SEE WERN HAO
See Wern Hao is pursuing a degree in law and liberal arts at the National University
of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in Toasted Cheese
Literary Journal and We Are A Website. He has also contributed to anthologies such as
Words: Lost and Found and Rollercoasters & Bedsheets.
Lessons from Debating
after "The Swimming Race", Sharon Olds
Standing in front of the rostrum,
a grey table with a gimp leg
lodged against my crotch.
I leaned in, rebuttal sheet in hand, doodle-scratched
dead skin framed beneath the hard plastic cover,
I started.This House Believes.
I stuttered, tripping, tick-tock
metronome of the rickety-rocking table.
They were like meercats,
bobbing their high slope shaven heads
up and down every fifteen seconds.
Point of information, they spotted
a lizard about to lose his tail. Point
of information, I was no ivory-fanged cobra.
When I first emerged, I felt
the sharpness of colour, people around me
cheering. My opponents would proceed.
The first week after,
I was the most fragile.
I could be sitting on my bed
when, out of nowhere,
I would tremble, my face swelling,
flushed and bruised.
My father held me. His gaze
cool and dark, settled earth.
He let me burrow into his chest, sagging
flesh once firm. He let me coil
My father did not say it was okay,
knowing how labour raises
false death rattles:
window grilles, incubator.
You did not cry after the operation.
Here, brave boy and brave father, each buoyed
by a grip that completes its own argument.
Interview with a Mannequin
after David Foster Wallace
A: "I am okay." In the way your upper cheek twitches into a smile, at best, an approximation, how I have been molded to your form. Feel my bulbous head, smooth and pure, almost squeezed from the throat between a pair of firm, supple thighs. I have had my ears lopped off, eyes bleached with milk, full and tender, legs detached from hips, waiting for the next shipment of jeans. "They are okay." How you get to know about friends you lost sight of, laughter cutting along vacated stairwells. I know you gaze out of the glass too, trying to find where the voice came from.
A: Yes, I get that. This morning, I found myself slumped next to swinging doors. All I could hear was wind from the tyres of cars, insistent from so much purpose or anger, I could not tell which. There I was, stiff, a man on the pedestrian crossing four floors below, blinking, blinking.
A: Like you, I have tried. Everyday last year, I donned the same bare-back black dress with a golden zip. They praised me for how the PVC gripped my form. Angles matter. If my shoulders sloped downwards, the left strap would slip. So I raised my arms, promenade position, until my joints locked into place. The dress hugged me snugly, and I forgot my skin. One stride forward, I strain the vinyl to catch the light through the windows. But for me, no one could pull it off.
A: No one noticed. I was not getting anywhere. They stripped me and tossed the dress into a box. There, wound-up Elmo was opening and closing his dust-coated arms; another one of me, smaller yet jaundiced, lay on its side. The zip spliced down halfway and broke off, the right shoulder strap was draped over like a torn flag. No ceremonial music, no fire. Just the storage room, its open door, its endless hunger.
A: These things can be mended, do not worry. But what about you? You who first halted before me. You with flesh and flush. You, who cannot see it. Let me mirror the best picture of yourself.
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