The Poetry of Goh Poh Seng



Goh Poh Seng has been hailed by Asiaweek as a "top-notch playwright, novelist and poet" and by Asia Magazine as "certainly, one of Asia's finest living poets". Born in 1936, he received his primary education at Batu Road School and attended the V.I. from 1951 to 1953. He was secretary of the V.I. Junior Literary and Debating Society in Standard Seven. Poh Seng completed his schooling in Ireland. He began writing poetry at 19 while frequenting the pubs of Dublin where he met writers such as Patrick Kavanagh. Encouraged by the publication of his poetry in the university magazine, he aspired to be a writer and at one point dropped out of medical school. After a year, starvation and a love of eating drove him back to his studies.

He returned to Asia with a medical degree from University College, Dublin in the early sixties. He was one of the pioneers of Singapore drama in English, writing and producing three plays. In the early days of Singapore’s independence, Poh Seng was appointed Chairman of the Singapore National Theater. During his tenure, he laid the groundwork for the formation of the Singapore National Symphony, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the Singapore Dance Company and the Arts Council.

The Seventies were a productive period for Goh. His first novel, If We Dream Too Long, published in 1972, received the National Book Development Council of Singapore Award for Fiction. It has been used as a text by the Department of English at the University of Malaysia, and is being used as a text in the University of Singapore and the University of the Philippines. His collection of poems, Eyewitness, was published in 1976. This was followed in 1977 by The Immolation, a novel set in Vietnam and, in 1978, by a second book of poetry, Lines from Batu Ferringhi. His third book of poems, Bird with One Wing, published in 1982, sold out within three months. One of modern Singapore’s most prolific writers, Poh Seng was awarded the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 1983 for his literary contributions.

After practising medicine in Singapore for twenty-five years. Poh Seng emigrated to Canada in 1986, He settled first in Newfoundland where he found the place exciting and professionally stimulating, taking care of the patients in three small villages in the Atlantic province. He was the only foreigner - and certainly the only Chinese - for miles around. He later moved to Vancouver, where, in 1995, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and had to give up his profession. He now lives part of the year in Vancouver and the rest in Newfoundland.

Poh Seng’s works have also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including The London Magazine, Poetry International, Commonwealth Poems of Today, New Voices in the Commonwealth, New Pacific Quarterly, The Poetic Language: An Anthology of Great Poems of the English-speaking World, Anthology of Asean Literatures, Many Mouth Birds, Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, The Backyards of Heaven, An Anthology of Poetry from Ireland and Newfoundland & Labrador.

He has participated in writers conferences in Russia, the Philippines, Hawaii, India, Korea, America, Canada and Hong Kong. He has had poetry readings in England, America, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. His works have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Malay, Tagalog, German, Spanish and French.

The past decade has also been particularly productive years for Poh Seng. His third novel, The Dance of Moths, was published by Select Books of Singapore in 1995. In 1998, The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems was published in Canada by Nightwood Editions. This was followed by a second collection of poetry in 2000 titled As Though the Gods Love Us.

Besides his reading engagements in Canada, Poh Seng has been guest reader in 1998 and 1999 at the San Miguel Poetry Week which takes place in the artist colony of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico every January. In 2000, he was invited by the University of California, Berkeley, to the Doe Library readings which are under the direction of Robert Hass, the former poet laureate of the United States. Only three readers are invited each year.

His fourth novel, a fable for grown-ups titled Dance with White Clouds was published by Asia 2000 and launched at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival in 2001. He was also commissioned by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to write a long poem on the theme "Home and Away" in celebration of Poetry Month in Canada.

Poh Seng received a Canada Council Grant in 2001 to write a novella based on his student days in the Ireland of the fifties. He is at present working on a number of short stories as companion pieces to his Irish tales. This book, to be titled Tall Tales and Misadventures of a Westernized Oriental Gentleman, is the first of a quartet. The other three books will cover the early years of this century when his grandfather emigrated to Malaya as an indentured laborer, through World War II, the early years of independence in Malaysia and Singapore, to Poh Seng’s own emigration and settlement in Canada, and will probably occupy him for many years.

Poetry is, as always, a continuing passion.




A Selection of Goh Poh Seng's Poems


AS THOUGH THE GODS LOVE US

Venture out onto the roof garden
of Deanna and Peter Austerberrys'
house on the steep stretch of Huertas
and from that vantage view
overlooking San Miguel de Allende,
watch the imperial Aztec sun,
centripetal, as it sets,
smearing the indigenous sky
livid red with sacrificial blood.

Meanwhile, the gods
drain our blood,
eat our flesh,
feast on our bones
as though they love us.

Soon, encroaching darkness
crouches over the land
and light withdraws in turn,
part of cyclical time
as enfolded in the ancient
screens of painted songs.
Night grows enormous,
creeps across earth's fertile belly,
a lover mounting, ready,
ardent for consumation,
stifling once again
day's other humdrum songs.

Meanwhile, the gods
drain our blood,
eat our flesh,
feast on our bones
as though they love us.

Newly arrived, the crescent moon,
bashful, watches the whole enactment,
shares in that orgasmic, sacramental
moment which reveals, illuminates
like lightning-bolt
the old, secret religion
that was poetry.
Thus converted, exultant, she
sheds her demureness, ushers in
turbulences of lascivious silver,
performing her public, seductive dance.

Meanwhile, the gods
drain our blood,
eat our flesh,
feast on our bones
as though they love us.

Mexico
December, 1999

__________________________________


THE GIRL FROM ERMITA

If you ever come to Manila,
come down to red-light Ermita
Where nightly I ply my trade.

They call me Fely,
I was born in Samar,
I'm the girl with the bird in her head.

Yes, a bird in my head!
If you look deep into my eyes
you can see it flying about.

You ask what kind of bird it is?
Why, a white gull of course!
For I was born in Samar by the sea.

And how did it get there;
this white gull in my head?
Well, it flew in when I was fourteen.

But you don't really want
to hear the same old hard-luck story!
There are no new legends anymore.

Better take me away somewhere,
take me in your sweaty arms,
and your eyes, cold as death,

Can feed on the peach of my skin,
your savage heart
release its black secrets.

You can do what
you like with me,
I know all the positions.

Come, lie with me
and I will be your love.
Don't you believe me?

Yes, come lie down with me,
it will only cost a hundred pesos,
and it's good therapy.

I'll give good value for your money,
I have the techniques
learned through ten thousand nights.

I will embrace you
and the stars outside
will mind their own bloody business.

The wind will not complain,
the trees not grumble,
and all the cops have been bribed.

Or perhaps you think yourself too grand,
too good and holy
to pay to lie with me?

Perhaps you're afraid
the universe will roar in disgust
if you pay for my body?

Don't you know by now
life's a market-place where
you can buy cow meat, goat meat and my meat?

I was born in Samar in Visayas
where the sea ran silver when I was a child
and clouds and trees were my friends.

Of my own father,
I only know
he was a carabao of a man.

And like the carabao,
he was patient and ignorant,
his feet stubborn in the loam.

But his eyes.
I remember his eyes:
they held such innocence!

When I was twelve, he died,
and my mother and I
lived on, any old how.

Come to think of it,
I don't know how we did it!
Then my mother remarried.

We shifted to an old lean-to
with my step-father.
I had turned fourteen.

For a time I was content enough.
I was only a child then and you know
how children can grow smiles even out of a dungheap!

Then one night my step-father
lay his hands on my green breasts,
and I was too petrified to move.

I endured for many months
my step-father's hands
till one night I could not suppress my cry.

My mother came to intervene:
it drove my step-father wild
as a mad, rampaging bull.

He punched me in the face,
kicked my mother in the ribs,
left us black and blue.

The next day I drew
a real deep breath
and ran away from home.

The ferry boat crossing the sea
delivered me from my past:
my childhood lay like broken glass.

An hour after
we reached Cebu city,
I got myself picked up

By a dirty old man
who fed me, gave me shelter and clothes,
and treated me like a household pet.

I was surprised how soon
I got used to his caresses,
no longer reacting with nausea and tears.

So five years passed.
Five Christmases and five Easters
I stayed with my dirty old man.

In our second year
I bore him a bastard girl:
a child, when I was myself a child

Of sixteen.
But already the months
began to wall me in.

When I was eighteen
I went with a handsome man
who took me away to Batangas.

For a brief few months
I blossomed like the sampaguita
with this first young man in my life.

A tangerine time it was,
with ice-cream on Sundays,
dances and kisses under the moon.

And then it was over.
His wife came screaming for our blood
and he returned to her like a pup.

Well, life's like that.
I came to Manila
in search of fame and gold,

But found only dust
in the crowded streets
of the capital.

I became a salesgirl
and had to sleep with my boss.
I became a go-go dancer,

Ground my bum in the faces of fools
who drooled like rotten fruit,
while klieg lights tore at my skin.

Now I'm landed here
where life has got me in its jaws
and I no longer wait for miracles.

I no longer care
to look into the eyes of my johns,
for they hold no more secrets.

Now I simply lie flat on my back,
my face upturned to the sugary sky
which the stars eat like white ants.

Now I fuck for a refrigerator,
or for my daughter's school fees:
my girl's just turned eight this May.

Yes, I will turn a trick for a meal,
and men can take me
in any position they wish.

The white scream never flies
out of my black mouth,
the radios will remain silent,

The newspapers advertise soap,
the priests launder
the limp souls of their sinners.

Yes, at night I can be your sweet mango,
but comes the dawn,
I'll be as sour as a calamansi.

There's still some acid in me,
you know that?
You, who sit there listening so dumbly!

So I've unloaded my story
and my head's just an empty hole
with nameless echoes in it.

Are you quite sure
you don't want
to take me to bed?

Come, lie down with me,
I will be your true love,
for only a hundred pesos.

But you only laugh
green and gold and purple
and fly free into the night.

For you are the white gull
who left secret spaces again
inside my head!

But if you ever come back to Manila,
come down to red-light Ermita,
where nightly I ply my trade.

They call me Fely,
I was born in Samar by the sea,
I'm the girl with a hole in her head.

Batangas-Manila
November 1979

__________________________________


AT ANAWHATA
(for Jan Kemp)

Here I am,
fallen on bad times,
the sky broken
over my own fair city,
and am driven,
at least for a while,
to this ancient land
whose true hierarchies
are the sun and the sea and the wind:
not the temporal powers
of politicians.
But can the elements
and all the myths of antiquity
expiate my pain,
or teach truth and wisdom
to a profane and ageing poet
who makes so much
out of his own unbelieving?

Anyway, here I am,
feeding the fire
in the old iron stove
inside a little hut
lent to me
by Michael Neill;
it was once
a railyard signal box
at a former station
named Swanson:
wherever that was
or is;
which some mad nut
brought all the way
out here
to perch
400 or so odd feet
above the water
at Anawhata!
Whata
perfectly
crazy
thing to do!

And I must
be crazy too,
( though not
perfectly ),
sitting in here
when I should be out
where the winter wind
might forage through my mind,
explore my face,
every line and crack of it:
to test this stranger,
probe his source.

O Western Wind,
HAUAURU,
wish that
you could
lay your fingers
upon me,
define me
for me!

Or alternatively,
pluck and toss me out
high over the sea,
over the smooth brow
of TANGAROA,
the Ocean God,
so that I might be cleansed.

Dear Michael,
this is truly
such a lovely room,
such a lovely little station
to cross
on my short journey
to find the gods.

Not only HAUAURU
and old TANGAROA,
but so many others
I can feel
lurking about
here in Anawhata,
here amongst the Waitakere Ranges.

And not only gods,
but ghosts
from those far gone days
before the pakeha came.

I have felt them already,
the mana of those ancient Maoris,
during the drive out here
through the deep reserve,
the nikau palms,
the toitois marking every curve
as the small track
wound deeper and deeper,
and farther and farther
away from the city.

From the range,
I saw some lonely knolls
by the sea,
some outcrop of rock
where a time-lost pa
might once have been sited.

I was expecting
not this little hut
but some tuaahu,
some sacred place for divination;
or to see a tattooed warrior
laying down his mere,
letting his woman
welcome me
with a karanga call
to the marae.

And now, dear friend,
I grow sad,
brooding on battles lost
by those brave warriors
to the musketry
of the pakeha:
your forefathers,
Michael Neill!

Forefathers
fathers
us

So many battles
lost

So many won
won and lost

I wonder
for those who won
what was their gain?

I can see only
cities and cities
squatting now
where spring green valleys
had once lain
fabulous in the sun
and in the rain;
where kiwis used to strut
in the rich darkness,
careless that man
call them half-blind.

While man
is often purblind,
especially about himself.

Out here,
I can hear
old TANGAROA
announce his domain;
tonight, he sounds
quite benevolent.
But HAUAURU,
how he howls
against this wayfarer:
O so proud, primordial,
blasting his haka all the way
across the Tasman Sea.

At my feet,
the flax
bows its stiff leaves,
protesting
in a shower of sound
like that of flickering rain.

From another hill,
a lone cow
moos unseen
in the cold night,
mourning for what
I do not know.

Only
I sense
the stars,
only fear the stars
would drop
into the sea.

At this remove,
on this very height
where sea and land and sky
conjoin,
I suddenly think
of my home,
my voyage
from my wife and kids,
and of why I'm here.

What is it I seek?
Another way of life?
Is there really
another way to live?

Is there a way to die?

Is there any choice?

And if there is:

Then, to live:
I want to live like now!
And to die:
I want only when the time comes.

And when my time comes,
it will be westward
to be engulfed by the sea,
like Hinerangi over the glittering
pathway of Tane
to the realm of
Hine-mui-te-po,
benign protectress
of Rarohenga,
the assembly place of souls,
where old Ra, the Sun God,
presides golden over a cloudless sky:
just like this late afternoon,
the way he set, spilling gold
over Anawhata.

Or I could go,
perfectly willing,
kneeling to bestow
a last kiss
upon this earth,
before giving back
this body
of little worth,
performing
the ceremony of tangi hanga
to help send
my spirit on its way.

Then my insides
will explode
to fatten the grass,
fatten the trees,
and then the trees
with their fat berries
will fatten the wood pigeons,
until, finally,
my bones, cleansed,
would be free
to thunder
their chant
to time.

* * *

And now, after sleep,
to find
yet another morning,
is a miraculous event,
as the light dances in
while the tiny room
is still wood-smokey.
Outside, through the wide windows,
I see the hills stand
against the light,
clad with soft green clouds,
daubed by the manuka scrub
and the taller ti trees,
and the surface of the sea
diamonded,
winking shafts of sun
back at me.

Warming these same bones,
once so cold,
tired with the hours,
into hot lava stone.

And I run out,
for there is
so much to know,
climb up a cliff-face,
clinging onto tough grass tufts,
crops of conglomerate
volcanic rock
up and up and up
like an intrepid goat
biting the substantial air.

I look down upon
a lush valley
breath-taking
from the top,
and especially
that one
particular tree
extending
its dead-white branches,
stripped of their bark,
reaching
like skeletal smoke
caught sculptured
to the sky,
while its roots
eagle claw
the earth,
digging deep in,
not letting go.

And I too,
at the summit,
will not let go,
will not, will not!

O TANGAROA
I hear your roar
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
O TANGAROA
I too
want to roar
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
Ha-ru-ru
O TANGAROA
I want to live
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae
Ae Ae Ae

AROHA
AROHANUI
AOTEAROA

Anawhata, N.Z.
June 1980

__________________________________


BIRD WITH ONE WING


The black winds of evening
rustle along the quayside,
tongueing the bones of the houses,
lapping the leas upon the hills
until whole hills are lost
to the darkness,
and we can claim at last
some kinship with the stars,

Who scrawl their age-old script
a million light-years away,
ignored by a faithless world:
the power of man increases
with the decline of the times;
under the lamp-light,
dust from a hundred nuclear
fallouts shower the air.

For we relish only fire;
our souls,
not knowing what to believe,
continue to hunger,
planning factories and governments
to reach into our bones:
everywhere the gendarmes patrol us,
armed with walkie-talkies and truncheon sticks.

Now darkness is upon the world,
and all things are possible;
other echoes inhabit the present,
borne upon the waters of the past,
those silver-filled seas of antiquity;
we become involved with shadows,
congruent with nameless dreams,
with the moment's pure movement.

Sense and place dissolve,
present, past and future
run into new shapes
like driven clouds
in squalls across the mind:
we can no longer grasp
verities, nor know
the lie of the land.

And possessions do not suffice,
nor the company of friends,
nor yesterday's love:
they are as a floating cloud
and will become nothing
undone by the faint moonlight,
the reek of magnolia and wine,
drunk with the world's revolving.

I am the bird with one wing,
never knowing when to return
from the night
shaped with malevolence,
catching the paranoia of the times
when tribes and nations
contend for their vaults
filled with skeletons.

The human heart hoards many stones,
spurn the due seasons,
the simple truths
within our grasp;
our heads over-stuffed
with useless knowledge
only empirically derived,
denervated by the wrong riches.

What can comfort these old bones?
Shall I plunge into the unknown,
abandon thought,
the burden of money,
the choice of staying aloof from life,
and be like Gauguin at Punaauia,
prosperous stockbroker
turned penurous painter?

Far better to go dancing after
the damsels with the gazelle eyes,
frolic with vahines on the beach,
be light of heart.
If I can return to my own people,
do nothing more serious than sing,
perhaps I may live up to my new name,
Te Manu Tini.

The fleeting world is but a stream,
so let the heart shed its care;
blood and sinews untied
will ride over the rocks in gay cascades;
let us surrender youth and grief
to time, that sacred river;
the passing years will slip away
and flesh returns to ashes and to earth.

Tahiti June 1980

__________________________________


FIRST DAY
TUESDAY, 16TH JULY, 1974


At last I'm here
Sitting on the beach,
I have no need
Of that and this:
I am here at last:
It is enough.

Past sunset now
Early darkness touches me,
The distant hills
And Kedah Peak
They too grow dark,
Sharp outlines
Gnawing the sky.
While just offshore
A small motorized
Fishing boat chugs by
Bobbing on the violet sea,
Tugging along my heartbeats
Till its sounds disperse
Far and wide, and I
am returned to myself.

But I'm not altogether alone.
Oh no!

A flock of little birds:
Sparrows are they? Sandpipers?
Some writer! I'm hopeless
When it comes to birds,
Or flowers and trees,
for that matter!
No, I'm not strong
On local fauna and flora,
Flora and fauna;
Maybe I should
Brush up on them?
Anyway, it doesn't matter.
These ... birds,
Let's simply call them,
Were pecking along the shore,
Dipping their beaks in yellow sand
And hopping about
On their tiny feet.
They don't seem to walk
Like bigger birds,
Who waddle like clowns
Or pace a magisterial gait,
No, these tiny fellows
Like to hop about lightly,
As erratic as thoughts.

So for a while
I sit in proximity,
Watching them pecking
Furtively for titbits,
Actually, an activity
As fitting as any other.
I should not disparage,
Myself only coming here
In search of a rest,
Of a little decent happiness.
And happiness is a fragile thing,
Ever elusive, difficult to catch,
Hard to keep intact
The best of times;
Worse if, on my part,
I should impart
Judgement on others,
As well as upon myself.

I've had enough of that!
Enough too of incessant strife
Over things big and small,
And all the throes
Which surround each act.
It's truly hard to fathom
Why we bother with all that.

Alas, the simplest truths
Are the hardest to come by.
Isn't it sad
Beyond all telling
That we can get
So easily misled?

Now I'm here,
After a long voyaging,
Here to unlearn
The ways of my living.
It is something to be wished,
If only it can be achieved.
For I know now,
Though I may later forget again,
How little I really know,
And how little that matters.

Ah, there are days ahead,
Days to be fulfilled
With just a soft, soft wind
Filling the space of dreams.
Already, time slowly slackens.
There is hope then,
Hope when the salt wind rises
Rippling over the sand
And over the water,
Frothing their crests,
Giggling with merriment,
That I could cross
At last into calm,
Altogether another place,
Another condition:
Though maybe only of the mind.

A light wind comes
Along the coast
Careening, cool,
Scattering the birds.
They take off
To some other sky,
Wings fitfully flapping,
Blown away
Like small black leaves;
I watch them
Fly away out of sight
Into the night,
Into space, unbounded.

The hour has come
When night descends,
Gathering around me,
Courting
With its silence.
On this lonely beach
Far from the city,
Far from havoc,
The night becomes
Almost hourless,
A continuous moment
Within which I'm enclosed:
A world within a world,
Whole as a blue
Balloon idling in the air.

Speaking in undertones,
Tide ripples whisper
As if they were alone.
It's time to move on,
Return home,
Although home's only
A rented room.
Never mind. After all
Homeliness can't simply be
Measured by the amount
Of furnishing.
It's what I can invest
Within bare walls,
Where my mind's at ease,
My spirit can come to rest.

I walk away, lurching a bit,
A bit tentative, this first day;
It's only the first day,
I would not fret the slow-settling,
Should instead take delight
In this refluent shore
Where the lighthouse by the headland
Has begun flitting its light;
A beacon to lost ships,
And, hopefully, lost souls
Who will be renewed by sleep.

__________________________________

VIETNAM 1967

Beginning another vigil
he regards the tentative sun
through a fragmented sky;
otherwise there is only greenness.
In the still quiet dawn
he downs a mug of tea,
leans his rifle against a tree
and now and then recalls his home
unearths another day.
He is far from his hamlet.

It was an unquestioning life,
tilling the stubborn land that defies
the controlling hand of man.
There was consolation, now he knows
the laughter of his child,
the softness of his wife
who yields to him at night.
So what if kingdoms topple?

His dream shakes the silent air.

He sees his home gutted in the sun,
he sees his wife, head blown off,
the body of his child strewn
among young stubble of padi.

For days he prowled that waste
unable to quell his hate.
How to mobilize that precise pain?

Time passes.
Now and then a recall of home:
she chants at night to their child
who smiles, remembering small mischiefs.
After losing them,
their absence remains.

He makes his fists into a power
fierce as one whose sinews
could manage the sun.

In the glare of the sun
the planes beautiful
like silver spears
come in an eddy of air.

Amongst battered tree trunks
his blood splatters
into uncanny flowers.

Over the gentle contour of hills
and the sea,
the happy young crew from afar
returns to the air.

__________________________________


SOME WORDS
written in Manila and La Union Province, Philippines,
while attending the Afro-Asian Writer's Symposium,
in February, 1975 (for Chielo R. Banal)


4 a.m.
Silence now.
Silence at last.
Most of Pasay City asleep,
Quezon and Manila too.
4 a.m.
the proper thing to do.
It's very human,
though the curfew lifts
that invisible veil
we're unaware of it,
everywhere and always
unaware, unaware.

So there's silence outside.
Yes, silence,
but within my skull
stalk
your words, my words,
our words,
words, words
rattling within
like stones in an egg shell.

Words can kill.
Don't we know yet
words, words
are both communion and ammunition?
I'm tired.
It's merely human.

My bones limpid with fear
and contempt for words.
My blood made lava
circulating and circulating
an unwanted stream
and yet, and yet
when it ceases:
I die.

We're a people
who love too much,
said Nita,
who did.
And a people
who talk too much,
said Jose,
who did.
And a people
who trust too much,
said Juan,
who did.

But why me?
A poet only.
an artificer of words,
a fool,
a lurer,
a lover,
a conjurer,
a coward,
a knave,
a compulsive listener
and talker,
a man only,
who
long ago
should have had his
tongue
filled with confetti and shit
surely
plucked out!
His ears
stoppered!

Ah Juan,
don't you know
you must
your trust
weighs my soul?
And
Jose,
don't you know
you must
your openness
stirs my anger?
And
Nita,
especially Nita,
don't you know
you must
your love
only sheds your blood?

So, this junket,
for that was what I thought
it was
before coming
to Manila,
to
this solemn symposium
of Afro-Asian writers
has turned out
differently:
not a junket
because, Juan
you offered more
than hospitality,
and Jose,
you gave your most
precious possession
your life in my hands,
and Nita,
Oh Nita,
who lavished your love on me
and finding myself
I return.

You are all killing me,
friend now,
and brother now,
and lover now.

And I shall depart no longer
an official guest,
but as friend, and brother and lover

leaving in my wake
our words
which are killing you,
killing you,
I know, I know
and you, me,
and me, you,
and you, me,
together,
TOGETHER.
__________________________________

THINKING OF THE POET TU FU

Strolling out into the evening after work
before the dew settles on the grass,
the sky without a cloud is as wide
and is the colour of the sea;
so much so, the little dark boats in the distance
seem to be moving up to it;
I think of you, old grey-haired Tu Fu,
how this kind of setting
and this time of day
would move you to sing one of your poems.

Towards the west the same sun is setting
making dark the trees in my garden,
throwing large shadows on the grass
while Kasan, my young son
runs about, noisily playing
soldiers with his friend.
I wonder whether you approve
who have written so much against wars?

Alas, my friend, we too have our
endless wars, one thousand
two hundred and fifty odd years
after you have lamented,
"Wars still not ended"...
in Vietnam
the Middle East
now Czechoslavakia
and Biafra!
When Kasan is older, I shall tell him.

Now my good wife is cooking
our evening meal in the kitchen;
I wish we could have you to dinner
and though I have no jugs of millet wine,
I'll get a few beers from the 'fridge.
How we would talk and talk,
my friend.

In the fading light
little swallows are having their last fly;
a lone sea hawk surveys overhead
then dives for its prey ...
my place at Lim Chu Kang
overlooks the Johore Straits.
The small sampans are returning,
each boat has a tiny, uncertain lamp.
Already the distant hills
are melting into the night.

Once the sun has dipped
it is so far away,
farther than the stars.
Our life has become a small matter
though our anxieties loom large.
Thinking of you,
it is so easy
to span the years.
These twelve centuries or more
have really wrought little change;
the condition of man remains
much the same, much the same.

My wife calls;
dinner is ready.
Dear girl, she has read
all my poetry and asked
when I would write
one for her.
She should know
she matters more to me
than all my poetry.
I think you would
understand that,
my old grey-haired Tu Fu.



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Last update on 9 November 2018.

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