Kitchen table blues
she retires to her kitchen
for the comfort and the warmth
it is her den, her study and her workplace
she reads, she listens to music and she cooks the family meals
there are also ghosts in this kitchen
spirits who visit and sleep between the pages of her books on her desk:
there is Madame Bovary who lingers when she cuts the onions
and permeates her kitchen with the cloying odour –
the inevitability of domesticity
the stinging tears that longs for escape
from provincial life,
the ever encroaching bourgeois-dom.
there is Anna Karenina who infuses the air of romance
and whips up dreams of the realms of passion
as airy as any pavlova,
she has no panache for this just desert,
not the spirit to macerate the forbidden fruit.
there is Sylvia Plath who stirs the creative juices
and stews the existentialist doubts
the restless search –
her genius for self annihilation
a feast yet to be served in her kitchen.
coupling does not ensure a soul mate
coupling does not ensure a soul mate
by the semblance of giving one
and leaves one doubly desolate
for having been duped for so long.
I dreamt of a kindred spirit
to be fused in a dance
to the stars and to knit
our limbs in embrace
of joy and discover the contours of our bodies
to map our desires and chart our caprice
to voyage in a vessel of our love
and fuelled by our passion
for books, music and learning.
I did not foresee that we would flounder
and get lost in the labyrinth of meaning
that we could not be sustained
by a plain diet of mutual understanding
the fresh innocence that we brought on board.
We were timorous in our exploration
of our sensual and sensuous selves
not knowing how to plumb and exploit the depths.
I was ignorant and knew not what to search-
there was no virtue in such ignorance
nor the dependence I had on his navigation
Now I have no such excuse
to continue in this claustrophobic existence.
My eyes are still fixed on a dance to the stars
but my trip will be solo
to be celibate and celebrate
the compass that is my soul
to veer towards my God, my Constellation
but I could not abandon my hapless mate
stranded by my faithlessness
on my course to a different destiny
so we are still drifting
abiding time when the wind will change
awaiting to sight the other shore
a young man in white
Amidst the din and the fury of the storm
the acrid and steamy heat, the fat raindrops that fell in rivulets down gutters
the percussion as they hit on the cars and the roofs, the blaring horns
the cacophony of the scurrying pedestrians, bicycles, trishaw drivers
school children and traffic all wending their way;
I saw a young man in white under a waxed umbrella
calm, unhurried, as if in a reverie
he came into my vision like an exercise in zen
Then he stooped under an awning
into the depths of a herbalist shop.
I caught my breath, awed by this impression of serenity
would he be caught in the same Confucian morass
convinced in the jaundiced prejudice for the male child
assured in his chauvinistic pride of place?
would he believe in karma ?
would he delegate disability to neuter me evenmore
to a life without passion and love?
That scar, still raw and red from childhood
denigrates my sense of womanhood
that I was chaan fai, useless, destined as one of life’s debris.
I have never sought the love of the men of my race
for fear of that image mirrored in their dark eyes
my self esteem fragile, slowly built abroad
in the land of strangers.
Now, I catch myself daring to look at men
and secretly weave a dream
for a talisman to bind up those ancient wounds
for the girlchild who would allow herself to be
healed back into the fold.
A Homage to Li Po
pierces my shut lids
like an interrogatory lamp
boring through my subconscious.
In my somnolent state,
Li Po’s poem from my childhood
springs into mind,
recalling family, homeland
the bitter sweet yearning
of all that is dear and familiar
by the exile faraway
in some distant land.
But that would be an untruth
in my present position:
my schizophrenic mélange
of language,culture and cuisine
leaves me afloat
like a kite
the skein that binds me
to my ethnic origins
so as not to lose the thread.
Often, deep into the night,
I watch satellite t.v.
acessing a language
grown rusty with disuse.
The luminous moon
beams still mercilessly
into my room
on to my bed
I pay homage to Li Po
to his homeland
and that of my ancestors, not mine
never even visited
yet still bound
by a desolate sense
Quiet night thoughts
Before my bed
there is bright moonlight
so that it seems
like frost on the ground;
Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon
Lowering my head
I dream that I’m home
– Li Po
(translated by Arthur Cooper)
Journey to Scotland
With headphones jammed on my head
Music blaring into my ears
I tried to drown the voices
Those that chastise and jeer
That I should ache on a journey
On the same route
But without you, without you
I stare out at the meadows,
Rolling by, with sunshine spilling
Into the car
With me desperately making inane conversation.
“Is that not the willowherb that edges the fields?
The yarrow and the yellow celandines?
The purple heather that clothes the hillside
What is the latin name, I wonder?”
My mind busy trying
To ignore the sinews of my being
Telling me that I m missing you, missing you
Where is my inner equilibrium now?
They have failed me miserably;
My sang froid
Should I sit cross legged
Try and expel you from my thoughts
With each breath I draw?
While here I am, still prattling on
Pretending to take in the border scenery.
on the death of granny
(Loh Ching Mui dies 5/2/1998, 10.45pm)
they told me that poh-poh died
she had been needing hand to foot attention
these past twenty four months
serviced by a young Indonesian woman
she spoke no Chinese, poh-poh no Malay
But she had lost her speaking voice then
she who had mumbled secret prayers for this grandchild
on first day of primary school the jossticks wending smoke to whatever god or ancestor
she who went to the temple to divine my future
and entreated the goddess Kuanyin for mercy
on a sick child stricken with polio
she with whom was shared a four poster bed
with mosquito net
to listen to the antics of the monkey king
and many, many of those melodramatic Chinese tales of love
or kungfu stories spun out on the redifusion in Menglembu
because the child could not run out to play.
she with whom was cracked the melon seeds carefully with teeth
watching the Cantonese operas on the local makeshift temple stages
eating the Buddhist vegetarian noodles.
She is here no more
too many airmiles away
this errant grandchild mourns the passing of her maternal grandmother
without the jossticks
with an alien god
in a different culture, with a foreign tongue
she who passes to the other shore
may she rest in peace.