Born in Singapore in 1943, Arthur Yap was awarded the prestigious Southeast
Asia Write Award in Bangkok and the Cultural Medallion for Literature in
Singapore. Collections of his poetry include Only Lines (1971), Commonplace (1977),
Down the Line (1980) and Man Snake Apple & Other Poems (1986). His poems have
also been translated into Japanese, Mandarin and Malay. He has been influential
among younger generations of Singapore writers, and published new poems in
the Books section of The Straits Times, Life! and in QLRS in Oct 2001. Yap was
also an artist who has held seven solo exhibitions in Singapore as well as
participated in group exhibitions in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. He passed
away on the morning of 19 Jun 2006. These poems are taken from now-defunct
local literary journals, Poetry Singapore (No. 1 Aug 1968) and Singa (Jun 1983).
The last poem is from his fourth book and alludes arguably to his homosexuality.
the oranges, the table, and other things
The father was disturbed when the end
of the meal was not accompanied
by a dish of oranges or sighs of satiation.
The family quietly escorted him from the room
with their eyes.
This was new formality:
they had never paid heed to table refinements
believing, at the table, all are equal;
and not unusual, it is: pass this,
give me that. One jolts the table to refill
a glass; another runs to answer the phone.
Now, without such happening,
everyone sat as quietly as
members of a new, dumb society
speaking much with frowns and caresses.
The father is lifted out of the range of vision.
The children, grown up and now in-grown
with an astute sense of civility
(yesterday, one made a report on an unlicensed dog)
discussed the heavy debt which the father,
sitting on a chair at some fierce mahjong table,
had accrued. It was referred to, unspoken, as
synonymous with shame and injustice
but related mainly to: who will pay?
The father is now out of his job
but the children are earning;
but it was the father who squandered
and the children have to suffer.
Therefore the father, at his game,
had thrown away the son's new car
the daughter's intended trip to Cambodia.
The new car is now in one of the winner's
pocket, the tourist's discovery of Cambodia
belongs to another,
and so there's damn little justice in the world.
i had thought the little boy's legs stilts
arrowing downwards in swift papery rustle.
the stilts moved & upwards the paper soared,
dipped & seemed puckered before a higher lift.
the boy's heart, flying,
its artery the string.
i had thought the stilts little boy's legs
balancing in a pageant. the papier-mache head
swollen with a huge grin, following a lion
in the dance. joss-smoke swirling to height,
clowning, balancing, flying.
was awesome silence,
was such quiet it indicated paraphrases everywhere.
the branches outside were your fingers
held in benediction.
god was such stillness,
his stained-glass figures stretched
neither forward nor backward in himself.
& at this ruby-amber corner
i could only gaze & piece together
whatever i had want of. i was free
because i was free from myself;
a mere witness in whom arose the great need,
urging like silent desperation, prayer,
to be included. i could be a mote, kill glass,
a sunstepped blob of blood, a nothingness.
god, such stillness was.
your fingers were there.
what do you hold up to bless?
your goodness, i sometimes light
my anger with, is what you have. no one
can burn it away; it is not for my discussion.
i know, near you, i myself feel good.
& this is enough for me, my friend.
this is a life-time friendship; the poem
is short, inadequate &, except for a word,
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