Amazing how it takes the smallest things, like a bus ride,
to transport you to the important issues, such as death
and all its different manifestations. Approaching 7pm,
shadows are already climbing out of the sky to put out
the skyscrapers like candles, ink a river under the highway
to black opacity. You wonder about the years you have
emptied into your present job, the sameness of expression
with which your wife greets you in the evenings, sullen
face of your son at the dinner table, the taste of food
reduced to blandness on your tongue, while the television
in the hall blares forth winners of another game show.
You gaze out the bus window at the moon's half-grin
and remember that film your colleagues hated, which
wounded you in some deep, unspeakable way, like
the scene when the male lead hesitated for more than
what was only a minute before pushing a knife's edge
against the taut curve of his wrist, with that sharply
held breath before every attempt, its quivering release
upon failure. This process you are so familiar with,
each hesitation recurring to a lullaby of the same,
these repetitions the invisible blueprint of a life. Stars
perforate the sky, like the eyes of dead people
suspended outside of time peering in, the place where
your soul must have come from, yanked down by ropes
of pure longing. You wonder at the history of mankind,
calculating the sum total of your consequence in relation
to its yet interminable drama. Quickly, you drift on
to happier subjects, like your son, who pointed one day
at clouds rising into houses, pillars, collapsible cities.
You wonder what you were like at that age. In school,
a teacher commented that you had a talent for stories,
a startling gift for description. You recollect the praises
scribbled in blue across the bottom of a report card
that dad signed, then handed back to you without a word
of compliment. You tell yourself you are better towards
your own son: more tender, more inclined to praise.
None of you can account for the exact moment when
that cynicism flew into his face to lock itself in.
You attribute rudeness to his friends, your wife blames
you for spoiling him from the very beginning. You
glare helplessly at desert maps of your palms, at the
paperweights of whitened knuckles pinning you down
to the world. A poet said that all of us are searching
ultimately for our graves. You think about graves, how
your wife was a hole in the ground you crawled into
and remained for so long you forgot what love was.
You complain to yourself about how this bus is taking
too long to bring you home. The road stretches out
like your father on his bed the morning he did not wake.
He looked no different, and religion made you believe
another sort of wakefulness was prepared for him. You
stood there observing him, dwelling upon decomposition,
how the air would dissolve his body, reclaim the space
it once occupied. You glimpse at your watch, this gift
from your son for Father's Day you found out was really
bought by your wife; this watch that never slows down
for the ecstatic instant, but for boredom's uniformity.
Last week, you went grocery shopping with your family
at the supermarket around your block, and discovered
you had lost your wallet, or maybe dropped it somewhere
between the vegetables and the dairy section. You heard,
on the intercom, the voice of the one who had found it,
a girl mispronouncing your name again and again. And
you left your wife, your son by the trolley, both turning
to strangers with their unison expression of puzzlement
and mild irritation. You hurried down aisle after aisle,
so eager to retrieve the little you could have lost,
realizing instead you were unable to find the counter.
You kept walking and walking alongside rows and rows
of shampoo bottles pasted with women's faces cracked
wide open by smiles and that barely audible laughter.
You became convinced there was no counter. That bitch
repeated again what was once your name. You halted,
much to the approval of tin cans of baby powder, images
of babies so cute you could smash a fist into every tin.
Fluorescent lights swelled inside your head to blossom
into a panic: at once unbearable, yet oddly calming,
as you never felt so close to alive, so potentially free.
Next poem: STEPPING INTO
Cyril Wong is the author of Squatting Quietly and The End Of His Orbit,
both published in Singapore. He is currently pursuing his honours in
literature at the National University of Singapore.
Contact Cyril Wong at: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 27, 2002
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