Five Poems

Poetry
Wern Hao See


Photo Credit: aptmetaphor/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Rust

You bought me the necklace a month before I no longer needed it. The Seven Mile Flea Market put its worth at ten dollars but you, good with words, halved it on my behalf. Black string tinkling, three rings sliding along. In place of a crucifix, there was me, you and the children we did not make time for. Faith was a house in Milwaukee, complete with shelves of your favourite Terry Pratchett novels and my select Singaporean poets. A backyard and fireplace, laced with the crackling of branches and unfilled mugs of hot chocolate.

In the dream, the people believed the machinery would screech again, fractured pipes snapping back together like bones. The factories would exhale rust from their lungs, guzzling oil like beer. She would be back at her station with her flowing coarse braids, slipping a knuckleduster of padlocks through fingers, clicking and unclicking.

If this is a dream, and if no one saw her slip through the backyard when the grapes started budding from olives, oiled by sunlight, then,

she did not rip the necklace off my nape, leaving half of a stinging red halo.

she did not pin me down, spread-eagle, to the foot of my bed.

I did not sink my teeth into her lips, a lick drawing iron, a sip of breath

Ferric oxide, when inhaled, may result in metabolic acidosis. Symptoms include rapid breathing, confusion, lethargy, shock and death.

Being agnostic, I refused to commit to life where there might be none, yet I was not brave enough to release my clutch on the steel curled up in my palm.

She plied me with her index finger, slipping along the back of my forearm, following each and every twitch. I started panting, salt coating my singlet, darkening crimson,

sun looking away. She hovered, less flesh and more shadow, swallowing me inch by inch. Moan. When did I convert from the undecided to the damned? At what point did dawn finally split from night?

A pool of rust seeped into the sheets.

A ring of red dirt spreads across the Midwest as more people move to larger cities, leaving behind rows of houses fixed with fireplaces with nothing to burn for. Yes, faith breaks down into hope breaks us. Yet, you could shift into one of those houses if you wish. Stack your Terry Pratchett novels against the door. The wall paint still flakes off like skin, the knocking you hear is only wind.

 

Names

My dearest, sunshine, slipped away, replaced
by names we learnt from birth.
Stuffed toys we called our children
were split. The dolphin is marooned
in the corner again. I forget
to pick it up. Before I sleep, I hug the fox
until its neck hangs limp by my elbow.
I say mama is coming back.
I say papa is smiling.
All they ever do is smile back at me.

I stroke the dolphin’s fur
with my cheeks,
and I find myself again
sprawled over the mat
on the polished parquet floor.

I lay there for hours
on Sunday afternoons,
until you told me
it was time to get up.

I clutched onto the dolphin
almost as a hostage.
Papa! The dolphin nudged me
to stay. Ngah ngah? Enough. Now,

I nuzzle my nose
against the hard plastic knob
sewn on loosely by your errant hand.

It fell off the first time
you swung it against the wall. After,

it never quite stuck again.
The fox no longer paws at you.
The way your boyfriend says vixen
lacks my cartoony inflex.
But he still lets you
big-bear-huggles the children to sleep.

I imagine you leaning
into my clavicle, then I catch myself.
The way wind nestles
into a tree branch, the sun’s reflection slipping
between rustling leaves,
then lifts off again.

What is love but the willingness to scar,
knowing your lover would heal before you
had the chance to hurt?

Rubbing your neck, you try to hide
teeth marks. I wish you well.
That he would hold you
for the roads ahead.

I hold my fist, praying
for restraint.

I scoop the dolphin
from the dryer. In the morning,
my palm is warmed by your cheeks
yawning half-awake,
wide glass bead eyes blinking,
flaking into lint.

 

Every Decay Came From Sweetness

“No person we have met in our lives is ever relegated to silence, even if we have split paths with them due to anger, chance or circumstance. Our entire body enacts a stunning resurrection of the dead.” —Lan Samantha Chang, at a lecture at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, 13 July 2017

By now, my lips would have shed
the taste of yours, the way cockroaches peel
off what is dead to become larger,
uglier versions of themselves.
Without you, I have just been feeling
my way through dusty walls, crumbling,
bumping into chairs with gimp legs,
limping to bed. That is to say,
I have always been the cause
of my own bruises.

This poem will not be sent to you, air-headed
newspaper roll beating guilt
in until we are bent, still twitching
with sentiment not yet dead.

Since then, I have sought bodies, crawled
over them all sour and wet. I binge on
You’re adorable, love, familiar
syllables which, although sour,
get me hard. I curl long strands
of hair, almost soft enough
for a pillowcase. Let me start again:

there was the sobbing and the kiss,
death of skin, flaking salt.
All this eating ever since is only desire
to find where I left
what was left of us, to keep
that lesser picture down my throat.

 

Projected Break-up in Retrograde

The train pulls into Hillview station,
spitting me out. I stagger
to the lobby of your condo block where,
outside, passersby pick coins
from an auntie’s cardboard box,
returning tissue packets in neat squares.

You descend, the lift doors open.
We clasp hands, promising
an easier time where we would see everything
good about each other.
The suture in the bruised sky opens, orange
trickling out. Then, the pus
of afternoon sun spills over tarmac.

Everything is warm again.
Everything that should warn me about you
disappears with our tongues, leashed
to our throats, probing each other
with a certain frenzy. Repeat:

What are we? Now,
release our lips and unconfess
the love we have made. My dearest

best friend, forget my kinks.
Forget the pliancy of my body, so used
to you. Forget my fear
that repeated motion would only become
boredom, not comfort. I reclaim
these thoughts and you are unburdened.
Let me, for once, uncrease
your panties, straighten your hair
and button up your blouse. I zip
my eyes. They open

in front of the Western food stall
on the college campus. The sirloin steaks
drain their blood to the fire.
My cheeks flush: “What luck,
to have found someone
who loves House of Cards as well. Yes,
I am from around here, too.
Hope I am not disturbing. Hello.”

 

On Healing

Do not pretend that absence
makes the heart. How fond
you are of longing. The seat
by the windowsill
of the first ice cream parlor date
is still filled by lovers
who have not learnt to stumble
into a bar counter.
No need for drunken hyperbole now,
the darkness pooling at your feet is not
an extension of flesh. It is only
yourself tomorrow, stretched
towards wherever your soul travels.
In time, if even the ice cream parlor
becomes a fast food restaurant, and then
not even that, know that nothing will grow
in its place. Your poetry must not bloom
from tears alone. So tear yourself
away from the pedestal of high rises
no longer there to cast a shadow
for your brooding. Be gentle.
Spread your fingers, let light slip
through their outline
when you have no one to hold.

pencil

See Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Softblow, Forage Poetry Journal and Apercus Quarterly. He has also contributed to anthologies such as SingPoWriMo 2015/6 and Rollercoasters & Bedsheets. Email: seewh[at]hotmail.com

Three Poems

Poetry
Wern Hao See


Photo Credit: Justin Hall/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Justin Hall/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Resolutions

We scratch an inventory list of promises, made at the end
of another year, broken like the lesser reflections of ourselves

which we do not dare to cast eyes upon. The stone tablet stares blankly at us
staring at some better tomorrow, tunneling ahead into shadow.

Even before the first step, we have cast our lanterns beyond
our reach, blinded to the ink we have spilled over stone.

All there is left to do is to stumble with resolution, headfirst
against the regrets caving into our skulls.

“Never again, never again, never again” bleeding from our mouths,
the only words we know shaped by the tongues of our youth.

 

Vacated

His office pass lies in the recesses
of the bedroom drawer

like a card from a former lover
which he can’t bear to see or shred.

The neighbours heard his last goodbye
wheeling across the corridor.

The newspapers barricade the gate,
each roll marking the days

since departure.
The sign on the door still reads

“May God bless those
who dwell within this house.”

Unemployment trickles up
from man to deity.

The potted plants sit by the window,
listening to the raindrops.

Their leaves are yellowed in the yearning
of what they cannot have any longer.

 

Postcard from Miami

(I)

Brave is the man
with bohemian ropes wrung
down his scalp, jerking
rusty joints with the pull
of tidal puppet strings
and reggae in a foreign tongue
he can’t yet sing.

His dance is for an audience of one,
who has long since scampered off
to pant and lick at thighs
of unsuspecting strangers.

(II)

A man came up to tell me
it costs thirteen dollars
for a seat here.

Wondering at the gaping void
of his shades, unsure
where to look, I wanted
to tell him:

This is not paradise.
God does not charge so much
to lie on window shutter
plastic chairs barricaded by
umbrellas filtering
sunlight through shadow.

Instead, I murmured an apology
and moved from the cushion
to crackling earth.
Condemned and evicted,

I scurried away,
punching cupcake craters
into the glittering ground.
Behind me,

Black men cloaked in bleached overalls
rake at sand, flattening footprints
and castles bearing plastic flags
in a single heave.

pencilSee Wern Hao is pursuing Law and Liberal Arts at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College. His works have been featured in anthologies such as A Luxury We Must Afford, Words: Lost and Found and This Is Not A Safety Barrier. Email: seewh[at]hotmail.com