This airstrip does not scour the brain's runways
with take-offs and landings;
If memory serves - it ended near a pier bobbing
Watchfully in the lulling waves of amnesia.
This place yokes me to a world
which until now has resisted the tyranny of change.
And through the silent grace of the years
only glimpses I've retained.
Into my sleep Jalan Kayu often slips
her collage of infinite impenetrations.
In the region between wariness and fatigue
some who guard the hangar doors could not keep
out intrusions from a time
when the Rising Sun cast her shadow upon the land.
Spectres locked in a sisyphian routine
enact their final scene spiritedly
to an audience disinclined to history.
Let's just say they don't exist
but reside only in ancestral memories.
Why do they rise fom the grave
of our buried lives, revived by these environs
stubborn as encrusted barnacles
refusing to release the shell of the past?
Have we ignored for too long
the poetry of the hour-glass?
Maybe the beat of the daily grind
like the tabla beat of Thaipusam
has enchanted seers to life's invisible palpitations?
But what if they're for real?
Would this hypothesis be any different?
2. Roti Prata
The old faithfuls have sworn
they would give their dentures
if only they could sink their gums
into Thasevi's roti prata.
You don't need teeth.
Blunt pressure will crumble it
and saliva does the rest.
Proselytes in search for their Holy Grail
inflate the myth until reality
forever on the heels of faith
brought a trail of lip-smacking devotees.
At Thasevi's, you could see
the heart's longing to believe
that man cannot live by bread alone
but by every dip of good mutton curry.
The bottoms of Brits, Aussies, Kiwis
and G.I.s on R and R
have polished the chair I sat on.
Here men who have gone to Hades and back
brag about the torments they long to forget
in the muggy afternoons,
in the rain-washed nights,
under the cool eye
of the ceiling fan.
Many years on
troopers tired from shouldering
the white man's burden are relieved
to hear the native cry for independence.
Camouflaged brown skins now take their places
On these seats.
Now Chinese towkays and wannabes
line the nostalgia of NS1 days
on Saturday nights with their Mercedes
and Guinness-stout-commercial molls,
while we, poor tan-chia-pengs2,
stayed on to hold the fort
relieved by brief excursions to Thasevi's.
3. Sheets in the Breeze
On washdays the green turf turns
billowy white as fresh laundry
flap in an ether of bleach.
How do clothes smell
now that they are cleansed from
the stain of their wearers' imprint,
the places they've been,
the sweat of the flesh they covered,
the soul of the flesh they've sheathed?
You needn't remember when
even the ironing is done by another.
The dhoby man could cast the spell
and release a man from the talons
of having lived yesterday -
fifty cents per piece buys you
another chance at life.
In the waning light
My mind's eye net
the silhouettes of Tamil children
against the bone-white church,
their game of cops and robbers
filling the dusk with cheerful shrieks
louder than the towkays' sucking
of lamb marrow at Thasevi's.
One day when the builders
awake to the oddity
of this parish of colonial abodes lining
streets with English names in this damned dank heat,
only the echoes of their laughter
will slip past the sullied
jaws of the excavator.
1 National Service/ compulsory military conscription
2 Career soldiers