PAUL TAN


Paul has published two award-winning volumes of verse Curious Roads
(1994) and Driving Into Rain (1998), which won the Commendation and
Merit Prizes at the Singapore Literature Prize competition. His most
recent volume first meeting of hands was published in September 2006.






Poets

Take your pick from
the jostling shelves:

His words like magma,
a hot font, an endless flow
scorching its path to
the sizzling sea;
damage is possible.

Or her books,
like bonsai, tamed,
framed with wires,
stilling the chaos
staving the solitaires.

Or his verse,
like penumbra, dancing
between two worlds,
disdaining the light,
fearing the dark.

Or his lines,
like a lost language,
with its secret inflections;
the mirror itself
with half a reflection.






Sightings

It's like spotting a
rare albino rhino,
a macaque once thought extinct,
or the bloom of the tailpot palm
which expires after its
fantastical shower of florets.

A greeting escapes my lips,
slippery fish, barely a hi,
but I have acknowledged
you. Fuck. You respond
with a hint of a glance,
a dumb squint of disdain.

In the wild, meerkats,
miles apart, sniff the wind for
incriminating scents,
frozen in animal thought,
deliberate avoidance
or mutual invisibility.






Bedok Interchange, Saturday Night

Crowded hawker centre:

The young lady in jeans from
the drinks stall trawls the tables
in search of stray glasses –
I think of sharp-eyed fish
on an endless sea bed
hunting for quarry, purposeful,
unlike two friends whittling the minutes
down on a date-free weekend.

She wordlessly collects our glasses
with a swift clink
when suddenly Debra recounts
how no one else has been
in touch with you either,
each coming to faint, anxious conclusion
they did not know what to say;
the words helpless, redundant.






Crossings

So when opportunity arises, you understand why we would cram like livestock in dark cargo holds? Privacy is not in our Chinese vocabulary. We can contend with the crooked arms, the strange smells and the tumbling, rolling waves. We can risk peril in airless containers stacked with computer parts or frozen meats.

We dream of money, regular remittances, rebuilding the old home or ancestral altar, inspired by the urban miracles glittering along our coast and our mighty diaspora, colonies everywhere you can imagine.

But every yearning, we also know, exacts a price. What mantras does one chant as one crouches senselessly cold in a truck journey that never seems to end, darkness upon darkness? As one shudders, what thoughts? Martyrdom? The rustic beauty of home? Or how best to savour these last molecules of oxygen?



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