Aaron Maniam received his early education at Raffles Institution's Gifted
Education Programme and Raffles Junior College's Humanities Scholarship
scheme. He graduated from Oxford and Yale on a Singapore Public Service
Commission scholarship. He is an alumnus of the Creative Arts Programme
(CAP), organized by the NUS Centre for the Arts and Ministry of Education's
Gifted Education Branch, under which he was mentored by poets Lee Tzu Pheng
and Ho Poh Fun. He won the First Prize for English Poetry in the 2003 National
Arts Council-Singapore Press Holdings Golden Point Award. His first collection
of poetry, Morning at Memory's Border, was published in 2005 and one of three
books shortlisted for the 2006 Singapore Literature Prize. His work has been
featured in the online poetry journal Stylus, Over There (an anthology of
Singaporean and Australian poetry) and youth anthologies in Singapore. He
attended the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2004. He mentors young
writers under the CAP and the National Arts Council's Mentorship Access
Project, and has been on the CAP's selection committee since 2003.
So now I meet you, with whom my father sojourned
In chapters outside imagination.
In the years since his return, I learned,
As many do, that wounds of fathers who come home are often
Greater than scars of a great boar hunt. There are nights I suspect
He feels persistent guilt at the Mnesteres' deaths;
When his silence is laced with the venom of realizing that metis
Cost two generations. Then I wonder if he wonders whether
Poseidon would have loved a little humility and if
Blinding Polyphemus only betrayed his too-human vision.
You understand these—you with whom he spoke long,
And now with whom I am silent even longer—these almost-feelings,
Not-quite-thoughts that do not render joys less, nor reduce
The sense of wholeness from familiarity and reunion.
Both past and now, then and here, residual and real,
They churn under years, sub-dermal pulses we only sense—
No greater necessary glamour.
Sometimes I wonder if he also yearns for waves to break—on?—
The too-easy equilibrium of new and old. I know he is not sad
With my mother, but—and here I confess guilt too—there are times our
Thickened, itinerant blood must find new streams in which to lose,
To loose itself.
Perhaps he discovered, as I slowly guess, that
There are many Ithacas... Some, we will explore; others we leave
For other days that may never come.
We will be happy. Or rather, we will be content,
Learning, as all do but hardly ever say, that
Contentment, like all states, is fleeting and perennial.
It will leave us sometimes but also return, after voyages
To places we won't always know. Perhaps the Poet
Intended all our stories to be thus, in medias res,
Todays nestled on either side by threads of the Fates.
Centuries on, the Muses tell me,
Another Greek will coin the term "entelechy",
Naming what I here describe only with halts and hesitation.
He will understand that sometimes journeys are the only homes
We know; that on occasion we wait so long for fathers
And ourselves to return, we forget what it must be like
Beyond that waiting.
He will name what you know by
Stable instincts of the land and shifting currents of intervening seas.
Tell him then that Telemachus was here, years after Ulysses, seeking
The listening, transient silence of another pilgrim's company.
Mnesteres - In Homer's Odyssey, the suitors who try to win Penelope's hand while her husband voyages home from Troy. Odysseus/Ulysses kills them on his return.
metis - ingenuity; often cited as Odysseus/Ulysses' most important and striking quality.
You brought Fuju persimmons, unreddened,
To my party. I think it was then I first knew
I loved you—or began to, for even now
I'm not certain when this thing we too easily call love
Grew from that moment's tentative, prickling new feeling,
Tart like a too-young fruit. But I do know
That just a few mornings after, we sat down for coffee;
The day's meaning grew legible in your eyes
And the faint writing around them. A few more days,
Maybe two weeks, and I began to understand
What my off-centre emotions meant; why I felt
Both hollowed out and fuller. I wondered
If we could truly call this love, this nipped bud
And not-yet-emotion so preliminary it had yet to acquire
Name or substance; so tentative that even if you
Had felt some similar stirring, neither of us would have
Known quite what was being requited. In any case,
None of it was necessary a few days after, once you
Told me about the importance of not jeopardising friendship and
A clutch of old clichés about poor timing and fears of commitment
Brought a sticky aftertaste to our conversation. Perhaps there was
Someone else? I just knew how hard it was to cry or feel
I had lost anything more than unripeness,
Green sugared bitterness coating my tongue.
for Siew Yea
It was kind of you to wish me happier days
After the most recent poem I sent. I too wonder
Sometimes why we cannot decouple our
Sweetest songs and saddest thoughts. It's not that
There are no days of joy; just few that manage
To wrestle their way into words.
Jewish lore tells of midrash, scripture written
In black fire on white fire. We must learn to read
The glare of the latter, blind sometimes to its stories,
Hovering on the borders of being. Scholars find in them
The freedom of interpretation, discover the wondrously new
In the crucible of the familiar; the thrill of filling blank spaces
And realizing that unnameable power, not weakness, floats
For a time at the limboed limits of language. Here truths sear
Larger than any articulation we can cobble.
I cannot wish away poems like the one you read,
Black with the soot of incomplete combustion.
Neither can I predict when happier ones will come—
Perhaps some will praise friends who care enough to
Wish us better. But whatever the names they eventually take,
I know they are there, my white poems, margin-dwellers
For now, reminders that heat is strongest which is
Centre-pale. Reading between the lines, I sense them,
Luminous with hope, possibilities, promise.
Names cannot break bones, we're told. So
No number of rational labels changes
How quickly the skein of wordless sorrow
Settles, even before the last guest leaves.
I do what I can to keep it at bay. CDs blare
Against the oppression of a room suddenly
Bereft of conversation. I start
The dishwasher, brush my teeth, clear the table,
Sweep crumbs, burrow in the cabinet
For the frail solace of familiar things.
It is a whole two months before I leave this city
And already, every goodbye I've ever said looms
Large, some coming together
Of every parting I've ever done.
I know I will sleep eventually, ignoring
But unable to stifle the unease, rustling
Like a too-heavy blanket on a too-hot night,
That tomorrow I'll only feign wonder at how
The human mind conflates fatigue with frustration,
Confuses sentimentality for sadness...
Unable to still the shrill small voice
Of unreason in the morning's calm. Its claim is
Clarion-clear: even now, two months before I go,
Something is already lost.
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