in silence

Category: Writing

the crumbs we settle into

if I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will point to the soft red bump at the end of a pencil and say “dice”. I will trace their fingers through the winding tracks of their shoelaces and christen the plastic loops “hurdles”. I will let them watch the way skin folds – the ripples on their belly, my eyes amidst their laughter, their cheeks when the sky glows on its way to sleep; I will call those … “crumbs”.

my mother is a teacher. a strict one. my best friend and my boyfriend commiserate over how they are both slightly afraid of her. one of my sister’s favourite stories is how my mother would use her “teacher face” and “teacher voice” to get all the teens crowding the front of the public bus to form orderly clumps at the back. she was the woman who would ask her students using “vagina” as a cuss word in the hokkien dialect if they needed a lesson in female genitalia. all the false bravado that a 17-year-old boy had painstakingly amassed? it never stood a chance against my mother.

one of her favourite lines is, “I taught you everything you need to know in kindergarten”.
at the age of 4 I learnt that in order to make the rain stop on your father’s hour-long drive to work, you must stand at the edge of your balcony, mouth peeking through the bronze grills, singing, “rain please stop please stop please stop, rain please stop please stop please stop”. repeat as many times as necessary.

at 5 I discovered the words cocoon, pupa, moth, butterfly. i plucked so many caterpillars from their homes on bushes before I learnt that a butterfly’s wings emerge damp after its slumber. there is an endless patience that must be learned before attempting flight.

at 6 i learnt that, to make and keep the best memories, open the back of your hello kitty film camera before you’ve wound back the film. let all the light in. maybe you’ll never hold in your hands the geysers where, hoodie on backwards, you avoided the sulphur; you’ll never see light fall once more on the field of daisies where you whimpered for every petal trampled upon; nor the train set that you split your favourite bunny sweatpants trying to build. but your mother’s laugh, the “you did what?”, the realization on her face that hers was a child with aperture eyes but amateur hands, that, that you will never forget.

if i have a child, i will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will stand with them by the tembusu tree, let them breathe in glimpses of early morning school bus runs in between the tree’s once a year siren song, I will tell them this, this is “family”. I will run their palms over the bead box from many arguments ago, the crack down its centre its spine, and whisper the word “patience”. I will touch their two fingers to my throat and another two to my grandmother’s, let them feel the vibration of our voices, hands over our mouths, the way tongue, cheek, teeth, lips pronounce codes foreign to each other, I will let them feel, I will let them feel, I will call it “time”.

If I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. Mostly to laugh at the day they look towards chance to solve a mistake, tell a friend that they can’t get their shoelaces through the hurdles, or think about how they really like the crumbs on their mother’s face. but when the air is too cold, the noise too much, I remember a world where clear skies are a prayer, where metamorphosis means to wait, where memories come of erasure. it is then that I realize I will teach them our blundering code so they will always have the language to phone home.

because the answer lies in the nights where we are bodies at 3am blaring out the national anthem through our invisible trumpets. you tell me that this must be blasphemy. we laugh and the room is full of laughter; tonight, the room is ours.

i don’t know how to finish this

it’s just another AA meeting, where we confess
to schools and colleges like they are our war medals
for it was a bloodbath, and we are the victors and
everybody knows – it is the victors who write history

a streetlamp mutters

in the quiet of the convention centre, on registration chairs that were awaiting no one, we tried to trace the birth of our friendship. we searched for details that could be labelled as the point of conception, the date of birth, the place of birth, our first steps – but they couldn’t quite be found.

was that moment the first step or the first crawl?

first word or first laugh?

my aunt is the youngest of many siblings and by the time she was due her mother’s womb no longer recognized the anxiety of delivery. birth rang the doorbell in the middle of a mahjong game and demanded a place at the dinner table when they were in a train carriage speeding towards the nearest hospital.

the place of birth on her birth certificate is listed ‘between lampposts xx & xx’

perhaps our friendship too was born between lampposts, arbitrary markings between distance and intimacy. that night we laughed our way from the spotlight of one streetlamp to another, pausing in between to talk or take a photo, faces pointed into the light, smiles pointed towards each other.

under the shutters, between the lampposts, i knew that the birth was still happening and that this was a friendship into which we could be reborn over and over and over.

seventh month

there are fires blooming across our island tonight

I watch them, find myself mesmerized by the way they are tilted into the wind, as are the incense sticks bent over in reception of presences from years gone by. I watched them with an engaged detachment; I do not attach a sense of loss to this scene.

The smoke briefly conjures an image of my grandfather.

And then it, too, is gone.

A few months ago, I felt like I had found remnants of my grandfather in the wholeness of a stranger. I wonder where that man is now.


Haven’t written/ posted anything here in ages so I figured I’d share something I wrote awhile back. I’ve been filled with plenty of thoughts but most of them are thoughts that will stay safely within the confines of my journal so I am sorry to anyone who checks this space, I will likely be silent for awhile. Also, I complete my major exams in less than three months from now so I will see you all then ~

the ride home

8.55 pm and the lights are still on over the worksite.
A constructed day, time running
tangent to the parabolic rise and fall of dusk and light.

There, noon is a fluorescent light switch drowning
out the sleepy glow of the moon.

Their faces are ghosts between sheets of zinc
and cold lamp posts. In silence, one rides out
to a dorm where he drowns,
again, no longer by a devouring light

but by a darkness that speaks
of erasure, a city that speaks of disdain.

when the bus ride wasn’t long enough

Your infant hands were matches in the palms
of strangers, the salvation of a 6 p.m. journey home,
a child so full of his own goodness you left traces
of it on the seat covers, handrails, (guardrails) circling
those returning to dinner two days old in the refrigerator.

In between the sounds of an aching bus stumbling
its way back home, drowning out voices of foreign men
and women whispering chaos and sweet nothings in our
ears, I found my shivering breath reborn within your laughter.

viking ships

I wind record tapes around my finger, the ones
we used to listen to as kids. The ones that built a lulling
soundtrack to days of swinging between cracked leather sofas,
the ones that now embrace patches of white fungus blooming
across their dusty blacks.

These days I lie along our sofa that has grown a new set of
arms. They no longer need to be trained to curve around toddling spines,
the cracked leather having disintegrated into the spaces, a growing
network running itself thin, the searching lines charting
the distance that has since grown between us.

The first line runs straight from the drowsy darkness on my
side of the earth to the breaking daylight on yours, stretching
vertically, pulling itself thin. A second line runs horizontally,
wrapping its arms around coast after coast of salt stained shorelines,
searching its way through miles and miles of endless sea.

Sister, I call you, a voice diving down into the shipwreck
you threw me under when I was 6 and you were 10.
“Sit at the ends! You feel the rocking less up there!”
You pulled me up into the Viking ship, gleaming, suspended by a huge
white crane – I was small and my legs were jittery. I screamed so hard
they had to stop the Viking mid-ride and let me off. The ship sat 18 people.
3 per row 3 rows on each side. A large ship for a small girl.

But this is my sister. She will throw me on a Viking ship with only
my hands to build an escape boat. She will throw me under the shipwreck,
leave me a life jacket, and then cast me off to fend for myself.
When my life jacket shoves me against planks of broken wood,
I will fight to breathe, gasping for air siphoned through grains of wood.
When my lips turn blue she will feed me an oxygen tube
that is also a ticking time bomb.

There will be no heroine hacking through the wood, there is only
enough air for me to fill my chest with hope, trembling
with the resonance of her voice, giving me the strength to
kick through the wreckage again. These days
the gasps of air are harder to come by.

We now find ourselves connected by oceans that our childhood
Viking ship would never have dared to cross. Their coasts and reefs
build us momentary homes across the Indian Ocean, the
North Atlantic Ocean, bodies of water over which our postcards
of reassuring breath find themselves flitting over.

On the last postcard she sent me lived a tiny floundering fish, picked up
along a reef in the Atlantic. Its gills are an adaptation I have not yet mastered.
Even thousands of kilometers away, my sister has found a way to remind me
I should never stop learning new ways to breathe.

growing old

Her grasshopper skin fell about her in a brittle mourning wreath. Her eyes glazed with memories of the sixty years that had passed, burning with dreams of the twenty that beckoned temptingly by. Freedom was a wailing child she had neglected to cradle, its arms craving her pacifier hug, her arms craving its thunder voice and searching heart. Their hands in each others’ built a universe of myriad chaos reflected in the dome of a fish’s glassy eyes, streets that lilted upwards with her smile, folding in on loose skin that was, itself, learning to fold around a shrinking body.

the bull’s new ring

White gold through my ear as a silver hoop
through a bull’s nose. A hoop that links animal
to master, to be chained upon a binding staff,
kept at arms’ length but kept, nonetheless.

In months, the white gold piercing built its crusty
gold sibling around the loss in my ear, a defence
mechanism, resistance, escape, as days of forgotten
sterilisation dripped past, and past, and past.

The cavern of exposed treasure felt itself collecting
behind the crevices of my ear, a constant reminder of
failed attempts flitted by. Every effort to wipe the slate
clean left me feeling like a tomb raider, an insider –

Guilt grew not because the gold was someone
else’s to own but because of the screams that
sounded with each layer of infection scraped away,
a familiar voice gasping to be released.

Perhaps, when the bull pierced not her nose but her
ears, the staff that fell around her was not wielded
by another to keep her away but grown from the
shuddering bones in her body, a plea, to own herself.

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