Poetry / September 2010 (Issue 12)

From 'The Mental Life of Cities'

by Eddie Tay

Night Thoughts

What is the car demanding
from me in the middle of the night?

Look outside the window
down the parking lot –
what is the car demanding
of trees by the road?

Different trees were there
when I was a boy,
and what the road asked of me
when I was seven
it is asking now when
I am thirty-six.

What is the car demanding
in the middle of the night?

I went shopping for a new briefcase
after work and I heard the lampposts
asking the evening.

My wife and son are sleeping
after their TV programmes, after dinner
and after the creamy durian we shared.

What is the car demanding
from me in the middle of the night?

I retrieve a book from its shelf
and hope all these will go away.
The television sets flicker
in the flats opposite
and the car is one car
among many.

I must not say the devil’s best trick
when dealing his cards
is to fool everyone into believing.

I dare not speak of winter
because there are no seasons
to my country.

I write the same poem
again and again.

I speak in a language not mine.

This poem does not bear my name.

I am John.

Call me a persona,
prisoner of my name,
my love to my country.

I cannot name the devil;
he does not have two horns and a tail.

As modern as public transport,
we have our scholars, their lawyers, the press.

You see the whiteness of this page?
This is my love to my country,
my flag of surrender.

I have a life:
I can leave my country and return,
asking “when will this be the last time?”

I have a family:
I can watch TV and dance
with my two-year-old son
who will learn the words
“government”, “responsibility”, “law”.

If I say what I cannot say,
I must be mad,
for I have bread, a passport, an apartment.

If I say what I cannot say,
I must be ungrateful,
although it is true I have served my time
with my rifle and combat boots.

This is my love to my country:
I stay quiet as a number,
cry in my sleep,
learn to laugh in the mirror.

I must not let the people
know of my madness.

White Pages

White pages peel
from a notepad, smooth fingers,
yours, rustling these leaves of my book –
you know how much I love,
how much time I spend
on these pages.

These words emerge
like the two of us,
like future chapters of Hong Kong,
its ferries at Victoria Harbour
waiting to happen,
or stanzas of Singapore
with the Merlion poised,
awaiting the tip of a future pen.

Our children are waiting to happen –
look how carefully I knead these words
from last night’s memory
of your shoulders and nape.

Look how the spine stretches.

Such a thick forest of words
we’re passing through –
is it possible to read from cover to cover?

The leaves are trembling in these hands,
waiting for a city to happen.

Evenings flicker, a million times
on a million television screens
with Jackie Chan.

I am learning to walk
through unwashed streets
with memories of flu in the neighbourhood.

Image 1

Our lives are different under a strange democracy
of rats, for street protests are possible
when politicians cough over the latest crisis.

Is this my city?

Image 2

Is an economy of rats possible
or do we need casinos?

Those metal domes
phallic in the skyline, those shiny aspiring skyscrapers
in Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau.

These are cities I cherish:
the new blueprints with old drafts of buildings,
that spurt of concrete of twelve storeys, a spit of land   
for trees, shrubs and barbecue pits.


We have imagined ourselves:
we live like rats, our appetites bite and bite.

1 I shall not, I shall not forget.
2 I shall not, I shall not depart.

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All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.