ALVIN PANG

Alvin Pang (b. Singapore, 1972) holds 1st class honours in Literature from the University
of York and a Fellowship in Writing from the University of Iowa's International Writing
Program (2002). As a poet, he has been featured in major publications and festivals
around the world, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He contributes
commentary to The Straits Times, and is a founding director of the Wordfeast international
poetry festival and The Literary Centre (Singapore). He manages several literary websites
including poetrybillboard.com, writer.per.sg and verbosity.net. His books include Testing
the Silence
(1997), City of Rain (2003) and such anthologies as No Other City: The Ethos
Anthology of Urban Poetry
(2000).






Se7en


The secret behind the subtle, remarkable hues in each of Wu Ji's fifty-seven acclaimed self-portraits -- one, famously, for every year of her life -- was finally revealed, when the celebrated artist collapsed while deriving another batch of paint from her own blood.

~


Although he was mistaken, Quinlan figured that having another mandarin orange could do no more harm, since he sensed that the clan was already clucking away unintelligibly and with disapproval, no doubt about this gawky Irish stranger with no etiquette and an unpronounceable name, and his unsuitability as a match to the only female grandchild in the family.

~


Harith never imagined that rubbish would make his fortune. People just leaving things outside their apartment doors like that -- newspapers, CDs, stuffed toys, clothes, shoes, even a brand new microwave oven once. It added up, all this yellowing junk that was once needed, even loved, but now wasn't even worth the space it took up in the storeroom. All he had to do was take in these orphans and find them an eager new home, for a fee, of course. It was so easy.

~


Lying back on the verdant grass, Yu Xian dreamt of the day when he would finally step on stage, in a tuxedo he'd buy instead of rent after having arrived in his own limousine, to receive the Nobel Prize -- or maybe just the Booker Prize, or even the Golden Point award would do -- and thank his parents, his teachers, but not the fellow scribes who'd snubbed him, while the girl from behind the bookstore counter who refused to go out with him would grovel before him begging for another chance. She would come to him alone, shy and in tears, wearing a clinging, bare-backed dress the colour of cannabis leaves, which would slip, before the evening was over, to the cool marble floor without the slightest effort on his part.

~


Taking in his hands the jewel of his envy, Karim scrutinised its thorny edges and sharp facets, surprised to find that it wasn't green like he'd been told. Instead, it was an intense, bottomless blue: the deep blue of unfettered views of sky, of diamonds he could not afford to buy for his wife, the favourite blue jumper of the woman he adored from a distance, blue at twilight of a mountain far away from the sour tones of a smoke-bruised city dusk, in the last hour before darkening for good.

~


The sky was the exact shade of unopened irises when Ai felt her heart break. It shattered on the terrazzo-tiled kitchen floor with a soft crystal tinkle, as "Mood Indigo" played on her stereo like a soundtrack to her shame. She didn't have to count days to realise -- although the man she loved must never know -- she was pregnant again.

~


The last thing Shanti noticed, before squeezing shut the bedroom door and leaning against it with all her might, was the sight of the vase she'd bought just this morning, blossoming in shards against the far wall where her mother cowered, her mussy hair anointed in a spray of fresh, domestic violets.





Our Houses

The township grew around a single miraculous lotus blossoming in the centre of its pond. Eventually the pond shrunk and disappeared into the mud of its alleyways. But the sound of the lotus blooming could still be heard, on moonlit nights, in every bathhouse, sink and privy, from the Mayor's palace to the poorest districts.

~


In order to ensure that the plot of land would be his and his alone to build on, Master Liu ringed it with shallow graves in the shape of the word for hunger. Nevertheless, two beggars took shelter behind a freshly raised tombstone, and an obese local magistrate asked to be buried there when his time came.

~


Madam Chao was born in a hovel her father had built. Growing up in an apartment he'd bought, she got married in the bungalow he gave her as dowry, and died when a rotted roofbeam collapsed while she was visiting, with her tribe of sixty-two descendents, the location of her birth.

~


Everyone agreed that the residence of the Courtesan Imisha was the reason for her tremendous favour. How could anyone who dwelled day and night in that gleaming edifice of marble and rubies be anything but beautiful? In truth she was a toothless crone who secluded herself behind a scented screen, bewitching her suitors with fine manners, rambling stories, excellent tea, and an accomplished gloved fist.

~


The house of the great poet Kiam Huat was built over a network of secret underground tunnels, which led to the rooms of his mistress the Treasurer's daughter, the ancient ruins of the state library, and the largest wine cellar in the city, owned by a foreign merchant who wept at the music of songs written in a language he still could not read after thirty lonely years.

~


Having achieved worldwide recognition after decades of neglect in his hometown, the potter Sa'am was approached by several leading architects wanting to build him the perfect studio gallery for his work. To each he smiled and showed his two cracked, clay-encrusted hands.

~


Desiring to erect his supreme masterwork, the Engineer-In-Chief incited a war on a neighbouring territory with several carefully placed border monuments designed to provoke an ill-advised military incursion. After the anticipated conflict, a new city wrought from glass and sand emerged from the barren wasteland.

~


Five consultative committees could not decide what to do with the home of the late President Emeritus, until a regime change proved their contentions futile. The mansion later became an authoritative museum for unfinished state-commissioned statues.

~


"I cannot build you the palace of your heart's desire," said the petulant Master Builder to the Minister, "until you clear away the fences so it can be seen clearly."



Back to Front.