Construction site, Punggol fields, 1972
It is my job
to fill that soot-blackened kettle
throw in a handful of tea leaves,
put it over a fire of disused wood
and watch it boil
in the early light blues of Punggol.
My father is in that toolshed
poring over blueprints
of a farm,
briefing his foreman,
as dust and insects floated
in the harsh light
of fluorescent lamps.
Soon my father will amble over,
pour himself a drink from that kettle
into a grimy metal cup.
I will offer him a cigarette
and we will squat there by the wayside
smoking, the sweet wisps of Camels
swirling in the cool morning air.
Then we will go over to the toolshed,
collect our claw hammers, plumb lines,
nails, tape measures,
light up some joss to the earth god,
as Blackie, the mongrel guarding the shed,
darker than Cerebus from Hell,
comes over sniffing our heels.
We haul planks, measure, hammer,
in the uncompromising sun,
sometimes seeking solace
in the shadows of the wooden moulds
jutting out of mud and rock like pruned tree trunks.
The smell of sawn wood clings to us
like a stigma.
When the day is done,
the sun painting streaks of gold and crimson
on the clouds, we dust
ourselves of sawdust and wood shavings,
feed the dog,
and gather at the toolshed,
lingering, for a final smoke in the fading sun,
as did our forebears before us
in America, in Hong Kong
building railroads, harbours,
hunched over camp fires,
drinking tea from grimy cups
swopping stories about home
in Canton half a life away.
Then we pile into
our cars and bikes
for the weary journey home.
The stars are coming out
in that vast bowl of sky,
the cirrus clouds rolling
dark angry strips of floss
in the darkening light
over a plain of wild grass
the exact centre of our universe..
By Cheong Lee SanQLRS Vol. 5 No. 2 Jan 2006