More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Gilbert Koh

Gilbert Koh

ching ming

to bright hill temple she has gone
carrying joss and money
bringing food and drink
for her mother-in-law' soul.

lychees oranges and one apple
two bowls of white rice
three vegetarian dishes
ang ku kueh and bean paste buns

joss sticks chopsticks
a vase to hold the flowers
two chinese cuplets
to hold the chinese tea.

with a heavy heart
she kneels before the urn
to apologise and speak for
those who are not here.

ah seng cannot come
he is too busy at the office
tua gor cannot come because
she is in poor health

ah leong will not come
now that he is baptised
ji gor is not coming
but i do not know why.

so today i come alone, mother
i bring your favourite dishes
this money i burn for your
use in the other world

the years pass and we forget
but i am here, mother, and today
you shall not be lonely
in the season of the dead.

Ex-Convict at a Public Swimming Pool

In the men's
the deep dark
brown of
his wet back and
contrasts with
the startling
white of
his bare
where four lines
of dead hard
as thick as
raise themselves
like ridges
straddling the terrain
of torn skin.

In the cold
he is singing
as he vigorously
scrubs himself
defying the
many furtive
sidelong glances
and a few
open stares,
his scars
exposed like
the past
he will not
knowing it
can never
be forgiven
or washed

The Schoolgirl Kills Herself After Failing an Exam

She jumps from the tenth floor of a housing block
into the brief wild terror of freedom, dies and transforms
into twelve paragraphs of newsprint in the Straits Times,
cool and objective, black and white, verifiable facts only.

We are told that her classmates are “shocked.”
And that her parents refuse to comment. We know that
she scored 41 marks for her last exam paper, a fatal result.
A teacher describes her as a “quiet, hardworking girl.”

We feel obliged to pause to reflect. We wish to search
our conscience. She was only eleven, we remind ourselves.
There must be others like her. There must be another way,
we suspect, for children to grow up in this country.

But yesterday's news is quick to slide into the grey of memory.
She will become another incidental casualty. We turn the page.
We forget. Again we trip and fall head first into the future,
down into the depths of a national urge to never stop excelling.