David Fedo has lived and worked in Singapore for these past five years,
directing a baccalaureate program for Wheelock College, of Boston, USA.
During this period he published a volume of poems with Ethos Books (Carrots
and Other Poems, 2009), and edited a book of essays by expatriates living in
Singapore and titled Singapore: Insights from the Inside, jointly published by
the Singapore International Foundation and Ethos Books, and scheduled
for release in May 2012.
"It's easy. Just keep your arms in constant contact,"
she said, taking up his hands, pedantically, "and make
sure that you push neither too little nor too much.
Harmonious, natural, spontaneous. Tuishou values
dissolving an incoming force before striking a blow."
--Qui Xialong, Death of a Red Heroine
To a clumsy westerner,
however easy it may seem to others,
it is anything but easy to him,
this pushing and locking of hands
and the diffusing of energy
of which he already has too little,
first upward in a kind of arc
and then downward in a semi-circle,
and then the moving of the feet
as if in some kind of slow ballet
that might have been choreographed
to the music of Philip Glass.
But here there is no music
and no end in sight.
His wife is really into this,
but he feels as though he is back
in Miss Feeberger's sixth-grade class,
50 years ago in Duluth,
trying awkwardly in gym
to learn how to dance,
trying to capture the social graces,
but failing badly.
He only wanted to play basketball,
which got him nowhere.
Now finding himself in Singapore,
in a class of another kind,
he realizes that his presence here
is a big mistake.
He watches a dozen or more men and women
move effortlessly through their paces,
especially the two male partners in blue and white,
who do look like dancers
if only the dance were not to him so foreign.
He thinks of his wasted life.
Why is this so? he wonders
for the thousandth time.
His wife says, gallantly,
Let's try it again, and if you don't like it, we'll go.
No, I'm going now,
and he does.
Mishima, Forty Years Later
Today on You Tube,
where anything goes,
I am still astonished
to see an actual animation
of his suicide,
first the slicing into the abdomen,
the brutal carving back and forth,
the blood pouring out,
then the gory and almost-failed decapitation.
This is hardly amusement,
though the cartoon Mishima,
obsessed like a desperate lover,
finds death at last.
What to say about suicide,
about any death?
That it is always messy
even without blood being spilled--
his, and ours to come,
whatever the circumstance,
whether willed or not?
It is hard to make honor of this,
or beauty, as he thought--
or anything at all.
The diagnosis was unexpectedly serious,
the prognosis uncertain, thus ambiguous.
His life was suddenly on hold.
he lived in a sort of shadow world,
going through the various motions of living,
like getting the oil changed in his Corolla,
or sending electronic birthday cards from Singapore,
where he now lived, to friends back in Boston
and what's left of his family in Minnesota.
He went to work, and greeted people.
He ate, sometimes without pleasure or remembering,
but managed to eat, nonetheless--
he told his wife that he didn't want to lose weight
like his brother had, when he had been ill.
This was clearly vanity, which he didn't lose in the shadows.
Of course there were medical appointments
and treatments which were often awkward or unpleasant or both,
being lashed to drips and lying on cold gurneys,
the machines whirring above and around him.
He hated the machines.
Death sometimes came out of the shadows.
He remembered from his teaching days both
the rude summoning by Death of Everyman
and the graceful summoning by a kindlier Death,
now a carriage driver for the poet
too busy to organize her own ride to the grave.
He remembered that Thomas More
told the court that convicted him
that Death stands patiently aside even at our birth,
waiting for the right moment.
This was More's moment,
and so too for the narrator of Dickinson's great poem.
But as for him, this is not known.
All is uncertain, ambiguous.
For now, life on hold.
A Box of Corn Flakes
is a modest thing.
Unlike a box of Mueslix
or an avocado bagel
it is not a statement.
Nor is it
like that jar in Tennessee
or the famous soup can
imposing itself upon the world
transforming the landscape
changing the economic order
metaphor for culture or maybe myth.
The body quietly hungers
for the things it knows.
Give me Corn Flakes
or a bag of cold popcorn
or late at night
fresh from their cellophane wrap.
are the enemies
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