It starts with…

A crush
couplets of lovey-dovey mush:
“I can’t stop thinking of you gerl,
You, my one and only world”

An infatuation
seeing you from a distance
hiding behind pillars, ensuring my feet
light as a nimble lion
better to view you from afar without any resistance
jotting down every dimple, every description, every deets.
Why are there so many “hair as smooth as silkpro” references in my early poems?

Unrequited love
because when words fail
this bespectacled boy turned to words on a page
of hearts derailed and feelings caged
of absent male figures and unfettered rage
it starts with “one thing I don’t know why” he
references to fiery lyrics and inspirational quote
better copied words on a page than the author to implode.

Heartbreak
every poet writes from a place of pain
every poet is from a place of pain
every poet is pain
every poet writes

The Mountain

I looked for you on the mountain today,
I thought I’ll find you there.
The sun rises but it doesn’t fill the void, sometimes 
I close my eyes and feel your hand
in mine. And once again, I went back in time
to the time when we were at the peak 
of what we loved to do
manipulating the moments
feeling the breeze
staring down at the sun.
We, us against the light.

I left you on the mountain today,
I heard courage comes to men at first light
and right on cue, the breeze lifted you up
scattering you in different directions, further 
and farther than I ever can.
You left me behind on the mountain,
leaving traces of trail mix and echoes
of your breath behind.

Hospital Visits

There is nothing you can do,
my therapist reminds me, again.
Hospital visits
are glorious walks
along tinted viewing walls of life, love and loss
on display
on white walls and whiter wards.
Those who enter for visits often
scurry out
aching for a cigarette
to medicate their troubled thoughts, that thumping in their chest.

There is nothing I can do
but remind myself, again
year after year after year
to keep my visit short.

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.