YEOW KAI CHAI
Yeow Kai Chai is Deputy Editor of Life!, The Straits Times, where he reviews
music and writes commentaries on pop culture. His first poetry collection,
Secret Manta, was published in 2001 by Landmark Books and was adapted
from an entry shortlisted for the 1995 Singapore Literature Prize. A co-editor
of Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, he is readying his second collection,
Pretend I'm Not Here, for publication.
Quarterly Report No. 1: Advanced Water Treatment Plant
After all that's been said and done, that's always the
unnameable sense of loss after The Flood, despite our
constant hacking, piping, tiling and varnishing.
If X equals Y the mirror-lake in one's dream, and that
in turn reflects the fear of drowning in another
stranger, then X is that all-consuming waving, yet
drowning; the action in inaction and vice versa,
depending on the splashback and economic returns.
These are, after all, daily waters that trickle,
froth, evaporate, condense, pay taxes, whether one
pays attention or not. Wind or no wind, sometimes a
stir on the surface, other times a tricky undertow,
seepage through cement silence.
Such placidity: Two characters on separate buoys in
the same lake, absorbed in a cycle of routine
activities: paddling, floating, laughing,
Then grey gathers, like the best, slyest intentions.
The dog vanished one morning and the town never knew
what happened to it. Did it leave, or was it snatched
right in front of the porch?
Still, getting to the other side of the lake - it's
now or never, X - is the ultimate quest for all, from
nudists to nincompoops. If, by reaching there, X turns
out to be less than or equal to Y, the hero we have
always dreamt of becoming, and we are in turn less
than or equal to the father of all heroes, then X is
either less than or equal to the transcendental sheen.
Someone cries wolf but really, the expectational
adjustment is part of the ancient filtration system.
After all, who would know what's on the other side
unless one takes the leap of faith?
So far, no one has returned from Z. And if they say
they did, who would believe them, and is the bubbling
water fit for drinking?
Out of Time, 1975
Now here to ourselves this ceaseless
Sea field grass lovely grass
One dove behind hillock
Hit the roof of unawares
Sneaker comes silent
Again over fence 0 slinky dead fish
Time my round yellow Romantic
And pen its stinky accomplice
Planes arriving one morning
Slack after noon walls
How days relive the gap
Between clear and rumble
Sky departing each rehearsal
Retrieve a broken golden locket
Knock on wood the tumbrel
Untimed like a sucka punch
Killed like the first hunch
But it's never the same claimant
How the missing roll down hill
Kites slash and burn in sky bluer
Than blue rolling sea dredged
Clouds whiter than the whitest
Cotton soak up sometimes rain
On my parade but often squiggle
A leak meanwhile squeaks
Treble rises as a skein of kids
Dribble all around O my foot
Bombs on the loose drool
Siren unhinged kites splinter
The sun sea anemone sky a wisp
Unstrung your body stills
On chair in field grassy grows
Lusher by the droplet
Greener than the course
Conches in our ears
Whispers in timely convivial
Does one remain unchanged
Two eyes shut not lisp a fish
Black shorts white singlet
Bald ruminate or a sleep longer
Than pool drizzle a satellite
Meteorite such tender tendon
Flounder round private plot
Unreel beyond the sky's drapery
As for grass glass kites and dykes
Bloom bloom boom
All float out of time
Merge as jetsam into cool pacific
Memento Mori XII
- for grandmother
Just like how an annular eclipse
Comes and goes,
Without hammer and tongs,
The country will know you by name.
It is when the cardiologist
Least expects it...
After all, the best references
Are often dismissed till
A passer-by notices the sell-by date
On the cereal box, like the roundest moon
Clouded by household chores,
Or a small ephemeron blooming
At the bend of the Great Yellow River
Without a name or complaint.
Once garlanded, footnoted,
Polished to a shine, everything changes.
Look, how an indolent O
Is set sail, clicked for tributary.
And this funnel? What about it?
It's an affordable trumpet
Through which we partition plots
Of ham, watch the fine sand sibilants
make sense of it all on the operation table.
Like this, and that. Since then,
Each hairline palpation becomes
Yet another hint in glorious hindsight.
Our popcorn, aired for porcine years,
Has lost its crunch. Even the fizz
Of the moment no longer suffices.
It boils down to the individual's daily groceries.
You can laugh, or draw up the list
And shut up.
I'll be damned, a bird
Pricked by an aromatic bark
from the osmanthus tree, sings on a lark;
hear anonymous pitter-patter,
Rain against digital skull, footsteps;
A hit and run by a cantankerous echo
Slapped around in a row of annotated cattle
At the zoo or seminar. Such things.
Then I unravel,
A donor's valve in an industrial end zone.
Have you, sir,
Ever had one of those? Silvery wisps
Across the swan's nape;
A tectonic lilt in the lift plugged
With honest closed circuit television?
Maybe the answer's
Locked up in the heavily guarded bank.
Maybe it's a seminal presence
That meant balloons in ordinary circumstances
But now pushes the envelope
To its papyrus thin --
That we, dry and busy
As always, finally notice your absence,
A corona limned in air and silence and pool.
Eventually, the subject --
A monkey's paw, a quiet cymbal,
Or the invisible metaphor
Staring out the window in an out of body
Experience, will pierce the glass of stillness
And hurl the gods
To the original, untraceable ocean;
My sweetest taboo is the furthest point
As far as the golden retriever could reach.
Read as a careless, symbolic gesture,
The mammal, reptile or punctuation
Gulps that bubbled breath,
Then flips into deeper blue... Fish,
Who would have guessed, barely a ripple
Or a confessional note...
Now listen to the chanteuse' raspy rail
Float upon inverted snare taps and hi-hat slips,
Time flipped inside out...
That is my quixotic ventriloquist.
Listen closely to how the trickles and minutes
Wash away the rainbow emulsion, generic goo
And retro-wallpaper, only to reach
A wall of bricks stacked up high,
Stakes that keep all together, warm and cherished,
And sometimes in a kind of hush.
In this star cluster,
We consult the palm reader
Who evinces a rail map
Comprising tree rings, tell-tale crows
And discarded wings, every mite
And blip falling into place,
Give and take a couple of ellipses.
No one knows
Or dares predict The Large Bugle's Call
To End all occupations. For one,
What's left of the lisped whisper
Drowned out in an efficient American elevator,
Or the box of space cakes you brought us
In every unannounced visit?
It's better to be late than never,
Says the sagely relative at the wake;
But first things first,
As in the gallons of human mysteries:
Where do I begin
And when does the rest of the city take over?
Perhaps, the moult,
Like so many before and after this mayfly,
Starts with the convoys
Of buys, files and bills which fill
The marching days and blinking screens,
Moving wave after wave
Of people along to pills, drills
And half-way ships.
Behind the screensaver
Is a serpentine sewage
Back into that May morning
When words were all that matter:
I am the mandrill surfing
The waking hours of time-tables,
Degrees and systemic accounting. A bygone
Armada drifting into the annals of remembrance,
Emblazoned with the sincere message:
Each has its own mousetrap,
Sink and bowel.
Still each night I dream of you:
You and I and Mother
Lined up in a classical frieze:
Moon before sun who lets light
Bounce off the orb, a ring aglow
In permanent midnight --
Are we no more closer to the fabulous
White light than in that instant replayed?
The next morning, I wake up,
Bright and with placards
And boutonnieres pinned to perky chest.
Whatever one makes of this,
My dearest, deepest river, it is...
Whistling like a kettle, ripened and ready to go.
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