EE TIANG HONG
Ee Tiang Hong (1933-1990) was born in Malacca, educated in both Malacca and Singapore,
and by 1975, he migrated to Perth, Australia, with his family and where he died of cancer.
The critic, Kirpal Singh, has suggested that Ee was troubled by "fundamental changes being
introduced by leaders to ensure that Malaysia (which Ee always referred to as Malaya) become
centrally a Malay nation" ("Poetry and the Politics of History: Revisiting Ee Tiang Hong." Asiatic
3.2 : 25-37). Poems here are taken from Ee's 1994 poetry collection, Nearing a Horizon.
Some New Perspectives
Race, language, religion, birthplace —
the categories do not satisfy;
what do they say of you and me,
the space, the silences between?
Not always negative, I am
more or less than your images,
the truth is always partly,
a few hints here and there.
That's how it is — conceptual
smithereens, in spurts
and starts, a world view,
the twentieth century's, ours.
A Business Lunch
As a starter
we had spring onion.
What next, I wondered,
You showed me a poem
you'd just finished.
CHewing the cud —
onion and poem —
How about my favourite —
The city has no centre, focal landmark,
no Place de la Concorde, Padang Merdeka, Tien An Men,
no particular square, terrace, public park.
On important days citizens do not converge,
as elsewhere, for a common purpose — they feel
no urge to (there's no compulsion);
would rather windsurf, sprawl on beach, go bush,
or some place else, even overseas (if it's
not too far, not too expensive).
Alternatively, might as well stay home,
weed, mow the lawn, try a new recipe, barbecue,
lounge, have a beer, watch tv (Love you Perth).
Of course. Or else. Yet sometimes,
for a while, I'd rather be away
from family, neighbours, visiting friends;
be all alone, to daydream, diverge, de-centred,
but no looking back to brood, and not too far ahead,
just the opposite foreshore, Bassendean.
And the Swan, quiet, deathly pale at evening.
For My Sister, Pearl Ee Siong Gek
(d. May 1986)
Our surname was conceded —
the law and public opinion
demanded it; Mother chose
the rest, propitiously:
Long Prosperity the best
for me. (But, as Solon said,
no guarantee till one was dead.)
I chose Love, Learning
and Compassion — whatever
made the world more gentle
and more beautiful,
against our past.
I did not think to see
how wild the mountain still,
the storms, the floods,
the highway bullies lying
in wait, the gatekeeper at every
city wall — how hard to move
the hearts of men.
They will not know
the throbbing whitlow pain,
like splinter under finger nail
in the sweltering nights; and the
leaking roof each time it rained.
They will not know the few
who let us in, by a side-door
to the grand mansion, to the
festive tables, to the magnificent
cities of the imagination, thence
to the world of our own making.
I set this down, on your behalf
as well, in gratitude to our many
friends and relatives; to allay
the rancour, slowly heal, forgive.
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