Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
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Vol. 3 No. 3 Apr 2004

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Three Poems on Lost In Translation

But the underlying strangeness of this world, - the psychological strangeness – is much more startling than the visible and the superficial.
- Lafcadio Hearn, Japan: An Interpretation

One feels as though one’s soul has found for itself a strange home.
- Soseki Natsume, Kokoro

Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need for nothing” – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
- Revelation 3:17


Thrust into Shinjuku
Beneath the endless canopy of garish neon
They gaze blankly at the panoply of objects
Placidly proffering themselves

Pachinko machines driven mad by their own ringing
Blond haired youths dancing their lives away in front of machines
Karaoke kitsch in loud mangled english
Short valets bowing in obsequious reverence, revering what, they do not know
The terrible spectacle of cold bodies, gyrating naked bathed by reechy eyes
Wizened old men waiting dourly in lifts, faces left impassive by entropy
That mountain of a million perfunctory postcards, still capped in forgetful snow
Buddhist monks chanting away in indeterminable drones, illusion of serenity
Soaring skyscrapers buried like terracotta under the weight of wan sunlight
Today the delicate clasping of hands – tomorrow the reality of cold uneaten suppers


They lie side by side, in a communion of words
Furtively caressing their jaded beings
With the silence in the middle

Perhaps we are in this world, they say, and not of it
There is so much that is unbearable in this world –
This big waiting room of the world

Inhabited by souls that look like theirs
Ontologies whose only proof of existence
Is that emptiness in their eyes

Telling of how long and how wide and how deep and how high
Is this aloneness that passes understanding –
This consciousness, ever so aware

Still they all have to live
For lonely is such a lonely word


But there is nothing lost in translation
Into the language of space and time
That cannot be recovered
As the spirit witnesses

The wine they sip, thirsting for eternity
That insomnia they share, restless for rest
The city they skulk, pallid and unreal
Even the whore, seducing in vain
The frame they carry, sad image of glory
Those senseless words, letters that kill
The fidelity they bear, vestige of virtue
That strangeness of things, not in themselves
And the love they find: unspeakable whispers
Thrust into Shinjuku

By Ng Teng Kuan

QLRS Vol. 3 No. 3 Apr 2004


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  Other Poems in this Issue

Permission To Write
By Koh Tsin Yen.

The roots of everyday things are sunk deep
By Brandon Lee.

By Edlyn Ang.

On Ocean Street, Carlsbad, California
By Kirby Wright.

Greek Lunch
By Jan Oskar Hansen.

Quiet Virtuoso: Laurindo Almeida
By Oscar Balajadia.

For A Gymnopedie By Satie
By Oswald LeWinter.


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