OCTOBER

(After Topaz Winters’ ‘July’ and Samuel Caleb Wee’s ‘August’)

Bless the green hills & the robins
who sing at 8pm & the sheep
who flee the camera-wielding tourists.
Bless the lamb who become haggis & kebabs
that we masticate during the cold nights.
Bless the swaying grass in the gardens
that I keep calling the ang moh lalang,
the brick walls & white columns
& the black-veined marble we imitate
at home with plaster & paint. Bless how
“old” here means something to be kept so
bless every building torn down at home
for ours is a country with no time
for the past which is only sentiment
& still we make the Victorian buildings
by the river our heritage sites.
Bless the statues of white men we inter
on high, who when alive fled whenever the going
got tough & whose names we still use
as a mark of quality & perhaps this explains
the state of our nation today.
Bless every child who thought that
our country began in 1819 & who raged
against this tragedy of history after.
Bless the fictions in our textbooks that tell us
that peace make a country strong & bless
the ones who do not believe this.
Bless our government who feared the implosion
of elections around the world & decided
to make the correct choice for us & I cannot tell
sometimes if I am being sarcastic or not.
Bless the prince who did not know a lion
from a tiger from a fox because can you imagine
having a fox-fish as our national mascot?
Bless the great white merlions who guard our rivers
& who I still believe will one day descend down
from their posts with their laser eyes
& beat a tsunami with their fins
if those invading boats ever do come
& this time our guns will face the right way.

Bless every poet that has written about fall:
the air, the apples, the leaves,
the old man who sits on the chair
telling stories to the other months of year.
Or do I call it autumn in this country?
Because when young I learnt all the Englishes,
the difference between ‘z’ and ‘s’, the extra ‘u’,
but my mouth swells as I try to say
Worcester, Reading, Magdalen
& it feels as though my own mother tongue
has been stolen from meBless the actress
who practices Gloucester, Gloucester
to herself before a mirror. Bless the mother
who told her child to study hard & get scholarship
& go study at Oxford. Bless the student
who made it to Oxford but had no idea what to study.
Bless the Singaporean at SingSoc booths in London
who remembers to talk to the students
who are not Chinese. Bless the Singaporeans
who tag #blessed when they upload their selfies
& mean it. Bless the Singaporeans who move
into rich autumns & wet winters & still think
of the endless summers as home.
Bless the Singaporeans who do not
but come back anyway.  Continue reading “OCTOBER”

OCTOBER

In Which My Mother Regrets Supporting All My Co-Curriculars And Tells Me To Stop Being A Drama Queen

If you asked me which was easier, to think that the only wrong one was myself, or to finally give a name to the worms that buried themselves in my gut, I could not give you an answer. At least when you think you are the one who has to change, you can do that, until the day you pull the bloating worms from your body and realise that you have been feeding them while they bled you inside out.

Today I block the trash before it can invade my insides. I can say rape culture. I can say gas lighting. Today I can say, fuck off. Sometimes.

I still cannot say bully. It is a word that lives in American sitcoms where people are tossed into dumpsters. It means cuts running down the length of my limbs, a therapist I cannot afford. In my head it slides away from the company of other words or silence, no matter how many hooks they are lined with. It is not people treating your sex life as the dinner’s entertainment. It is not someone telling you that it will be your fault if your ex kills himself. It is not someone telling you that the world hates you but he still is your only friend. It is not a boy saying he has to punish you because you didn’t choose him. I tell myself it cannot be bullying if I deserved it.

Over dinner I tell my mother how I had sat the boys from the high school and managed to shove the b word from my mouth. Said locker room talk. Stared them down until they couldn’t look me in the eye and mumbled an apology. I didn’t know if it was a victory because the weight of those years still would not lift even as every word fell over my tongue.

My mother said, why do you do these things. I said I was so tired of sandwich jokes. That’s what she said jokes. That I shouldn’t have to explain that a girl wasn’t a fucking goalpost.

My mother says, don’t swear at me. My mother thinks that she should have never sent me to theatre classes because now she has a drama queen for a daughter. On some days I regret it too. Wonder if it would be easier to laugh along and tell myself off for overthinking. Easier to keep saying yes to things I do not want, or to keep my tongue still, because it is so much harder to say no. Easier to think rape only ever happens when you are on your back and screaming. That the friends around you with open lips and flashing teeth were only joking.
In Which My Mother Regrets Supporting All My Co-Curriculars And Tells Me To Stop Being A Drama Queen

The Things He Doesn’t Say

Imagine this. Noir-style bar,
rugged bearded men knocking back drinks,
cigarette smoke misting up the place
like an Instagram filter.
Only a bar haram la, so ok,
it’s a tea house and the men
are smoking shisha
which is somehow not haram.
Our man is alone at the counter,
speaking to his drink.
“I had a girlfriend once,” he says,
this paragon of Islamic virtue
until a storm of a girl came along
and undid it all.
The men around him gasp, and huddle closer
like aunties gossiping at a playground.
He takes a deep drag of shisha,
then exhales it so the white smoke frames his face.
“I had this girlfriend once,” he says,
while the men huddle around, nod
in sympathy, knowing where this is going,
spelling B-I-T-C-H in their own heads,
filling in the blanks with every love they ever lost.
“She was – ” he starts,
then takes another swig of tea,
not wanting to say how I scared him off
all non-Muslim girls for life
because nothing, nothing is worth
the 4am wars on skin and shame,
the accusations of drooling over other men
and tearful denials, the crying over unresolvable families.
When an unstoppable force meets
an immovable object, the result was us
and there are only so many stalemates
you can take before you call it quits.
Wears hijab is now on the top of his checklist,
probably followed by virgin.
“It would have never worked out,” he says
to sympathetic nods, sweeping aside
our house, our bookshelves, our kitchen,
the apple-cheeked children – two girls and a boy – we built separately
in our heads and the delight we had
when we compared notes and found them the same.
He doesn’t talk about the way our life became
one giant conversation from the moment we met,
only ever broken up by mundanities like sleep;
how two people could not be closer
even when hundreds of miles apart.
He doesn’t say that he can’t
wash his face or put on his shoes
or read a book without thinking about me
even though he has said
all these things before to me.
He doesn’t say “she was my first kiss”
or “she loved me first” or “I cried
every time I left her”.
He doesn’t say “I loved her,
this whirlwind of a girl with her moods
and her fires” or “I loved her
for always fighting for what was right.”
He doesn’t say “I miss her like I would miss fajr,
I see her in other girls, I always hold them up
to see which one falls short,
I loved her when she calls
at 2am because of nightmares
I loved her when she fake scolded me for surprises
I loved her for the way she reminded me to eat and sleep and pray
I loved her the way the trees love a storm
I loved her I loved her I loved her.”
Instead, he says “We were all wrong
for each other,” and the way he shrugs shows
that this was the end.
The boys call for another round of tea,
clap him on his back.
He stares broodingly at his cup, thinks
perhaps this is his way of fulfilling the promise
he made so long ago: when he swore that one day
we would never have to say goodbye to each other
anymore.

Performance here
The Things He Doesn’t Say

Murder In The Stars

TW: Self-harm, anxiety, depression, suicide 

Note: In the Zodiac, Capricorn is half goat, and half fish. This is important. 

Note 2: Last year I dated someone with anxiety and depression, and broke up with him for reasons that were not about his mental illness. Afterwards, someone who I am not friends with anymore told me that if he killed himself, #nataliesfault would be carved into his grave stone. This poem is sort of response to this incident but also more than that. 

This time we screamed too loud and the angels have come, white uniformed, halos aglow. What’s the problem, they ask, and I don’t know what to say. The problem? Where do I even start. There’s glass on the floor and a hand clutched around a knife. Capricorn is in the kitchen and his fish half is still flopping on the floor. His fish half is a half. Do you understand me? His scales are wet and slippery and it isn’t from the fish tank. There’s another goat here, this one has a knife in its heart and a chainsaw to its legs. There’s a sewing kit out, thick surgeon’s cord threaded through.

Last year, Capricorn said I think I need to see a shrink. I said Okay, yes, what for. Capricorn said I think I’m crazy. And I couldn’t say no, you’re not babe, what you are is lazy. You tell me you have work to do and you sit in front of your computer but when I look over you’re playing DOTA instead. Capricorn said I’ve got anxiety. I said why, your life is great, you got the money and the brains. Capricorn said Have you seen me? I’m a fucking sea goat. At least the Merlion can roar at the haters, I can only baaaaaah.

I said, well, then, if you’re so useless what the fuck am I doing with you. Capricorn said I don’t know. I wanted to throw something at him because I don’t know how many more times I can have this conversation but I can’t, because what Capricon is really saying is do you know how hard it is to be a role model for all the sea goats? No, I don’t. I’m from the majority, remember? Two legs. Ariel gave up her tail to be like me. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a role model when I’m always expected to get there. We don’t tell each other this, but we think very little of each other’s problems.

Capricorn said It’s cold amongst the stars. I used to say – well I’m here to keep you warm, but these days I just nod and buy him a new jacket. I have learnt that no one can give another person their place, but Capricorn has not. Had not.

He called me over, like he called me last night, and the previous night, and the night before. I told him he needed to stop, that we were over, but he said that I was the only one who picked up, at least sometimes. I pick up because Sagittarius shot himself with an arrow a year ago, but I don’t pick up other times because there are days when I don’t want to be the one to pick up. I run out of voice and feelings to give too. If it’s my fault he’s dead, where was everyone else with their haloes and wings those nights when the phone kept ringing?

But the stars will stay. The angels will fly home. Tomorrow night we still need a Capricorn to hang in the sky, so we’ll be looking for his replacement light before the night is out. Like Sagittarius, his death is a tragedy, an accident, a suicide, a murder. And our prints are the ones on the knife.

Murder In The Stars

A Virgin Dreams

Written for Word Forward’s Zodiac Slam. Read in Round 1. 

Each morning, Virgo wakes to the sound of a harp blooming, to birds twittering in her garden. She climbs out from under silk sheets, stands in front of her wardrobe and contemplates her clothes. It’s a joke. She only owns white dresses.

Virgo was told that she could keep her place as long as she kept her legs shut. Virgo didn’t know what it meant to open her legs, even after she did. He kissed her, you see, said But baby, you’re beautiful and I only want to see you close. No one has ever spoken to her like this before. She unfolds her limbs and lets him push his flesh into hers, folds herself to fit around him. Her mother finds the blood on the sheets and cries. By then, her belly has swollen up, it won’t stop even though she keeps throwing up her food. The first time a little limb nudges out, she screams.

Or maybe it happened like this. Virgo is told all her life that she is born with a very special gift, and she has to be careful with who she gives it to. Virgo is told it is important that she is a good girl. She wants to be a good girl, so she is very very careful. When Virgo gets married she finally gives it away but somehow its absence weighs heavier than its presence. She cries on the first night of her honeymoon. She cries whenever her husband kisses her. Within a week, she has ripped off her ring, thrown out all her lipsticks. She will only wear white dresses. Her husband leaves soon after. She becomes her own Miss Havisham to her house; stops all the clocks to the time of her wedding, withers in her white dress. She only ever wanted to be a good girl.

Or maybe Virgo cuts her ankle-length hair to the chin. Sets fire all to her dresses. Hangs up her halo and climbs down from the stars. The astronomers will peer through their telescopes and panic, wondering where an entire constellation went. On earth, she wears leather jackets and combat boots, crop tops and three-inch heels, she’ll wear black, red, green, yellow, anything but white. She downloads Tinder and goes home with a boy whose eyes are like midnight stars. Later, she changes her settings to “Interested in Women”. She’ll strum a guitar at bars, sing songs about heaven being a place on earth.

A Virgin Dreams