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

Untitled

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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
Room divider
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
Myself:

‘Of course my adult voice could never
Come through, a voice that’s undergone
A distilling process purging it of
Sincerity.
The words I speak are often not mine,
Strung together to mimic surface civility.
Plagiarised, rehearsed,
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
Disgrace and
Heartbreak.
Every night arrives with no fanfare,
No sound or fury,
No passion or exhilaration.’

‘Except sometimes when it rains
Lightly,
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

All Rise! (for the New Age of Love)

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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
Brilliant-white –
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
Vindictiveness
And embrace the absoluteness of my
New existence.
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,
Time exceptional.
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.

30.4.17  Singapore

Reincarnation (2): Remembering Cathay

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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
After sunset,
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
Disconnection.
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

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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.

The Vision of Things to Come (ii)

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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

Night Train

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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,
Unalterable unless
(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

Reincarnation (1): Remembering Chulia St.

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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
Throbbing life.
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.
(Tick-tock-tick)
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
Seduction.
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 Invitation

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Welcome to the island where dead loves are
Buried,
In the cool shades of tropical fauna
Gifted by the migratory gods before sunrise.
A sweet spot in the forever sun
Ringed by azure waves rolling in out hypnotic.
Dreams are
The life after death truth of this destination
In Notime Nowhere.

We were once like you,
Soiled with tears and gritty memories
Of times marred by inevitable Fate.
We lost many to the Spinning Wheel,
Unable to make peace with our guilty shadows
For forty-three winters.
White pain in black deaths we had endured,
The yellow vision of fractured sunflowers
(End-of-times flames rising high)
Burnt itself into our weeping souls.
The dead scattered all over
Inhumanity, never to be recalled,
Not through biblical magic,
Not through technological advancement.
Not.

Then we left as the worms were still writhing,
Vowed never to return to Terrordome.
We flew many hours through war-torn air
To arrive on these pure white shores of
Monumental awakening.
See these blue waves that never judge?
They will kiss your ankles with all the affection
Born out of the immortal Spirit.
Across the pearl sands you will feel
Under your soles the persuasion of loving.
Hear the paramour breeze overhead,
The poetic sounds it whispers sexually
To the virgin birds in the coconut fronds,
Stirring dreams and longings to a soulful song.
Nearer to dusk the hot air in the heart
Sizzles amber needs.
We lie down body to sensual earth
Reaching for the hands of another.
Lemongrass on skin while the sun sets
Off the Cape of Infinity, sparkling orange
Like the quirky bird-of-paradise flower
That sings through the necessary sins of
The barhoppers and the halfboygirls,
Doused in clear alcohol,
Drifting on the funk of last century’s
Hallucinogens.
(A tokay laughs hysterical somewhere in the dark.
‘Leo DiCaprio was here once
But he didn’t get as far as you!’)
We laugh-roll through the mad-ass muck
And head up to the Big Buddha
Sitting serene above the animal kingdom.
The dead loves are interned here,
Resting in green, without memories.
We come here to dream
Of ourselves outside of Time.
If you step inside and join us,
You, too, can begin to live.

8.4.16 – 16.4.16  Phuket, Thailand – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Photo: Phromthep Cape, Southern Phuket