Zhuang Yusa lives in Singapore. His poetry has been published or is
forthcoming in Sargasso (Puerto Rico), Yuan Yang (Hong Kong), ditch,
(Canada), The Toronto Quarterly, Ganymede, The Los Angeles Review, Danse
Macabre, The Salt River Review, Shampoo and elsewhere. His poetry has
also been anthologized in Smoke (2009), published by Poets Wear Prada.
My mother used to starve herself
in prison, for fear of not knowing if what she had eaten
would be the last things she ever tasted.
My mother is turning sixty this year, just a few days after
when I would turn twenty-six.
Unlike me, she is growing careless about her figure.
Why are you so vain? she would say to me, when I have refused
yet another butter prawn from her plate.
We meet for dinner these days, having grown
accustomed to our differences.
But really, in ways that are
becoming clearer to me, we are not so different,
wrecked passions and disastrous relationships aside.
Remember those cheongsams you used to wear to dinners? I would say to her.
And she would return a knowing look, and
with the pardonable, headstrong defiance of a twelve-year-old, say to me
what I must have already known all along - But I may only have a few more years to go.
The toes begin to curl a few days before the body goes,
so it goes, as the air leaves the body.
When my mother's mother died, I was
too young to remember or to be around the dying.
You should try to love yourself more, my mother said to me over dinner,
a rare occasion as we were never close.
She still thinks that by loving other men I would die
the painful death of disease and dissipation
as commonly reported in the news. That I would never truly be happy
because nothing lasts, and especially in lives such as mine.
I wanted to ask her if it was possible
to be with a man whom she has stopped caring if she loved
even when I already knew
what she would tell me. But I did not. I asked instead, did the toes really curl?
And my mother, without laying down her chopsticks, said
this is a story for another day. I want to hear about yours.
What We Choose To Bear
Because unlike his father, my father
uses words in place of the fists
he neither dare to ball nor raise
against his wife, my mother
could still tell it to me
as if what is unbearable
can be, and becomes what we choose to bear,
because how else can we love
if not -
Like his father my father knows
the facts he dare not confront - the emptiness
of rituals, as his sons bring out the cake;
as the camera steadily flashes
towards its final flare; when it is done, the smiles
captured, and they may ease their jaws again;
and after the song is sung, their mother apologizing, leaves them
for what is forgotten - she has left
the knife in the sink.
Monday, After Gym
I make my way to the sandwich bar
to have my low-fat dinner
alone. I sit
behind the couple who
bench-pressed next to me
and pretend not to notice
even as they reciprocate
latent desire -
I wolf down my sandwich, simulating haste.
Then I slip into the bookstore
where men gather
behind magazine counters
to examine body language, hoping to be touched.
I reach for a book
with a cover I like, and begin to read.
For now, I convince myself
it isn't yet time for home,
so I stay where I am
till the announcement tells me
it is time to leave.
I slide the book back into the shelf
and reach for a magazine
I just thought to buy.
I enter the queue
of last minute shoppers
to wait for my turn: there is still time
to catch the last train home.
Back to Front.