Koh Tsin Yen read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University
and then political science at Columbia University. She lives and works in
Singapore. And writes occasionally, too.

On Orchids

#1 In the Harvard University Peabody Museum is a sign that says Rudolph Blaschka saw the second exhibition of his father's glass models of plants as a child and described it years later as "about 100 tropical plants of about 50 species, mostly orchids." I saved that to tell you, with my own italics.

#2 I found a haiku today. Your old papers washed in rainwater and spreading colour, abandoned on the steps of the Mitre.

#3 We light a candle, because everyone (you said) is beautiful by candlelight: a tall white candle jammed into a wine bottle, red perfumed candles in a tin painted with hearts (left over from the office), old birthday candles, 20-cent tealights. The soft light pours onto the long planes of your body. You are telling stories of cherry blossoms and chanson singers, alcoholic Japanese film-makers, your cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan. The thing about light is that you can see it only by its reflection.

#4 A W painted grey on a large orange forklift, gleaming palely in the rain. I only photograph Ws when they are full of life.

#5 In Beijing or Hong Kong once every year people gather together with brushes as tall as themselves to write calligraphy on the pavement with water. (You brought a brush to the hotel to paint with.)

#6 I wrapped your works between my clothes so the scent of orchids would linger when I wore them.

#7 The room was green and bare. We lit tealights and broke bread and drank wine. The next morning I read Bachelard's The Poetics of Space while you slept; when you woke you took pictures of the view out the window. No-one will believe this if I write it. � Write it anyway.

#8 Chalking no transmogrification on the asphalt outside your HDB block.

#9 I look forward to a time when you wear your own words.

#10 Lying down gravely on the beach among the overturned boats, rasp of sand against skin like a promise. That night I sat up to watch you sleep in the grey dawn.

#11 In the Mitre you lay a clean white sheet on the bed. This is another ceremony. You've swept the floor, tidied the boxes, put up your posters, pulled the bed away from the cracks in the wall. I bring bread and beer and apples; later you will take a photograph of the apples. The radio is playing next door.

#12 I would put a clock in a freezer to watch you eat strawberries slowly forever licklike the electricity in us and from the sun.

#13 I take pictures of the barber shaving your head, his blade strangely intimate against your scalp.

#14 When I came back from the States you gave me a paper plane.

#15 I watch you shoot Cyril Wong in The Substation Theatre: poise of your camera on your shoulder, tense line of your back, your entire body taut, steady. Leaning forward to catch the snatches of love songs in the hushed, anticipatory, intense darkness. And I will always love you.

#16 Seeing for the first time that day the delicate, spidery beauty of orchids, and grateful as always to be moved by beauty. Later we sit by the lake and watch the sky darken.

#17 For the longest time I did not want to bring you near my home; I wanted to preserve a place which would hold no memory of you, against the time of your departure.

#18 This is the hard part: the time when thoughts of lips, hands and eyes are no longer enough to sustain attention. The time to lay down your belief that the moment of grace granted to lovers can be prolonged indefinitely. (But your body curves into his in the dark and you feel against your skin his sleeping consciousness like the weight of something precious.) The time to see your lover away from your definitions and your lights.

#19 Sharing coconuts: "They were delicious / so sweet / and so cold."

#20 Anne Carson on orchids: "We live by tunneling for we are people buried alive. To me, the tunnels you make will seem strangely aimless, uprooted orchids. But the fragrance is undying. A Little Boy has run away from Amherst a few Days ago, writes Emily Dickinson in a letter of 1883, and when asked where he was going, he replied, Vermont or Asia."

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