HE SAID, MARIE, MARIE, HOLD ON TIGHT
~ The Waste Land, "The Burial of The Dead", Eliot
~ The Waste Land, "The Burial of The Dead", Eliot
Saturday, April 28, 2007
today i woke up, with the overwhelming sense, of being disembodied. my left arm is missing, in reality. it disappeared in a disastrous factory incident in december. the doctors told me, i'm sorry. at night, my mind goes drifting in a sea of limbs, searching out the part of my body that has left me. my mind tells me, suck it in, it is still there. and i am typing, writing my horrific and perverse prose, with two perfect hands, and not all is lost.
Friday, April 27, 2007
If the silence that settles between our bodies
is not necessarily the texture of snow,
I will stay at home tonight, stay
at home tonight, waiting by the windchime, waiting
for the wind’s transposition of movement
into sound, to tell you
the windchimes stir.
The windchimes stir, I will say
with the patience and persistence of the wind,
till in your afternoon,
begin to stir.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
as i threw down the trash down the chute today, i felt an irrevocable sense of loss.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
notes from the city
on friday, my korean suite mate said she was taking a make-up test at the east asian department cos she'd been sick. this greying white professor came in and asked, "what's she doing here?"
"taking a quiz," said the teacher-advisor.
"oh, not writing a suicide note and going to kill 30 people after that?" he asked, then smiled.
the dynamics in my flat is interesting. next door, there are two koreans. i am singaporean. my room mate is from oklahoma. when the incident happened, they were watching the news. our living room is the public domain, there the korean girls appeared not to give a shit. but madi tells me, just a little later, she caught them huddling over the computer in their room, watching cnn clips and speaking indignantly and erratically, in korean.
in church two weeks ago, a chinese national did the reading at catholic church (they always ask an ethnic minority to do the first reading). this balding guy at the back belted out "go to hell", then left the church. everything continued as per normal, the alleluias and amens, and peace-be-with-you's. the priest made a passing remark about "oh we ought to pray for him", then proceeded to give his vision of america as united by the country of god. i only realised the irony of the sermon today.
it would be a very different to the public perception if the guy was a black, or muslim, or white. perhaps asian, black, muslim are simply different gradations of otherness. being the model minority simply implies that they were seen as having assimilated the right way. the model minority category is damaging, in a different way, because those who don't fit the model minority label "asian, good at mathematics, taking business courses" feel an alienation within an already alienated category. our lgbt community says partly that vt was an example of emasculation from being asian, but perhaps it was just an another example of alienation within alienation.
i read alfian's sa'at's blog. he was talking about the diversity of nyc, how we were a "population so diverse it was impossible to tell who was from where, except here". i looked at his lovely pictures of nyc - such lovely pictures - and saw that i'd been to where he'd been, but coming to 11 months in this city, the myth of new york has been deconstructed for me. yesterday i ran in the sun, past beautifully dressed people, past old hobos, and i thought in my endorphin induced high, "fuck, i'm a new yorker!" then the air got too much for me to bear, so i went indoors instead. if you love new york too much, it will break your heart. if you fall in love with a myth, it will break your heart.
i came to new york without any conceptions. it was my first time in america, i turned down in place in london, cos a brit education is generally a bad thing if you dont know what you want to do. on the first week i arrived, i met up with a classmate, leon. we met up one night. i remember the smoothshaven white hotel manager had asked him out for drinks, and was sliding his hand up and down leon, while the poor boy was furtively smsing me to ask me to save him. it was unbearably funny when i yelled at the manager at what he was doing with my "boyfriend", and stormed off, leaving the food and drinks untouched, while he looked distressed and came to calm the "hysterical girl".
there was that night on brooklyn bridge. he was talking about how he'd just broken up with his burmese girlfriend. the night smelt like his cigarettes. we were standing under brooklyn bridge and all around was turbulent, an autumn wind had piped up. the river was angry. and we stood under brooklyn bridge looking at the sad lights, and he said, "coming to america. standing here, it feels like a break-up".
leon, your dream was to come to america and fuck a white girl, because it would be the coolest thing in the world, you told me. since then he's gone around exploiting the fact that he went to NS to get the chicks. i hear he's gotten his whole floor speaking singlish - when life gives you a singaporean accent, make friends out of it. leon hasn't really gotten his white girl yet, he only managed to get the asian-american chicks, lately he's settled for a ukranian girl instead who is is incidentally "married". she got into a marriage of convenience so as to enter new york to be able to study but now lives on her own. he'll be staying in the city to get a sky-diving license, so he can be a certified skydiver. his dream is to basejump down a building or waterfall, to touch the face of death in the embrace of a kiss and part, shuddering and humbled.
Friday, April 20, 2007
i woke up this morning feeling ok, the sunlight was immensely bright though. it was dishonestly bright. i felt angry with the shoppers and the people who were eating icecreams. it was irrational.
as yesterday was irrational too, there was a jam outside my apartment and everyone was angry, a black guy was shouting at a white couple. i slipped two books at the strand, and left. it's funny. i looked around me to see if no one was looking, then very stealthily, i dumped the books there. i had the demeanour and the guiltiness of a thief, of course i was not a thief, i was just putting two almost brand new books in the strand, and then leaving, very quickly, as though unable to face the unbearable scene of some crime.
in less than a month i will be home in singapore. edwin once told me, that going back to singapore is like returning from outer space . in outer space, the laws of gravity are suspended and it is possible to become a different person, i don't mean, persuade yourself to become the stronger, better person that you wanted to me, i mean become the better person. but i am weak. yesterday, like the slippages in a puritan text characterised by the tension between idealised religiosity and vanity, self-doubt, i slipped and fell into contradiction of myself. i am worried that when i go home, i will be bombarded by memories. i know when i go home, i will start writing again. alone in my room back home, my writing was always about me me me . that changed in new york, when my writing took the shape of the city, it was more measured and distant and much, much more sporadic, it was occasionally funny and i liked it. here, i shared a room with a neurotic, anxious room mate, and there is no escape from an outer world, i don't have the luxury of introspection, my poetry is no longer about me, no longer about the bad people i used to know. in african myths, they say if you travel across the sea, the devil can no longer find you. but still the african myth is wrong. in late winter, i wrote about the odour of ash, finding ghosts one day. that night, i was afraid. it was like, the speech act of "in that house" brought me back. my friend, he was angry yesterday, he yelled over the phone, "is it because you like being there?". no, i don't like being there, can't you understand, i'm still trying to understand it, i necessarily have to find closure. my pen slips back into then, automatic writing, because i have to know. it's like a puzzle mystery, a terrible boardgame - only if you've unlocked the mystery, you leave the cave. only when you've finished reading the book, you leave.
i went for a reading a long time ago where tamas dobozy read a story about two fathers who died in a plane crash.
so these two fathers, they had a choice of returning to their loved ones in the form of anything they chose. one chose to return in the form of lies. the father who returned in the form of lies could never leave. his wife and child needed to hold on to the lie, in order to leave. they conjured up the image of the worst man, the most irresponsible man, the man who didn't love them, in order to justify his death. the more they hurt, the more they grieved, the more the lie was needed to sustain them. the father could never leave.
the other father, he decided to return in the form of a ghost. he came to his son, who was frightened, and told the son, "son, i have come to finish the book i never got to finish. but there is one condition, when i have finished the book, i will disappear." he opened the book, and began to read from where he left off the night before the plane crash. as the story went on, the son was torn between the desire to know the story, and the realisation that his father would disappear when it was finished. the son stalled for time, he asked redundant questions. but he could not find a way to stop the story from rolling towards the final "the end".
"goodbye," said the father, already beginning to melt at the edges, as they drew close for the last time, "it is almost a kiss."
i tell you this story to explain why sometimes i call back the lie, of the bad man, the irresponsible man. i think i was in grief because i had lost sight of love. something in me died, and it died abruptly. i hadn't known it was dead until months later, after i met some, fallen out with various others, woke up one morning and realised, i was in grief. and to try to justify my grief, i needed someone to blame, so i conjured up the image of the worst man, the most bad man possible. this is why he keeps returning, because the lie will continually return as long as the grief is there. and the only thing i can do, is accept that i did a bad thing by losing sight of love, change, let the grief go away.
two weeks ago, up west, he read to me. he read the first few pages of "the old man and the sea". it was very late, i had an interview the next day, as usual, i left in a hurry, almost missed my flight, pissed off the taxi driver. but remember, when you can't remember, (and please do try to remember, and if all you want to do is forget) it was almost a kiss.
Monday, April 16, 2007
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
Eliot, The Waste Land ,
(i guess i never really felt his lines, until i walked past washingtn sq park, and saw thousands of bulbs growing , the trees starting to awaken, overnight they had colonised the earth...)
Sunday, April 15, 2007
is fascinating. just checked my groups, to find a group invitation: "I'm pissed off that my prime minister's getting S$3.1 million this year", with 430 people having joined in the last 12(?) hours (correct me if im wrong), and random people creating photoshopped posters including PM with a gun (!) superimposed against tanked topped women and the line S$2.5 m is not enough - 007.
i'm wondering if this is the first "political" singapore facebook group.
granted, most of the people in the groups are just university students (i think pinquan was one of the creators), but to whoever who said, singaporeans were politically apathetic was obviously trying to create a performative, self-fulfilling prophecy. political humour, i think, has the same status as toilet humour and racist humour in sg. that too is troubling. the thing about racist jokes, is that they simply reveal the extent to which inequalities and social sicknesses are naturalised to become a part of pop culture. professor m. gilesenan talks about humour as subversion and rebellion, an intellectual victory. but i wonder if humour and laughter is part of the notion that "oh we're like this, irrevocably, unchangeably, we might as well just laugh about it"
Friday, April 13, 2007
i sent a text last night, i said i was feeling anxious.
how can you be anxious for something, yet be unable to pin it down?
it's just like mourning what was not yours.
it's simply being too assertive. it is absurd.
teach me patience and serene acceptance.
teach me love and learning.
teach me a quiet, sustained passion.
(No. 1 of 'Four Quartets')
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
"what's the difference between 等and 等等?" asks esther.
"really, there's a difference? i thought people who say 等等are just being cheeky", answers justin, in all due seriousness.
我好累好累好累呀。 今天是雨天, 点滴点滴的雨水像沉重的降落伞落在我心上。 我想我该多睡一下。 在我旁边，一个女学生读着法语书，自言自语地细心朗读着。她的声音亲切柔和，有如一条丝绸围巾。我自然地返回中文。我对任何语法规则完全无知。利用中文，我的句子没被规律、习惯所束缚。我在创造我自己的语文 。 我一边游览这个奇妙的城市， 一边编造一个新语文。这该是一种莫名的自由。
Monday, April 09, 2007
i flew in and out of la guardia airport in less than a day. it was like a dream. one minute i was talking to daniella about going to the supermarket opposite to buy food, the next minute i was back, washing plates.
as i flew in, the afternoon sun fell on the face of manhattan skyline and the hudson, and it took my breath away. new york will always be the city of myths.
on another note, i got notification that my application to teach in china was passed. so if all goes well (visas, etc etc) i will be (oh my goodness) in the yantai city in shandong teaching english in may. (oh please please let all be good)
after a fallout with myself, i am starting to amaze myself again.
amazement what a beautiful word.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
haroun and the sea of stories !
beautiful, and hilarious.
Friday, April 06, 2007
i had a good day, good classes, cooked pasta for daniella and me, slept, called people, i went to a nice book shop. ah la dee dar. blue is the colour of these days, it's not a bad blue, it's just blue. i said my favourite colour was white, or transparent. if i could weep, if i could get over the nagging suspicion that something will happen, if i could just know . i feel like im 12 again, wondering if someone will love me. or 14, dreaming of standing in front of balcony where suddenly the world was irrevocably changed. at 9pm, the tv started on a giraffe documentary. jay used to sing songs about gi-ra-fees. it's not a gi-ra-fee! i would laugh. there were other songs too:
fly fly fly
in the garden
is flying high
my room mate's turning in the mirror, talking dramatically about clothes. call me, i say. tell me where you are. alright, she says. call me, tell me where you are we used to say lots of that in our head. i wait for you all the time, you're always late, you're irresponsible you know. oh, i know. i didn't then.
so i have the sense that im really sitting in a bus station now, i'm really waiting. i'm waiting for a flight. i've made my plans, i've cast my dice. now i'm just waiting. waiting is always hard. i think i filled my days, because i didn't want to confront the shape of the days, the oblong shape of our days. (who uses oblong nowadays?) ah, dawn, go and work. the best way to pass time is to read. in any case, you love reading. one day i'll find someone who can read with me, who forces me to read. he's someone who doesn't talk (oh, talking is so exhausting with someone you don't love, with someone you can't care for, with racist people). in new york, the politics of race is exhausting. mostly because people don't think it's a politics of race, they think its normal. oh, it was only a joke! haha! i understand what power is now - you understand power when you sit at the margins, when you leave sites of power. power is how the word becomes self-fulfilling.
and there is another type of power. how things have crept up on you, without you realising it. in new york in chinese class, the syllabus was centered around guns, feminist rights, us public education. still, old sentences i've didn't even remember i memorised, about a beautiful island, about racial harmony, about family, creep up on me. here i realised chinese is so much a tool, a certain power. it's just like how the korean girls next door speak in korean and no one can understand. it's a power.
i never felt disempowered at home. i really grew up thinking i could do anything i could do and be anything i could be, and i knew that if i failed, it would be because i hadn't tried hard enough, or something terrible had happened, like it was a fluke. here i know if i fail, the stakes are higher. my friends tell me, i must live a very stressful life, to always be working with the consciousness of the possibility of what would be if i did not. but in american lit class, i really feel - while i read american puritan lit, study american history - compelled to prove something, compelled to prove something. my ta said, oh all of you have studied this in highschool i suppose, before arresting himself and looking at me and going, oh i'm sure you can do it too. i know i am a different student, but i feel very conscious of my different-ness in american lit class. sometimes it is a power, because i read texts in a strange way, because paradoxes and contradictions in texts come quickly to me. i didn't feel conscious of my different-ness last term in lit class- because the reading approach was all about New Criticism, dehistoricisation, postmodernism. my (black, queens) ta liked me because i didn't give bible allusions, because i could deconstruct owen and keats in postmodernist style, because i bought into postmodernism. it's different in american lit class now - it's all about historicisation, christian allusions, the etymology of words, and entering into a whole white universality (oh yes, we have the token equiano and native stories here and there). in islamic societies class, my teacher looks at me whenever we discuss southeast asia, singles me out to ask me about sea colonial history facts. i only know something vaguely about colonial history well because, i studied it in my a levels. i felt like i had to live up to the burden of representation when the topic came up on singapore's madrasah education. when i said something interesting last class, someone from the back of the room said to me, during class, in front of everybody, oh that's right! and by the way, so where are you from? this happened during class. the ta was uncomfortable, i was uncomfortable. i answered back, in front of everybody, i'm from singapore. she's the same girl who asked the syrian ta, oh! where are you from? in asian american history class, everyone was earnest there to find themselves. i was the only non-minoritygroup american in an asian american lit class. the rest of the people in class were hispanics, asian americans or filipino-americans. one boy moonlighted as an asian american comedian. there were 2 or 3 white guys, one felt compelled to live up to something, and volunteered to help in minority group census and surveys. my education has been disorienting, because there is always a presence of power, of what was the norm in some classes, and other classes like last terms lit class and asian american studies tried to completely undo the center of power that it was so militant as to be useless. in chinese class, we have conflicting centers of power: i am taught by a chinese professor who got a green card in canada, my textbook (like her) aimed at inculcating in her ignorant (mostly) asian american students chinese culture, while at the same time making it relevant by throwing in american social issues. in islam, i am taught by a professor from oxford and middle-eastern TAs. the texts are very postmodern, anti-hegemony, feminist theory related, but still there is still the ambivalence as to what extent minds are being changed.
i feel that understanding, if it doesnt change anything, can at least change me, can help me to understand the fragmentation. i also don't really know what im trying to say. perhaps i am trying to say that, i am a different person now, my mind because it has been forced to codeswitch and switch frames of reference between classes, has become deeply suspicious. at the same time, because i see that there is one frame of reference which prevails in the texts i read, because i've been called a chink like 3 times and been groped in a crowd on the streets, because i see asian people looking at fellow asian people like curiosities, like necessary friends, my mind is not suspicious of possible frames, it sees only one frame. i am trying to understand what has happened between last term and this term that suddenly made me react very strongly to an asian joke today which otherwise would not have bugged me in singapore, or when i just arrived in new york. maybe this is just the misconceived rantings, but i feel that i'm coming to something. oh, i don't know what, but there is something.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Revolution, Spring 2007
One by one, the onions
in the kitchen
began to talk.
One unzipped his trousers
in keen, green laughter.
The others unveiled their hair
and unpeeled their stockings, daring me
to eat them.
I stand over them
with my chopping knife
like a comma
before deciding not to cook.
Behind me, We all live in a yellow submarine
strikes up, red-faced and belligerent
in early afternoon.
All night they have been singing.
I shut the door and blast my radio.
Their voices rise, insistent
as buds, forcing
their way into my poems.
All day the room will reek of spring.
Monday, April 02, 2007
The elbalmer's art
Press down his lids. Unfold
the lines under his eyes,
as though tearing
off a creased love note.
Drain these tears, the cause
of so much rot. Fill
the hollows of a heart
that failed him - cement and chemical.
The body is only a boat
we steer till disembarking.
I polish the wood
till it gleams the unearthly colour
of gold. He is dead now,
no one would want
to touch him.
I paint his lips, adding the last
stroke of colour to close
the circle, locking it shut.
[me] dawn, singapore, new york city, ithaca.
holding on tight -- vol ii
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