Tanglin Halt and After the Fire

Yong Shu Hoong is the joint winner of the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for Poetry in English.


Tanglin Halt
I’d like to think that the table was wooden
and round and out in the open, to milk
the rustic effect. There is a novelty
in almost everything when you’re below
a certain age – like the plate of pork chops
and fries, so unlike what Grandmother cooked
at home. But I halt myself before memories
fully crystallise – and what is it exactly
that I’m trying to remember anyway:
the taste of salt upon the tip of my tongue,
the atmosphere? I strive to imagine
the helplessness of being young and poor
and open, wide-eyed, to the generosity
of aunts and uncles. This is when my mind
begins to wander – to what film we’d caught
just before dinner at hawker centre.
And right on cue, I remember oily fingers.
After the Fire
The next morning, after the fire, the factory still stands, its gutted roofing two charred slices of bread, white smoke hovering like fog or a ghost unwilling to sally forth. In the news, there is nothing yet, despite the building’s sufferance through the night. My poem about the fire still attracts comments over Facebook, in a different dimension. Things can’t be so bad if we can get poetry out of them, a friend writes. And I wonder: Can things be so bad that no words can dampen the wounds and allow us to reconfigure the world as we only know?

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