My nephew of five comes to me
With a walkie-talkie of
Two Heinz Beans tin cans
Tied from end to end with a magic string.
He says to talk from a distance without
Seeing my face, the movement of my lips.
I hide behind the dragon and phoenix
And speak play-pretend giggling soft.
But my nephew says I’m inaudible,
The can in his ear only rumbling hollow.
I reflect on the malfunction and explain to
‘Of course my adult voice could never
Come through, a voice that’s undergone
A distilling process purging it of
The words I speak are often not mine,
Strung together to mimic surface civility.
They give the impression of sound speech,
But are in fact true lies that mask
The Bacchus reborn in my heart.
When I speak to another adult,
The words reach out but don’t quite touch
His playacting ego.
No connection in faith despite
The 6.8 billion cellphones buzzing
To be heard.
But sadder are the unspoken words
Amputated and omitted to preempt
Every night arrives with no fanfare,
No sound or fury,
No passion or exhilaration.’
‘Except sometimes when it rains
And two would-be friends find themselves
Over the clashing din of city life
(Heart to heart and soul to soul)
Rearranging the puzzle of past/present
And trading in the future tense.
The voice overrides all manipulations then.
The words learnt by my younger self return
– One pure notion at a time –
To remind me of the forgotten growth
Of the budding lotus in the sun.’
25.7.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
There comes the sun after the cold sweat
Of the nether-night before.
Shrug off the worms and the bloodbats;
Brush off the contagion and the bile-hate;
Cleanse your private parts and your soul
For this is the beginning of a fearless age
Sanctioned by mythical creatures of the sea.
Your destructiveness (words and bullets)
Will leave no trace on my new armor –
Carapace of heavenly steel fashioned by
The primeval gods of life and lust.
You will now have to renounce your
And embrace the absoluteness of my
Witness and marvel!
The morning glory of my arrival.
I came from the Land of the Opaque Clouds,
Braving a savage night of storm intent on
Rending my good intentions.
But the magic powers of my inherited crown
Cut through the hellish dark and
Flattened the towering waves as dawn broke.
Then all was white shore gleaming wishful,
And the regal beast man-roared welcoming.
A sweeter invitation never before this hour of joy.
A greater hope never before this new Age of Love.
Know my name and I will be the healer
Of your lifelong pains;
Call my spirit and I will be the mender
Of your tattered dreams.
I am here to give you life unconditional,
Cast off all your doubts and rise
From the grey nothing of the years gone by.
Look ahead (with my prophetic eyes)
And see how the birds of paradise take flight
Into the soaring, rising blue.
Note: Cathay was an old-school, single-screen cinema on Penang Rd that operated for some 35 years. I did my ‘schooling’ in Hollywood movies there throughout the 80s. Today’s cineplexes mean little to me.
As children of the next generation,
We flocked to the imagined world of Hollywood
Just when the town was recovering from
The cruel heat of another blank page day.
We waited beneath the familiar marquee,
Knowing it would light up our dim imagination
When the magic yellow bulbs flashed bright,
Announcing the dream of the evening.
Our collective memory stretched far back –
To Bastian riding the dog-dragon over Fantasia,
To Damien grinning at his daddy’s funeral,
To the Jedi losing faith in himself.
We had lost ourselves in the glowing dark
(Like thousands of other island dreamers),
Many times over through the faceless years,
Forgetting there was another kind of dark
Outside the four eternal walls of wonderment.
The screen, anything but silver, was a kaleidoscope
Of all possible worlds in impossible ways.
We travelled on the sirocco and the northern lights
To the glittering heart of each fantasy nightmare,
Battling the alien queen with cinema’s greatest heroine,
Spinning through NYC as ghostbusting tomfools,
Waking up in Freddy’s vision of his shredded kids –
And how we cheered when Bruce Willis saved mankind again!
We learnt of the many faces of Love
– from honesty to treachery –
And fell hard for leading men and femmes fatale.
We got back up on our feet every time,
Ready for another round of tragicomedy.
We bonded with our brave fathers
Over badass Eastwood and cowboy flicks.
We found the rare fountain of youth
With the help of old veterans in the Florida Keys;
Understood then why we all wanted to live forever
In a world where all that’s born must die.
We were together, under the colourful canvases
Of movie ads declaring to all brothers:
‘Stand by me!’ And we did stand strong till
The lonely digital age came stealing in,
Whispering individualism in our ears,
And cold, cold multiplexes with personality disorder
Paved the way for an era of
The marquee lost its shine, was
Dismantled in our absence.
But sometimes when the night is long,
We see the children at the box office again,
Fanning themselves in the heat of illusion,
Dreaming foreign myths with one beating island heart.
7.5.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Before I loved you I was
A child with wild wishes and vast memories
Making my way through the jungle of adults,
Searching for my mythical self.
I was also a teenage dreamer
Swaying to the rhythm of old jazz,
Imagining love in the wee small hours,
Sweating feverish for the lover that never was.
I was a barbed cynic of Gen XYZ,
Always ready to tear down high walls
And knee impotent tyrants in the nuts.
I was a self-proclaimed intellectual
Aping the ways of Herr Nietzsche and co.
Spitting at the proud ignorant world.
I was a Believer convinced
Of the magic of reincarnation,
The unstoppable flow of natural life.
But with you I begin with an empty page,
No trace of yesteryear’s growing pains,
For the first day of creation is here and now.
4.2.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Photo taken in Kuala Lumpur in 2013.
Mad women beget mad sons who fly
Around like zika carriers shrinking brains
Into the size of unreason, spawning
Creative neural tube defects and
Heart, nerve, heart commotion.
(Heart x2 because the world lacks one.)
Repeat after me: ‘Spinal bifida! Snipal fibadi!’
There’s your miracle of birth,
The light of being that also gave a face to
Emperor Is-that-so?, the Chairman, and Brother #1,
Shining beacons of your proud history on earth.
Those punctured grinning skulls in the walls would
(If only they could)
Ask questions you have no answers to.
Like why mothers lock themselves up in their homes
Sweeping invisible dust balls ad infinitum,
And mad sons buzz empty desires,
Clones of faulty DNA firing madness,
Gunfire rending the newborn soul.
There comes another mangled thing
Straight from the belly of infinity,
The ultimate horror of the human fate.
19.5.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
On a night train heading home
From the mighty City of Angels,
My young father said I would now have
1001 tales to relay to my mates.
(The train choo-chooed in agreement.)
I reviewed the film reel of my imagination:
The throngs of humanity stirring chaos in the dens
Of sins and pleasures happy fools gorging on
Impermanent food in the presence of gold-faced
Buddhas beside the grey waters of the Chao Phraya
Smoke and fire rising from unstoppable lifeforce
Alien language indecipherable.
Breathless I stopped.
How could I preserve the mystery when my own body
Was rebelling against itself?
All would move beyond this point,
(I leant against the window and looked up)
I travelled at the speed of light towards
The W constellation with its Heart and Soul
And settled on the golden orb among the star people,
Telling them I wished to outlive the memories of me.
11.6.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The rusty tram clanged through the dusky heart
Of the town steadying itself for
Another night of swift forgetfulness.
It had transported me out of the bamboo groves
And the endless cabbage farms –
The slumber of green nothingness –
And deposited me in the midst of
The rickshaw rebels tipped their straw hats
And nodded half shadows at me – while
Children I would never have raced against time
With colourful kites of innocence on their backs.
The vapours of the coolies’ dinner
Tickled my desire – but Aunty Ling was waiting
With the curling iron and the hairdryer:
Wondrous inventions that would give me back
My femininity on this night of nights.
Aunty Ling’s chatter and the vendors’ calls
Merged into an ageless incantation,
And my vision and consciousness drooped.
I opened my eyes again to see a new
Presence – me but not quite, the Other
That hid from daylight.
The rouge on my cheeks gave me
The blood of life: renewal in the hue of
I was ready for the Swallow across.
Aunty Ling accompanied me there herself.
(‘Trust no-one,’ words trailing from her wartime experience.)
The crowd outside Odeon was restless,
Oblivious to small women like us.
We crossed the street, arm in arm,
Under the neon-lit gaze of the spirits.
Once inside the belly of the Swallow,
We made for the darkened first floor,
The long, musty corridor leading to the heart,
Where I had a room of my own.
Aunty Ling gone, the room conversed with me
Through the remnants of opiate ecstasy
From the nights before.
He came in a rickshaw phantom sudden.
Then he was at the door, blue eyes deep ocean.
Then he was in the room with me,
Tattooed arms around my waist.
No speech necessary except –
He chose to sing in my ear:
‘I’ll close my eyes and
See you with my heart.’
I said: ‘If I close my eyes now,
I’ll see you everywhere – at the port of Nagasaki,
Of Hong Kong, of Singapore, and of Malacca –
Everywhere but here.
If I close my eyes, you will no longer be real.’
He pinched my nose and smiled
(Everlasting imprint of here and now).
‘Soon I will return to the sea,
But for now these moments are still yours and mine.
Once at the misty peak of Inasayama
(There was precious little left below),
I learnt the ultimate truth of reality:
That though Time will not remain still,
There is permanence in all times elapsed.
The many nights we have seen through together,
Within these silent four walls of witness,
Will be preserved whole in eternity –
Even if the world may turn colder
Or crueller – and
Mankind should become more heartless
Than they have been.
These sweet hours on Chulia
(Do you hear echoes of Old India?)
Will outlast the street vendors,
The trolleycar riders and the pawnbrokers,
The gold merchants and the ironmongers,
The imperialists and their haughty ways.
When the waves come and claim back the Isle,
You and I will still be here,
Locked in unchanging embrace,
In this old motel of tropical dreams.’
2.4.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
*Lyrics taken from ‘I’ll Close My Eyes’ (1957) by Dinah Washington. Songwriters: Billy Reid and Buddy Kaye
‘The whole secret of existence is to have no fear.’ – Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902)
I woke up from my late noon slumber to find the world
Beyond my control.
Smoke rose from the sites of mass destruction.
Lives and spirits incinerated.
Kalashnikovs rattled and missiles tore through elephant clouds.
The earth sprang up to receive
Faith turned hatred to set back civilisation
Several tearful centuries,
Crippling freedom, undoing the gift of enlightenment.
Elsewhere the sea rose to devour 5 islands in the sun,
And my kind continues to consume
Farting through filthy orifices to
Turn the blue skies death camp grey.
The Ganges, my comrades, is dying a slow death,
Having to swallow a continent of human shit.
No hope for her holy source
In the snowy crevices where Time has stood still since
12.5.16 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia