LOH GUAN LIANG


Loh Guan Liang is the author of the poetry collection Transparent Strangers
(Math Paper Press, 2012). He is also the co-translator of Art Studio (Math Paper
Press, 2014), a Chinese novel by Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng
Pway Ngon. His poems have appeared in various journals, including Crack the
Spine
(US), Enizagam (US), Mascara Literary Review (Australia) and Quarterly
Literary Review Singapore
. Guan Liang currently lives in Singapore.






Yum Seng

Herded: I am herded
in my Sunday best
on a Saturday night
to make small talk
fuelled by peanuts.
Throw ten adults in a pen
and somehow or rather
the question creeps in:
when is it your turn?

I choke short of an answer
as the wedding dinner lurches
into muzak: a contingent
of waiters ride chariots
of fire over dry ice clouds
bearing cold starters
on round shields.

It must be true when they say
marriage marks the end of love,
because otherwise why
would the couple's love-life
flash before my eyes in a whir?

Sometime between the
first and second dishes
the couple marches in,
swatting cameras and applause
with megawatt waves.
They demonstrate gutting
of the tallest order
on a tiered cake, the blade
leaving no cream, no mess.
The hosts proclaim this
the first scar of married life,
while waiters cart offstage
bloodless confectionery.

The couple appears again
dressed to kill.
They take aim and pop
a cork. The audience gasps.
Relief bleeds from an exit wound.
Anticipation bubbles down
stacked champagne glasses.

The hosts exhort the room to order.
Short of hearing, we raise our glasses
and testify to the couple's matrimony
thrice. Testimonies vary, but because
the syllables are hoarsely stretched
they all sound like best wishes,
at least to the watchful phalanx
of relatives and bosom friends
gathered on stage. An old man
nudges his wife: nothing like
a wee bit of Dutch courage
to keep those juices flowing
all night long, eh?

And so the penultimate act
of matrimony is rounded off
with the couple in vegetable love,
their arms entwined, trying
to water each other's affections
without spilling a single drop.

Later, in their hotel suite,
after the groom unzips his smiles
and the bride peels off her blushes,
they might lie in bed wondering
if the evening was worth
all the money in the world.
Their question hangs unasked,
unattended, as their eyes shut
the final heavy doors of marriage
in dreamless sleep.

Note: Yum Seng: (Cantonese) "To drink to success" (飲勝), a phrase
commonly uttered at Chinese wedding dinners during the wedding toast.
This phrase is repeated thrice.







sleight.of.hand.

the.old.lady.who.reads.with.her.hands.
in.the.calloused.shadow.of.the.stairs.
at.buona.vista.mrt.station.
is.not.here.today.
i.wonder.if.she.reads.this.city.
the.same.way.as.i.do.
her.fingers.clocking.the.miles.
decoding.white.silence.in.streets.
snowed.in.by.raised.ellipses.
on.hard.paper.
most.likely.i.will.not.get.an.answer.
not.when.the.free.sheet.she.distributes.
at.seven.every.morning.changes.hands.
and.leaves.a.mute.stain.on.the.tongue.
of.my.fingertips.
as.thank.yous.eventually.stretch.
into.goodbyes.
we.will.pretend.our.words.
are.the.only.things.capable.
of.codifying.this.city's.silence.






Weightless
based on Weightless, a series of drawings by Susie Wong

This much I can imagine:
hard rain falling on old skin,
graphite shadows traced
and quadrupled in lightboxes
on white walls. Light lays bare
his shirtless torso,
his profile bending to the rain,
bending but not breaking;
his eyes, like his wrinkles,
are a complex composite
of shades and silences.

Yet why he would seize his chest
as though pain would flee wordlessly
is beyond me. I touch my chest
in frail parody, but I might well be
feeling for the outline of that
which age has yet to bring
into sharp relief. Thankfully
he turns his back to me
in the last two pictures,
perhaps to give me time
to walk away,
weightless in youth,
when he is not watching.






想 (Think)

To condense remorse
into a state resembling apology
after my words have coolly slapped
their raging heat across her cheek
takes more than skill or will;
it needs a heart unused to love
to beat to a lover's neglected sighs.

To think matters through, then,
is to see, with eyes of wood,
the heart's true face
in the hope that reason
can etch into the pith of things
some enduring part of ourselves
still worthy of redemption.

But that's not the same
as 相由心聲, looking the way
our hearts feel. Maybe this is why
I still see her pain splintering
with stinging clarity beyond reason
after she hangs up, why I don't think
I am sorry even when I really am.



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