Who knows? Perhaps we have to dare, indeed.
As for the verdict thus suspended, what we ought
to risk will always depend on a "perhaps."
—Jacques Derrida, A Silkworm of One’s Own
Living alone is almost the everyday opposition to recollecting how
you were once monitored, developing in close company of other lives.
I remember whenever I told my mother I will neither marry nor produce
a child, she would fidget, she would hum. Softly hostile to old confessions,
my father would go to the kitchen’s mini bar, he would change places,
from light to dark, from the living room to the not-so-alive, noise to nuisance,
he would smoke his black tobacco, he would smoke another, he would
get his third stick and would smoke again until my confessions
became the steps he cruised to get a pale of ice to numb his palpitation.
I also remember the house was a space of allowed displacement taking
the knowable into a prized repetition of tolerance, a garnered breath
upon prescriptive silence.
“It was like a reprieve.” (Yukio Mishima)
And sure there is just a place like that beyond the communal
domestic: Beneath the yellow suburbs is a common platitude, a park maybe,
where one can be better if late and wrong and I’m in such a place now.
No, I’d rather be silent as to where it is located.
Perhaps, a map is not really that important in the honest moments
we need our own world.
In the casual of morning on my way to the university, I encountered
a friend. I should call him Brown Bearded Iris, a high-earning talent,
sun-kissed olive immigrant, hairy, his deep eyes overlooked by his straight
tall nose, typical masculine Southeast Asian beauty, who then after
immediate salutations, planted a kiss on my mouth that would pass as a lock
by the French standard. It was his informal way of escaping the unintentional
in our meeting and so it easily passed the way I finished a Pork Chop Curry
the lanky waiter suggested me to eat: the best-buy of the house’s palate.
This old friend didn’t update me about his life. Brown Bearded Iris
was the same, he opted to be discreet about his “privy” escapades and how he got
inspired to learn loyalty (assuming he was fooled). I’m sure he waited for me
to ask, he would tell, he would trust, he would confess. But I swerved to avoid
inciting my curiosity. He kept on asking my academic projects and the other
of my property which was to him more important: How I surrender my body
to strangers, how I leave and often left by strangers, how strangers transform
into definite shapes in my life. There might be an unpretending pleasure
in human knowledge about the non-encountered world while the human
in a human is maintained as half-mystery, half-seen.
My suspicion was perhaps evidential: He was not married yet.
The last time I saw him was in an Indonesian bar, Bali Lane Express,
alone expecting to be married few months after the Ghost month.
This is the reason why being a stranger is so much so the constant behavior
any kind of venture guarantees to be too true: The old is sometimes new.
He asked for my new number. I refused. My excuse was simple
and he understood it nonetheless: There is an alluring principle
in the newness of new strangeness and the world is too small
for old strangers not to meet again. We ended the program of two,
we left, we thought we did something new.
So at last I met the wildly mustachioed professor. I call him Proliferous Green Ash.
His hand clutching to a black book its edge spoke of old dust, partly historical,
then he told me “this is seminal.” I was compelled. I was ostracized.
I knew I was not about it and it was not about me: I’d like to think I am
germinal, I am my own canon.
Before I left him, the room full of books empty of medicine, the vinegar
scent of his office maybe from the sallow colored curtain being dyed
by time, I told him what I wanted to write: The Metamorphosis of Man
If I can curse the squirrel looking for its hiding companion I saw
in the morning, if I can turn a blind eye to what makes a lacuna,
if I can do something else to this remoteness…instead, I just anchored
my tears to myself like a bowtie. I thought of the sun when it was being
serenaded by reggae music at noon yesterday in Hong Lim Park. I thought
of the school building’s front wall that never disappeared against seven storms
in the past, though its color tellingly changed by the process. Looking through
the coffin-sized window of the library is a massive green foliage: I’m seized by the leaf
falling off the mahogany tree, how does it become a man?
In 1786, Goethe went to Italy and perceived an importance in studying
the metamorphosis of plants or the “how” in the being of plants.
He distinguished three forms of the process: regular/progressive,
irregular/retrogressive, and accidental which he left darkly unexplained
for the reason that it might disturb his plan of laying claims about
how plant happens. I assume the accidental in Goethe’s terms should just remain
ignored, if not undervalued.
The mahogany leaf in my mind is a poltergeist of the basic tenet of nature:
absorbing gas while little as a cuticle, turning green before the world, assuming
purity in each step toward refinement, waiting
all throughout to reach a point
when someone’s eyes are ready to capture a fall. Goethe implicitly disclosed,
however, that leaves as we know it attached to a tree or forsaken in a ground
means more than what we see. “We…soon note a new phenomenon that tells us
that the previous stage is over and the next is at hand, the stage of the flower.”
This city, like a manufactured green tree, lives to see the death
of mechanical industry.
I find a regular interest in the irregular metamorphosis of plants. For instance,
the ambiguity of Passion flower’s nectaries or Pinks’ malleability against natural law.
Although “lacking in inner force and effect,” Goethe claimed that in this kind
of systemic biological development “its creation is often pleasing to the eye.”
The German author continued positively with the hope that irregular metamorphosis
will allow a discovery of the comprehensive formation of plants to see clearly
what can only be inferred, what is hidden in regular metamorphosis of plants, which
he asserted as a case by which “nature formed the flowers and equipped them
for works of love.”
While I’m desperate to lay claims about how love works and how it happens
in the metamorphosis of man, I absolutely understand the how
of the unlove.
It is the convenience of the human unknown to attract the temporary
without amenable interference: one who wants a perfect suck, a perfect fuck,
a perfect comfort, a perfect voice singing pleasure, a touch made perfect when
placed on the perfectly erotic body part, navel or nape, a perfect tempo in the addiction
of everything lofty and a perfect amnesia afterwards.
Of Bugis’ largest parking lot, beside the sign “debris falls at night” is a light
resembling the flash of lantern I freed to float—as the pink of April cherry blossoms
wither in five seconds—on the waters of the Motoyasu River last year.
It was on an evening in the start of humid August that I sent off a spirit
with a fictive peace, ambivalent like the direction of pollen either giving rise
to a male gametophyte or settling as insignificant fine dust.
Things you might need to know: I’m not sexually progressive.
In fact, to say that I’m “sexually conservative” implies a hyperbole, more than the truth.
I find supreme bliss when I’m alone handling myself that’s why my right hand
between my legs is plainly the key to the survival of my sexual life.
Sad somehow, reasonable, but I learned it from Foucault that modern subjectivity
rests on the idea of caring for oneself. It is said that to cut is to care, but I’d rather
trust my hands in cutting whatever part of my body instead of allowing
anybody to break me open. It is also always offensive that men, mostly heterosexual,
would think that the business I want to establish in my associations
between other living beings as sexual animals, who according to Darwin
would only survive by reproduction, by summoning sex as a scientific truth,
is purely derived from a desire to lick, to get licked, to get kinky and kinkier
in seclusion. I have always resisted this kind of power that transcends as stereotypes
and sure powerful stereotypes given that all are sexual…only that, as stereotypes
are bound to be mistakes of certain purifying regimes, there’s a tendency
to forget, to remain oblivious, to deny the Romantic sensitivity of man for whom
sex is forsooth individual.
There is a corpse between Pearl’s Hill City Park and Hong Lim Park.
I call him Dianthus Blue: I met him long time ago and I couldn’t ask him
how he died: Had he wanted to speak, he would have committed to language
even before he was seconds away at losing his respite, he wouldn’t remember
anything born out of contamination. When we had the chance to talk, he made
some serious pronouncement about his mission: He lost a girlfriend to June the month
of fertility, impregnated by a stranger; he lost another to a cousin who never
once talked to him, but he told quite honorably, courageous as samurai,
driven by a will power and discipline only the ruling Time is capable of saying
‘I will never end without being yearned for.’ I wished with a plea to my god
that I be with him when he gets accomplished in the end. Not marriage, not something
made official by falsifiable transcripts, but the notice I can get from life
that I’m accompanied by someone with an intense self-worth and passion
for meaning, academic or not. We left the research institute’s library, side by side.
I was inclined to an ambition: At last, he’s going nowhere except to the arms of the man
who took him out of the closet, now vindicated, into his bigger arms, who rescued him
from losing. It was an aspiration made wretched roughly four months after we cared
for each other by his, to me, unplanned destination.
It was a chance that Dianthus Blue was awarded a scholarship to pursue
post-doctoral studies in the West. It didn’t deserve any explanation, accidental,
I should say, that telling me anything about his plans remained ignored, if not
undervalued. I cannot decide if we’re done, if we’re finished, if love is bound to happen
just like that, speedy and curious, because he hasn’t given me the conclusion of us,
a word, a letter, a speech, a goodbye kiss I can own and ensure me of my dignity.
But who deserves what? What deserves who?
A chessboard left by an unfinished game; all pawns of black and white
are gone; all set aside as broken glasses. Hong Lim Park is vacant and I can play
as long as I wish. And I do: I play, I wish.
Dianthus Blue met me on the day of his flight without telling me anything
more than how he will bring with him only the memory of the parks in Singapore
that allowed him to be himself for a short while. How the memory of the park
insinuates my erasure as if the park is the meaning of bliss itself.
I waited for a promise, a treatise, a familiar look, assurance, but his flight was his
occupation, the trip, the travel, the journey.
The eerie look of Proliferous Green Ash made so much of an impact
like saying “as soon as possible” that I immediately scanned all the reference
materials I needed as soon as I got home. Then, I checked my mailbox to see
if my expectation has arrived: a photograph of a newly married couple.
Void, I got nothing. No news, no word, no obituary after six months.
This is not shortage, but excess: There is really nothing here.
It has become a habit to face the torture of abandonment more excruciating
than how I am accused by my sex, or how it buttresses the estrangement
of manhood: When I left him, I left receipts of our favorite Thai restaurant
our signatures made to matter, leftovers, unopened gifts, stupid
pink boxes that can go nowhere with my pervading penis-and-another idea.
When he left me, he left me. When he left, he just left. When he left, I was really
Because this is Singapore, moisture burns and when it rains,
moisture burns in thick chills to the abandoned.
So I remind myself constantly that Dianthus Blue was a stranger
when he came into my life not like my father who taught me how
to pray and how to make ice to condition myself in coldness, not like
my mother who introduced me to the realm of warmth where I would find
so much amazement. Coldness and warmth are not strangers in my life.
But there is no denying that when Dianthus Blue left, he was something
of a definite shape of coldness and warmth in it: I thought I needed to re-learn
how to make ice again and let warmth freeze.
Perhaps, progressive and retrogressive, coldness and warmth
are metamorphoses in two languages in the same occurrence that plants
might appear to human quite ordinarily than how they are intricately surviving
their development in the city and how human appears quite differently to others
and to itself. It is this kind of binary that language of difference becomes
an important measure of the intractable, of unreality, a lover’s discourse.
It was the night which felt us, the affirmation that took our breath.
The night built the equation in which only us can see how bodies matter,
can survive; a key to a world where we can find each other.
We settled in a flat together for the primary reason that we thought
we needed each other’s intellectual formation to be more productive
in the actualization of our academic obligations. The relationship was founded
in a non-sexual linkage, but we had revealed ourselves to each other as if
we were lovers after sex. He would ask me the meaning of my eyes, the soul
of my word, the existence of my habits. He would tell me with an alarming interest
how I am special in contrast to other men and women he met. He would tell me
his insights about the books he finds mysterious. He would recount to me
how he understood his father, a landowner, when he had a mistress,
how his family survived savageness of infidelity and the cruelty of capitalism
in his homeland. He would tell what he finds attractive and how I become
attractive to him. He would make it clear that his body, as always exposed
to my eyes, is for the person who knows when it needs the wisdom of human
touch with the capaciousness to demand in that this man had God on his side.
Oftentimes, I would carefully lay my hands above his shoulders and he would know
the whisper of my hands’ smooth brushes: he needs to rest. He would rest, he would follow.
In nights of unforgiving paper works, he would tell me a story from his floating
childhood. We would laugh together at the imagination of how it was difficult
for his tongue to pronounce a simple English word correctly when he was young
learning the language. He would hang his head to my shoulders as if looking
by a window to the future. At nights when we thought we’ve done enough,
we would sleep in the same bed paralyzing the calls of transient pleasure
to be violent to each other. We learned how to respect time; we were gentle
with our bodies. And so the night was the blanket of our talk, body talk
and I was completely convinced it was earning the benefit of recognition,
the benefit of the doubt. I thought we understood that we made commitments
somewhere along the course of using language, spoken and performed.
I guess I made a self-immolating mistake, but is everything not true
when I have a memory of it, when I still can be in it, when I can speak of it?
The painful beating of my depravity of recognition (not only psychological,
but also how I put the world, the city in a certain structure) is to meander a difficult
trajectory like the narrativization of the postcolonial unconscious or the history
of the oppressed through a sleuthed methodology that exists in the ether of the present,
an active memory.This unresolvable is the site of a lover “speaking within himself,
amorously, confronting the other
(the loved object), who does not speak.” (Roland Barthes)
But tonight as a higher agent of desire, I have to come to negotiable terms with
my memory as if it is a malleable, subordinate persona I know truly well.
The night, like reason, settles on the waning dense of trees I originally called
“Swamp Bottom,” but is now Hong Lim Park. This is the new consciousness.
This is the new city. This is the new object of forgetfulness. The new
New Year’s resolution. This is where we lived. This is where my love
for Dianthus Blue evolved, where it declined to end, where it was not recognized.
The plan to write critically about “man” (as I planned to be superseded by reason
in intervening with the construction of how manhood is lived) offends me eminently
that no amount of vulgar confessional writings can match.
This is the point: memory of all desires is stronger a signifying experience
in movement, in flow, in explosion which has its own space-time for which
the night mainly submits to, for which I am helpless against.
I am weaker than memory: Dianthus Blue is the force behind it.
Proliferous Green Ash insisted that I start orienting myself with a substantial modicum
of the images of man I construed over time and find a peculiar relationship
to how visual and literary arts imagine and represent these images.
He recommended the paintings of Caravaggio: from Narcissus
to The Calling of Saint Matthew
, from an aesthetic love of oneself
to a spiritual shock of becoming. Like Narcissus, I was pleased to discover
a serene beauty I saw in myself which was approved by a love a non-lover had,
but like Jesus Christ, Dianthus Blue mysteriously quested: “follow me”
And like Matthew, possessed by an effect rather spiritual, I follow.
The effect of Brown Bearded Iris’ fast torrid kiss is contained in public spectatorship,
the witnesses’ experience of the city. It is here and the city cannot lie about it.
Dianthus Blue’s tenderness is buried privately somewhere stronger than injustice,
stubborn like one’s shadow under a tropical sun. It is here and my memory cannot
The moon quavers again and the stars with it above, I still believe
in Dianthus Blue in a ceding way I have never wholly believed in myself,
the extent of which I cannot distant my own world from the mediated creation
of my conscious, the supposed world on a page, this night wholesomely provokes
especially now that the city re-works itself to nurture regular and irregular, cold
and warm metamorphoses. I cannot see any difference between memory and writing
back, between victimhood and revenge, between reading history and writing it,
between the experience of manhood and the unwanted absence of it as one traces it back.
My memory is a lover’s empty present, strangers, like plants everywhere, are waiting
for a certain leaf to fall, the order of things pretend to quiet the chaos of discontent,
the night is elsewhere void and I have these lines in the beginning:
Yukio Mishima, Thirst for Love
; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants
Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments