Cyril Wong: Three Poems
letter to araya rasdjarmrearnsook | way out | a kind of hush
letter to araya rasdjarmrearnsook
Dear Araya, I sing to the dead too;
my past self, ex-loves, the truly departed
to whom I offer this poem
like a song, acknowledging
my past in not as pure, perhaps,
a manner as how you smile
and nod, clear-eyed, at those bodies
draped lovingly in floral cloths, sudden
stars of milky frangipani and
inside their clear aquariums,
angled like sharp, undeniable facts
across the bare floor
of a brilliantly white room.
Once I was an optimist, Araya.
I could tell you about how a plane
sliced across the window-framed sky and
came so close it slowed to a languorous
arc over our flat. I was seven.
How I longed for each new day to behold
again that rush and triumphant roar,
ranging from that first, anticipatory
silence to that barely containable
crescendo, even as most days then
tarried at the initial end of that continuum
nothingness happening over and over.
This was before my father stopped talking
to me, Araya, before I realised that love
meant I would always be the one
giving more. And I learnt how disappointment
too could swell to something as deafening
as a plane outside my window, that blizzard
of sound rocking the insides of my ears
and chest so hard and often that how
could I not help but begin to love that too.
I dream about my boy-self, Araya.
I watch him lay on the floor in my sleep,
lost in a book held up by his hand,
or simply staring at the window
like a cinema screen,
wondering if he is watching the same
old film of sky and clouds
replaying itself, as he was absent
at the movie's beginning. Or whether
the same scene is being played
backwards. Having seen this so
many times, he can close his eyes
and the images would occupy all
of inside him: start, middle or end,
backwards or forwards.
I have tried to say goodbye to my father
too many times, Araya. He might as well
be dead, the years I have spent
mourning his absence. He is watching
the news again, Araya. If I had been
born a girl and my sister a boy
it would have made more sense, as
then he would have no problem
loving us, Araya. Look at how
similar we are, observing our dead
my father expired on the couch,
your bodies in their glass tanks.
Is it not true that a body without life
is like an empty page upon which
we may compose our own stories?
If I could sing I would too, Araya.
I would sing bittersweet love songs
from a throat already raw from rage
and crying to his sealed eyes
and mouth, not fearing if he would
awaken to scorn my womanly voice.
But for this, I would require him
to be really dead, Araya, as only then
could I truly begin to forgive him.
My grandmother is inside me, Araya.
I don't need to gaze upon her dead body
to remember her love, although
the sight again of ah-ma's split, bald
spot when they dug out the tumour
would re-invite that overriding sense
of horror and grief. In the stillness
of this early morning, I have entered
my grandma's deafness, and the very
nature of the love that must have
possessed her, when she saw me
staring at soundless images on television
in the living room, framed perfectly
by such a hush the same way
an empty room holds up your voice,
Araya, upon its open palm of silence,
or the way I love her now.
And then there are other losses.
Bad poems I did not try to save.
The same with certain friendships.
Long moments of lovemaking with those who would leave as my love would prove too demanding; such
nights when a hand on my body would shift the contours of a heart's topography.
Rare few minutes after waking when I had no ideology, no name or any shadow of desire.
Old books I sold off or gave away believing I would never want them back.
That evening I came back after my first kiss, believing I would always remain this lucky, this impossibly light.
What I cannot return to or retrieve, I tell myself, mock me from behind time's two-way mirror.
You tell me otherwise, Araya.
You tell me death is nothing abstract.
You tell me, Smell the air, study the flies veiling their eyes, their shrunken lips colouring to a bruise.
You tell me we only remember what we want to, instead of what we should.
You tell me you agree it is not enough that the dead thrive within us.
You tell me there is nobody alive who is not recovering from loss.
You tell me to sing into the face of the dead is to give loss back its home within our ever-waking present.
You tell me it is important to keep trying to see, not with double vision, but with two separate pairs of eyes; one for what we have left behind and the other for where we are going; one for loss, the other, gain; death, as well as life.
somebody who loves me
told me this story about a king
who asked some Sufis
to create something
that would make a man
sad whenever he was happy,
happy whenever he was sad.
Later they presented him
with a ring
that bore this inscription: This too
Such is the violence required
to stop the body in its tracks.
Some say the spirit if it exists hovers
permanently within a hundred metre radius
of its busted, flesh-and-bone cage.
I hurried over to the huge, once encumbered
bulk of her; eyes shut behind spectacles
that cling to her face, oddly
unbroken. Her leg, jumped free from its socket,
was held in place
by what must be size-40 Levis.
Blood through a rip in the jeans
flood a long, squint-eyed cut across her thigh:
the inside of her large body
peeking out. I imagine her spirit easing
its way out of that wound
to stand there, gazing skywards at how
far she had come in the gasp of two seconds,
debating if this was a mistake,
and if she had only known
that death was false, that consciousness
would draw her back to itself
even after the end, inescapable,
But I prefer to believe that she
is gone, just as Leslie Cheung
is gone; that death
is not a rapid corridor
between one prison and the next;
that the sound she made when the pavement
rose generously to meet her
was not the opposite of a bomb
a kind of hush
Silent again, we begin to hear
noises in our heads, swelling
to overwhelm the sound of our own
breathing. If we are silent for
long enough, something would surface
from under the wind-troubled
faces of murky ponds
our minds have become.
All at once, ripples would flee
in a singular, outward direction
these questions of guilt or blame.
Then what comes up for air
would be a different quiet
we keep drowning, pinning it
underwater in our pride until
its legs stop kicking.
Different because we may hear
the mirroring of fear and
a time-sharpened dependency
within it. Such a quiet we only
hear when we do not hear:
waking up together, every date,
sharing the same cab home.
Listen. Listen. My hand swims
into the bay area of your hand.
If we are silent for long enough,
we could start over.
Note: "letter to araya rasdjarmrearnsook" is based on such works by the artist as Thai Medley I, II and III, as well as Lament of Desire, showing looped video footage in which she reads and sings to corpses. She started using corpses in her works in 1998. By reading and singing to them, she felt that there was "communication between her and her memories of loss."
Cyril Wong is the author of three collections of poetry in Singapore, including below: absence, a book that was adapted into a play, "Existence," by The Fun Stage, a local theatre group. He was a featured poet at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2003.