Lorry

The day will come 
when you who have helped to build our nation
will finally 
get to sit back
on cushioned seats
toggle the aircon filter to your liking
buckle down the belt
a protection you once couldn’t afford 
a given right that this country has left out for you.

The day will come 
when you can gaze out the window
and laze 
and never have to check your blindspots
for incoming danger.

When that day comes,
my Bak will be given his marching orders.
He will be forced to trade his keys 
for a two months payment package,
too old to serve
too irrelevant for servicing. 
When that day comes,
he will be left out in the cold
as he passes by Maniam, Idham, and many more
whom he used to lift from point A to C, 
now enjoying the cool breeze of the AC.
When that day comes,
he will curse at his upbringing
his backward brain can no longer navigate other career paths
no GPS is available to guide him through the Waze of the new.
Bak will reminisce having ferried his kids
through ebbs and waves of bumpy rides
at the back of his lorry.
Bak will lament that no one will understand him
that being big is to be ostracized
that you are 
too large to park at any shopping mall lots
too fat to squeeze in between tight lanes
too big a target to be blamed
for life and death. 

Author’s Note: Recently, the numerous unnecessary deaths of migrant workers in road accidents have highlighted the many calls for better transportation treatment of our migrant workers. This poem is an attempt in trying to wrestle my conflicting feelings on this issue because (a) our treatment towards the transportation of migrant workers is appalling and cruel and needs to be rectified but (b) my father has been a lorry driver ferrying all sorts of migrant workers from various industries for the past thirty years and counting.

Mimosa

You are a lot of easter eggs
awaiting to be found.
Subtly hidden,
in your own self-built spy shack
looking out to the world.
Will they notice me?
Will they find me beneath this 
thick layer of moss
vines outgrowing their parental roots.
A mimosa too shy to open up
too afraid to be touch
every attempt at connection
ends with boots trampling down your heart.
And so you close
you close
you continue to close 
yourself 
in 
and weed out
happiness.

There are no walls in Jerusalem

There are no walls here
no division between me and the police beside
a temple within a home
a mosque within pillars of faith
no need to search for God outside

There are no thieves here
no shiny sequins worth stealing inside
a shoe goes missing
blessed the thief that needs it more
may he finds his own place to reside

There are no conflicts here
no stones thrown by the wayside
a bow in prayer
salaam and a handshake
the fist and the fury put aside

There are no walls in Jerusalem
no walls to keep kindness out
no walls to lock us in prejudice
no rocks thrown every Ramadan
no missiles passing through Passover
no parent bearing the burden
of outliving their own child

A lot can happen in a year

A lot can happen in a year
A lot can go wrong
Planes never depart
Plans never arrived
And a planner filled with postponed fulfillments.

As I stare down
The great halls of this terminal
A towering architecture
Of a profits economy can afford
Everything seems to be in order
The AC never felt too cold
The lights never a dull sight.

But,
A lot can happen in a year
A lot can resurface
As I stroll down the boulevard
Of bougainvillaea
I recall
In cogito
These familiar places and peoples
Whose names I don’t know
Whose faces are a blur,
They must feel the same about me.

I remember
Taking those flights
Imagining the worst
My very own Hindenburg moment
A plane going down,
Children home alone
The future, a language I don’t speak of anymore.

A lot can happen in a year
People start to die
I start to die
A little each day
Each passing hour
In between this emptiness
Of social distances
And new normals
Our transit lives suspend.

When I am through with these turbulent times
For better or for worse
Will I remain connected?
Will I still dream of the bluest skies?
Or will the dark clouds continue to loom over the horizon?

Rendang Recipe

Mak insist she wants to masak, this year
just like last year. But 
she can no longer remember the recipe 
to her beef rendang, her signature dish 
for Aidilfitri. Food I feasted upon
growing up and tasted 
each year without fail. 

Everything is
different now, her hands a little more
tender, the taste slightly peculiar, the aroma
Inviting still
but her sprinkled seasoning of love
remains the same, her hands 
still in tuned to the bashing of
the belachan, the wok still familiar 
with her ways as she simmers down 
the coconut milk, rendering down the fats
of the sacrificed meat. Mak no longer summons
the gastronomical gods of
Chef Wan and Asmah Laili, gone
Is the blangah, replaced
with a bowl of pride and hope,
hoping her son would visit her frequently during the holidays
hoping the misty memories of his favourite
dish will keep him coming home
every Syawal. 

I return home 
every year, hoping 
to remember Mak’s rendang recipe
through the transference of tongues
before my Mak no longer 
remembers me.

Apple Tree

You have packed your boxes
14 years of memorabilia
from your cubicle desk in a record time
of 4 hours,
scooped into brown boxes and blue IKEA bags.

You return to your enclosure
with physical relief,
your body heavy
climbing the stairs in the dark,
the hallway light is out.

You turn your keys
and take a peek of what’s to come:
Heaps of laundry piles undone,
flashcards of ABCs and 123s forming a trail to the kitchen,
a cry.

You switch on the light,
it flickers.

A drawing of an apple tree pasted to the wall
the brown strokes and green curves protecting
the inner red heart within
against a grey sky of yellow flashes.

You see the violence of the top half
unable to penetrate
that rooted lone apple tree,
you drop your boxes.

It’s okay.
It will all be fine.

When You Are In Grief

When you are in grief
I will not have answers for you
No surprises are in store
No bowl of cut fruits
No comforting words.

When you come home in the middle of the night
Eyes without a shine
Tears streaming down soundlessly
The kitchen light will remain on for you
A plate of your favourite fritters
Preheat in the oven
A cup of chamomile on the counter awaits you.

When it gets too overwhelming
I will not have questions to ask
No jokes are needed
No compensation required.

The bed will be made
The candles lit
I will be near
To listen when you need.

Polling Day

How do I explain
to my unborn child
That voting is no different
Than gambling
You look at your cards
An intuition kicks in
You roll the dice
You go all in
Hoping it was the right call

How do I explain
That I never knew who I was voting for
That man in the poster
Claims to represent me
But I do not know his name
What is his story?
He hides behind another familiar face
I think I know this fella
Though I never heard him speak.

How do I explain
To that next generation
That voting for the right leader
Will safeguard
our lives our jobs our future
Yet,
I never felt that safety
When past words are misconstrued
When a job is not a career
When the future is constantly weighed down by debts and discrimination

How do I explain
To this new MP
Of my plight
Will I get to meet him?
Will he be around to listen
Or do I have to fill in a form first
Join a queue
Have my problems assessed by dialect-auntie volunteers
And advice dispensed by unknown men holding clipboards.

How do I explain
My fears to you future MP
In a 10 second handshake and photo op
How do I put into words
And not have it turned into a life sentence
How do I explain
My vote?

29

The last of our 20s
What constitutes the last decade?
What counts as having it worth?

Will you remember it
by the number of times you’ve stumbled and fell
the bodily bruises you gained
the acne scars you’ve collected?

Do you recall
the tiny failures that will last
you a lifetime
that thing you said
that moment you missed
of burning down bridges and burrowing away burdens
of No, No, No, No, No, yes, No
of overthinking and overcompensation
of rewinding back failed scenarios and pausing at glory highlights
of what if, perhaps if, can I, should I, should I,
I should, shouldn’t I?

I hope you remember
by the quenches of satisfaction
the moments of hard work
from greasy faces to wrinkled hands
from pounds of flesh shed to kilos gained
from hospital visits and body bags
from love lost and never found
from those who stayed when they should have left.

I want you to recall
being in awe of the universe
dancing beneath its darkness
gleaming at its burning light
wasting your days on a mountain
but nothing is wasted
how the sun became your chancellor and
the stars, your guides
how you crossed a valley only to see more peaks ahead
how the mountain you laboriously ascend
proudly exclaimed,
I am not the tallest of them all.

Oh, how small you are.
How small you are.

A revelation,
Failure makes sense.

2+2=5

There is no place for stupidity here,
Is needed
Make our nation great again.

It takes too much effort
To teach kids the values of
Piety and prudence
Too much time is wasted
Counting your coins
Calculating and budgeting
Conversation with the canteen uncle
Is a constant struggle of corrections,
Is a waste of time.

A swipe and tap is more cost effective
Than the exchange of hands and notes
Doesn’t matter if 2+2 equals to 5
Repeat it long enough
2+2 equals 5
2+2 equals 5
2+2 equals 5.

Growing old means growing smarter
Life is temporary,
Learning is eternal
Synapses can’t collapse.
Neurons are denied the luxury
Of breaking down.
Learning new skill is a train that comes by every three minutes
Smooth sailing is called for
No delays are expected.
No time for a signal failure.

Smart is parting ways with old habits
Doing away with lontong
And our our cholesterol-rich heritage.
Yes market our prata and chicken rice
To the white folks
Exoticize it as a must-have
A tourist commodity
That will increase our revenue
But no one should be consuming
For the sake of our health
It is healthier to gamble our earnings at MBS
Than to whack that rendang
Your 65 year old mother spent the entire night making.

Moving forward means innovating
Doing away with white rice.
Nothing lasts forever
Even food needs to be en-bloc
To make way for better developments
Nasi lemak with brown rice
Just as appetizing
And healthy,
We think smart
For you.

2020,
We cannot afford to be behind
No pakcik or auntie will be left behind too
The single mother, the bangle brother
The pinoy maid, the blind kid
All, all will benefit
None will fall through the crack
At the end of all things,
We will be a smart nation.
We will be a smart nation
Too smart to see the dialect speaking uncle
Struggling to top up his card
Too smart to hear the empty stomach growls
Of the foreign Indian workers
Too smart to speak up
That perhaps an exchanging of coins from hand to hand
Or a correction from the canteen uncle
Makes one smarter.
But time cannot be wasted
No time for my future kids to be kids.
No time to grasp values of sense and sensibility
No time for face to face transactions
No time for compassion to compass our moral values.

The only passion we have is a card.