Poetry / October 2018 (Issue 41: Writing Singapore)

Two Poems

by Alfian Sa’at

(Translated from Malay by Alfian Sa’at)
A poem constructed from loan words borrowed from the Portuguese language into Malay (see the Malay original below).
From inside the cupboard
The mournful strains of a violin.

On the table
You were given a knife
To cut the cheese
And spread the butter.

The gates of the fire station were opened.
And what emerged was a locomotive.

Only after washing your hands
After wiping them on a towel
Did you realise that the sink
Was carved out of soap.

From afar the roar of the festival.
And when it neared, the wail of a funeral.

Last Sunday
The priest from the chapel
Brought a pail
To catch the rainbow
That spilled from the window

What you peeled was a lime.
Yet what was peeled was an eyeball.

Even though the face
Was covered by lace
And the hands were cradling a doll
You were convinced
That the figure was a soldier.

Whose shoes are those
Just outside the door?
And why are they both
For the left foot?


Dari dalam almari,
Alunan biola yang sayu.

Di meja itu
Kamu diberi sebiji garfu
Untuk memotong keju
Dan menyapu mentega.

Yang terbuka gerbang bomba.
Yang keluar kereta api.

Selepas mencuci tangan
Selepas menggunakan tuala
Barulah kamu sedar
Bahawa tangki air itu
Diukir daripada sabun.

Dari jauh sorakan pesta.
Dari dekat raungan jenazah.

Hari Minggu lalu
Seorang paderi di gereja
Membawa baldi
Untuk menadah pelangi
Yang terpancar dari jendela.

Yang dikupas limau nipis.
Yang terkupas bola mata.

Walaupun wajahnya
Diselubung renda
Dan dia mendukung boneka
Namun kamu tetap pasti
Dia seorang soldadu.

Ketika nyanyian lagu kebangsaan
Kamu menggigil separuh bogel
Kerana kemeja sekolah kamu
Telah dipinjam sebagai bendera.

Sepatu siapakah itu
Di depan pintu?
Dan mengapakah
Untuk kaki yang kiri?


She used to call me ‘nak’,
Short for ‘anak’, meaning ‘child’.
The terrible intimacy
Of ‘my child’ smoothened
To a careless syllable.

Now memory
Has whittled it down
To something
Precise as a pin.


But ‘nak’ is also a contraction
For ‘hendak’, meaning ‘want’.
Thus to call the child
Is to summon
One’s yearning for it.


In the end there were no words.
Just her eyelids quivering
As if she were in a frantic dream
Her eyelashes like black gills.

I called her ‘mak’, ‘mak’,
As I watched a spoon
Transform in my sister’s hand.
Lever to pry open the stubborn teeth.
Razor shaving porridge off her chin.

In the end there was just mime.
The doctor told us
To apply baby oil
All over her limbs.
This would prevent
Her body from stiffening
Into the silhouette of a crone.

We rubbed her skin
Until it shone
Like council workers
Removing graffiti off a wall.
No mourner should know
That her final word was pain.


I began In her body
Not as a zygote
In her womb
But as a thought
In her head

Mak nak anak

Now in my head
There is a place
Swollen with echoes

Mak nak anak
Anak nak mak

Mak nak anak

Anak nak mak
ImageAlfian Sa’at is a Resident Playwright with W!ld Rice. His published works include three collections of poetry: One Fierce Hour, A History of Amnesia and The Invisible Manuscript; a collection of short stories, Corridor; a collection of flash fiction, Malay Sketches; two collections of plays as well as the published play Cooling Off Day In 2001, Sa’at won the Golden Point Award for Poetry as well as the National Arts Council Young Artist Award for Literature. He has also been awarded the Life! Theatre Awards for Best Original Script four times. His works have been translated into German, Swedish, Danish and Japanese.
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All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.