Christine Chia is a teacher and writer. She received the European Studies book prize
(first year), the English Literature book prize (subsequently), the Singapore Airlines Gold
Medal, the NUS Society Medal, the Harvard Club book prize and other awards and
scholarships from the National University of Singapore. She briefly co-edited the
Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS) and contributed to papertiger #02. Math Paper
Press has published and launched her first book of poetry, The Law of Second
Marriages, at the 2011 Singapore Writers Festival.
1. beads of ice
She looked down at her glass of Fanta orange
sweating beads of ice.
He repeated, "Where was Mummy sleeping?"
"In the room."
"Where was Uncle sleeping?"
"In the room, but on the floor."
2. paper house
We had folded as many paper ingots as we could,
so that father would have lots and lots of gold in his afterlife.
The finale of the funeral was the burning of his mansion.
It was a very grand paper house, three-storeys,
fully equipped with two servants, many friends
and a paper mâché Mercedes.
The flames were licking up father’s paper house,
giant orange-yellow tongues against the black sky
when mother spilled from the taxi
onto the pavement beyond the green wire fence
wailing that she had missed his last breath.
The flames, acrid and swooning sweet,
Flat on our backs,
the bitumen scuffing
the back of our calves,
the black sky rushed at us
like we were falling upwards
into the sparse stars.
4. the family flaw
"There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” — 1 John 4:18
Every Chinese New Year,
we will go to the temple, to offer up incense
and food to father,
and every year, we'll be late —
the family flaw.
While other families have already packed and gone,
I'll be waiting for mother and brother
(uncle stopped coming after the first few years),
for him to wake up, for her to show
A ritual of memory and obligation, not belief
(or we'll be ill-treating the dead, by being late)
we stand, incense in hand,
in front of the smiling oval black and white photo for his niche,
my mother praying loudly,
without irony, for us to marry,
give her grandchildren quickly,
what was wrong with us,
so good-looking and so smart
and all for what?
Keeping quiet about brother's girlfriend
whom she chased away, I bowed and prayed for
father's hopes for the afterlife.
A punter to the end,
he liked to bet against the odds;
not just on horses.
His first marriage failed
and he lost three grown children,
my half-siblings, never seen,
never known, somewhere out there.
He married again,
even though second marriages
often failed faster than first ones.
Was it love or hope
that moved him to bet again?
Risk-averse, I'd never
bet on love to last.
"Hope is the substance of things not seen,"
my pastor liked to say,
his own faith based on hope.
On such hope of love everlasting
with the Heavenly Bridegroom,
men and women vowed themselves to celibacy;
big bets on Pascal's Wager, punters
unlike my father
who lost twice
Yet he might still win
after all, the big
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