red sailors tattooed lanterns and rickshawmen.
The pretty ladies in the jade green cheongsam
Brushed my hair and asked me if
I could help them halt the River.
One of them shed a trembling tear,
Saying all she had would soon be gone.
And right on time came the wholesalers of
Housewares and faceless materialism
To wipe out her kind of romanticism.
Now the nights took in families of
Righteous virtues and solid cash.
The merchants of life’s necessities
Believed in the fantastic playground –
Until the island shifted West and
The shadows of the monster malls
Towered over the green and the blue.
I knew then I’d have to find my dad
And tell him of this strange fever.
To the Chinese Sports Club I hurried.
Round the corner I imagined its checkered floor
Of black white black white black marble.
There men like my dad played ping-pong
To the steady sound of their passing youth.

13.7.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Vision of Things to Come (vi)

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The serpent came to me and said you would
Die, grandmama.
I wept uncontrollably under the gaze of
The surprised homeroom teacher,
Who insisted a dream was just a dream
Just a dream.
But before the serpent I had dreamt of
The lavishly garbed, bearded gods
Of sharp incense marching side by side
At our ancestors’ necropolis
By the misty hillside of my genesis.
Strangers who had lost loved ones were
Burning papier mache servants and maids
Sending feather ashes and wishes up to the heavens
Where the first tear-rain of remorse would form –
And then come crashing down on the joyous island.
Your husband my grandpapa had appeared
In the raging fire
(Hell banknotes now a twirling tornado)
And in his unfamiliar eyes I had read
An invitation to the Great
Somewhere.

24.8.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Painting: ‘Lush Woods of Taoist Immortal Land’ by Zha ShiBiao 查士标 (ca. 1687)

Revolution Men

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I won’t let you go yet –
Not before the Revolution is over.
While the dark streets are still dripping
Shadows of oppression and life-hate,
We will march side by side,
Finger on the cold trigger,
Always poised to take down any
Opposing force.
You should know the universe is against
Us: rebels for all ages.
It will not hesitate to tear into us,
To flagellate us and break our limbs,
To degrade the warrior in us.
God is not here.
It is only you and me –
And the despot who refuses to die!
He will be after me again.
He had released me to prove
He was the greater man, but
He will soon come to regret this
Miscalculation.
I will strike back twice as hard,
With sanctified silver bullets
And fighters with nothing to lose but
Their liberated souls.
You will be riding beside me,
Saddle-high,
Digging our spurs in to race
Against the hot wind of tyranny.
With my Springfield I would blast
His kingdom into oblivion.
Thunder! Thunder!
Down with the liar leader!
Once the dust settles and the dead are
Gone,
A new world will rise
With me as ‘President for Life,’
And you as my lifesaver.
I will sound your name for seven years
And the people will know
Who you are,
Who I am,
Who we are –
Two iron hearts under one nation.
You may choose to leave me then but –
Consider this:
Being twin kings we could rewrite
The rules of civilisation and alter
The destiny of humanity and turn
The tides of nihilism and undo
The consequences of our history –
We would smash the old tablets and
Carve out new tenets for
The celebration of Passion:
‘EVERY MAN SHALL LOVE WITH
A PASSION STRONGER THAN
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.’
The dawn of a new love religion is
In our hands –
So long as the sun sets each day
And the stars line up each night
To retell the fate of our ancestors.
Our people will know the past
Is not to be re-enacted.
Now is the beginning
And you and I will be the end of times.

But should we part one summer night –
All our hopes and reveries
Would retreat in silence into
The vast primordial woods of
Forgotten ages.
Green monsters would emerge then
With the sole intention of
Taking back what was theirs before
Any of us had the right to claim.
Because I would not hope,
Because I would not wish,
Because I would not dream of
This man’s power or that man’s gold –
All would give in to faithlessness
And I would lie down on feathered grass
With the long-dead war stallions still
Crying empty in my head.

23.9.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In the dead of night I’ll call you up and say:

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The only way to hear Chris Isaak is to
Go for a drive with the ghost of Elvis
Crooning through your precious Kenwood.
Tonight’s hours seem uncannily long,
And so I’ve called you up hoping
We’d roll out the red Buick Invicta.
The city is on the edge of sleep,
But you and I, still wild at heart,
Know there won’t be another night like this.
These hours will not repeat themselves
And by tomorrow’s inevitable sunrise,
We’ll both be less relevant than today.
So come to me before I drift off
To sleep.
You’ll be at the wheel, in control,
Your face aglow with post-work mischief.
‘So where to, Prince of Darkness?’ you ask.
I say westward is the only possibility,
Away from the sun, buying ourselves
More time in the here and now.
So drive –
Towards the obligatory city lights
Signalling life in the aftermath of
Daylight carnage.
But we won’t stop downtown;
We’ll whizz around all the
Metropolitan mundanities
And head out to the spectral zone reserved
For underworld figures like you and me.
About 10 miles from the city’s glass heart,
Nestled in a cluster of fan palms,
Is the famous Blue Hotel you may have heard of.
An art deco curiosity with
A sunbleached yellow facade and
Two stories of musty bedrooms,
Each one wallpapered deep blue to suggest
Otherworldly proclivities.
For it’s a subcultural belief
Once you’re inside one of these rooms,
The world of your origin will be nothing
But a sordid memory.
After the lanky bellboy bows out,
We’ll lock and bolt the door and
Spread ourselves out on the stony bed
Imagining
The sound of yesterday’s waves.
Time is rolling back out
Into the eternal nothing blue,
And you and I sigh at the impossibility
Of staying in one place.
Unwilling to wait for the axe to
Fall, I get up and switch on
The walnut Muntz
(But not before I’ve planted one last kiss
On your left shoulder),
And find Lana singing an elegy
To time lost not to be regained.
I’ll take it as a sign to go,
To step through the black/white snowy screen
Into that other dimension
– by myself –
Now that Romance is dead.
You’ll have to drive back alone –
Without the memories of us,
This blue room,
Or your former life –
And be prepared for the meaningless
Murmurs of the years ahead.

22.8.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Vision of Things to Come (v)

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The voices came through the haze
Of yesterday’s memories and told the boy
His daddy would leave now,
Not come home no more.
The cicadas buzzed loud in the heat:
Oh no oh no daddy mommy no longer;
Bad dreams would come and linger.
Darkness fell and he hid himself
In the cave of absolute nothing more,
Languishing in stinging salty tears.
Now the bad dreams brought steroidal beasts
Of armoured chests and pylon arms.
The lashing of young skin began and blinding
Pain shot through his person’s person and
The prospect of future pain opened
His eyes to an unclouded vista of
Pre-dawn exuberance,
The perfect constellations beyond mankind
Revealing their naked divine power
Against a backdrop of age-old illusions.
‘Vipassana!’ exclaimed the boy against the dark
Which duly echoed with agreeable silence.

30.6.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Delirium

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Mad woman, we are going to lay you down now
On a raft of white rush and bamboo
Built to take you west, into the sun that dies
Each day for the sins of all prodigal sons.
The fireflies are out amber-dancing through
The misty air of expectancy.
The indigo of the water lilies calls forth
A thousand broken dreams now whole
Darkly glittering on the waterfront.
Mad woman, do not stir or resist,
For this rite is your destiny and the time
Has come for you to leave all of us
And go where there is neither dust nor pain.
The un-life of seventy odd years you have led
Will end as soon as the waves roll backward.
The bodhisattvas my friends have arrived.
Do you hear the eternal peace I hear
In the flawless nothing of their holy words?
The clouds have just parted to reveal Perseus
Swinging proudly with Medusa’s severed crown –
An auspicious omen on this night of
Resolution.
(All your ex-lovers are impotent limpets.)
Mad woman, we are going to exorcise you.
Back to the blackest hell, wicked temptress,
Murderess of love and humanity.
A lifetime of acrimony is more than enough
For any woman of sane mind.
So dust no more, sigh no more.
Your self-made prison walls
Will come down after tonight,
Giving you the mythical freedom you never
Dreamed of when you trapped yourself
In the charmed mirror of youth forever now.
(But I will always live in the cell of your mad design.)
‘Om mohi mohi maha mohi svaha
Damn you for this life damn you
Om mohi mohi maha mohi svaha
This pain everlasting is mine damn you
Om mohi mohi maha mohi svaha
Rancorous beauty on my skin damn you
Om mohi mohi maha mohi svaha
Nothing of this life you shall take with you
Om muni muni smara svaha.’

18.5.17  Singapore
Image: ‘Human Fetus’ by Marc Gosselin

Safe from Harm

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The bullets are flying again and we,
The fallen ones, are terrified of the wheezing
Heated air. Many of us are cowering
In the faceless dark, sobbing old fear,
Wishing with our united heart of faith
For the silencing of inhumanity.
Our hope is fading fast in the
Black amnesia of neither here nor there.
We’ve been stranded here too long,
And our memories of our loved ones
And the one-of-a-kind beauty of the life
Taken from us
Are seeping through the membrane of
Our spirit.
The dark is claiming us
Entire.
We wish to leave this haunted ground
And return to the crying ones –
The fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and lovers
Who once believed they could keep us
Safe from harm
(But the world was more savage than they thought).
We wish to tell them we never meant to go
So soon,
But primeval hatred took us by force,
And now there’s no crossing over to the other side –
Where the bullets are still flying,
From hour to fatal hour,
In dreams of recurrent destruction and loss.

17.6.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Vision of Things to Come (iv)

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The macaques at the Waterfall Gardens recognised
Me – a child of the flames.
Mother crept up to me, hairy arm reaching out,
(Feed us or else!)
Baby clinging desperate to her underside.
I was terrified of claws, fangs, sharp things,
Ran back – in half joy-fear – to my young father.
By his side I should stay always,
For protection and other vague needful things.
The jungle all around wheezed and whispered.
(Sometimes there’s a wild shriek that tore
Through the soul.)
Savagery in the undergrowth, in the blood
Couldn’t be appeased by
The Gods of the under- and overworld.
Trembling I held on to my father’s thigh,
Seeing nothing but green menace in the killing heat.
(Thousands of miles away a war had been fought
And lost.)
He lifted me up and smoothed my hair over.
The tears that were about to come flowed back,
And I knew without knowing father was
A deathless god.

31.5.16.  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Reincarnation (3): Remembering Rifle Range

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Note: Rifle Range Flats are Penang’s earliest low-cost housing project (1970). The curious name dates back to the 1950s when the ground was used for target practices by the army. It’s infamous for its squalor, violent gangs, and heroin addicts. It’s also my childhood home of some 18 years.

Eyes opened – the cradle spring from the ceiling,
Soft light from without illuminating plastic flower
Remnants of the Flower Power Generation with dreams
That would shape a new life within these four walls of
Indestructible concrete. Child boy saw ma and pa
As a cocoon to which he wished he belonged, but
Pa rose up and left and the house of dreams
Shut its door to many possibilities.
Crying ma positioned herself before the vanity mirror
Preening,
Like a parrot ready for mating,
And child boy watched with artistic eyes,
Internalising the laws of aesthetics.
Grandma said oh no there would be no tragedy in this house,
Not while she’s still around!
(But how long would you stay, grandma?)
She took child boy down to smoky hawker heaven
And they ate like the hungry ghosts of July.
Aunt #1 having lost her husband but not
Her sense of humour said boy child had his pa’s
Mouth (ha-ha) for it’s CNY again and the grass
Was aflame. ‘Ashes for new things,’ a random cousin quipped.
Night fell years later to find teen boy dreaming
Of a single streetlight lighting up the barracks across.
Lying sleepless he wished for dawn when the first reveille
Would sound bringing out the toy soldiers,
Rifles erect,
‘Colonel Bogey March’ bouncing off
The misty hillside.
He dreamt through the long sweet day,
Waiting for the thrills of hide and seek.
When his schoolmates came calling,
The classic game would unfold on the lowest level
Of the buzzing catacomb,
And boyish hoots would ring out
As their lightning footsteps thundered up
The foul dark stairwells, up and up
Towards the 16th floor, the seat of the stars
Where that other failed schoolboy had hurled himself off
The railing.
They marvelled at the view, the boy’s courage.
Then came the realisation that
Many of his schoolmates had gone missing.
The maze had swallowed them and their futures.
Teen boy braced himself for the descent,
For down below all the great love songs had been playing.
(‘Just one night and we’ll have the magic feeling like we used to do.’)
In the very room where he had lain as a dumb babe,
The foreign lover now came and told him of
Tales of another land in the virgin snow.
He made up his mind then –
Say goodbye to Ferringhi Beach sensual white,
Say goodbye to grandma, ma and pa,
To all that’s his except for
What he had committed to memory.
His best pal cradling his knees said,
‘These buildings were built to last.
German technology no?
Go, leave this place if you must.
Go – but keep the faith that
This room in the Tower of Babel,
Its walls so strong and proud,
Will remember the music of our youth.’

29.5.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lyrics taken from ‘Miss You Like Crazy’ (1989) by Natalie Cole. Writers: Preston W. Glass, Gerry Goffin, Michael Masser.

The Vision of Things to Come (iii)

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The pain of birth has translated into
The loneliness of a single tear child roaming
The wilderness where his ancestral bones
Were interred, half-hidden by
Slender after-the-monsoon grass.
A serpent hissed and the child recoiled –
Became a wayward boy who would cross to
The other side.
Rain came again and drowned the ants.
The boy stooped down to watch the vortex of
Nature’s cruelty
And comprehended (dimly) what lay beyond
The hillside tombstones
(All those dead and forgotten in a foreign land).
After the storm left there was the usual
Unmistakable calm,
The reassurance that all should be as always.
Quiet joy lay at the core of this phase.
And a phase it certainly was.
Somewhere over the sea there were deep rumblings again.
Soon the towering rainclouds would blow inland
And the boy would scurry for cover.

30.5.16  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia