Poetry / August 2008 (Issue 4)

Two Poems

by Gilbert Koh

Not Home

I was eight, and alone.
Waiting in the garden I talked
to trees. Seeds sprouted.
Crickets sang. In the house
Grandma lay dying.
Caught an insect, held it
in my hand. Plucked a leg off,
as I softly sang. Very cruel,
very bad. Surely Papa would
come home, if I were bad.
Make me hurt, for being bad.
One more leg then, and another.
Time crawled. I lost count.
Finally there were no more legs,
but Papa wasn't home.
I dropped the useless insect
on the ground. In the house
Grandma went on dying.
On and on her body twitched,
till I crushed it with a stone.
Papa wasn't home.

Read "A Cup of Fine Tea: Gilbert Koh's "Not Home"" here.

The Death of Ong Jia Hui

Your son dies. Your only son dies.
Your soldier son dies, not in war,
but in peacetime, not in peace,
but at sea, drowned in a training accident,
an accident they say, but they don't
tell you why, they don't tell you
how it could have happened
when others were there, everywhere,
in the water, on the boat,
yet no one saw him sink,
no one saw him slip beneath the waves
the singing waves, the rifle
slung round his body like a rock or noose,
a great fatal noose
with God's hand pulling.
No one heard him call for help,
which finally came of course,
but came too late,
so late that all you have now
for a son is his body,
some damned medals and the memory
of that body, so pale and
cold and clean, and now as you sit
in your small neat kitchen
with the solemn, grey-haired colonel
you find that you have no more tears,
and though the colonel tries
he too has no more words
Mrs Ong, I'm so sorry one more time.
As he stands to leave,
he puts his hand on your shoulder,
a strong firm soldier's hand
like your son's,
as if that could stop the hurt
or answer questions,
all your pointless questions,
they swirl in your head
and just won't wash away.

Editors' note: Read a review of Gilbert Koh's Two Baby Hands by Moira Moody here.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.