108 fragments

lucy tan’s
108 fragments…

….. of lives
lived
(mostly)
vicariously 

To loved ones:
                past,
                present
                and future.

1. These are lines
to bait your attention,
Perhaps even affection.
No lyrical poetry
Nor grandoise prose
or pedestrian verse.
Not even plain doggerel.
Just a kaleidescope
of words
juxtaposed
to make a
snapshot
of my observations and
thoughts
of mine and others’
lives.

2. When you’re happy,
pray
that it’ll last.
When you’re sad,
pray
that it’ll pass,
fast.

3. Once smart gals boasted
there was no need for a husband
of their own
when they could have
other women’s.
But husbands on loan
go home or
move on to new
borrowers.
The really smart ones
are those
with husbands
whom they own.

4. Man and his woman
built an empire.
Man departed without notice.
Woman carried on.
Empire collapses
before long
for she can’t find
another man
as honest as her
first
to invest
her trust.

5. Smart career woman
newly divorced,
says she doesn’t want
another husband.
What she needs
is a wife
to cushion her against
the hardships of life
as she pursues her goals
like a man.

6. Her husband of 40 years
left her
after rubbing his shoes
on her
as if she’s his
doormat.
Despite the humiliation,
the desertion and
the tribulations,
she wants him back again
– as father for her
children
and man
for her
woman:
7. It’s over, you say.
I say, okay.
I won’t
grovel or plead
with you
to stay.
Go,
goodbye.
And best of luck.
When the boot
was on the other foot,
I never heeded
when he bled and pleaded,
never relented
to spare one more day
for old times’ sake.
Because when love’s
dead
nothing’s more
counter-productive
than to be
reminded
how good it once felt
together
in bed.
So I won’t
do this to you or myself.

8. It’s my birthday
He’s making it casual
Lunch at a small
brasserie
in Cecil Street.
He hands me a yellow rose.
It’s the wrong colour.
He’s the wrong man.

9. Your friends tell me
My friends tell me
Our friends tell me:
“He’ll never marry.”
“Me?”
They all reply:
“Any woman.”

10.You’ve no curiosity
about my past
because you say
my past is another country
in another country.
I hope it’s not because
your plans see no
involvement for me
in your future.

11. Those once the cream
of society
tend
to curdle
after
they’re past
their sell-by date
but don’t know it.

12. I look before and after
and pine for what
might have been

without realising
that the present
has already flowed
unnoticed,
downstream.

13. A careless glance
in the rearview mirror
as I negotiate a difficult bend
gave me worse nightmares than Elm Street.
I saw crow’s feet around my eyes
and black hair streaked with grey.
Time
       to learn
 to negotiate
     a new course in life.
14. You’ve  healed my body.
You’ve calmed my mind.
Will you heal
my heart too?
But at your front gate,
I see a row of
bikes
in the car porch,
arranged neatly
according to size,
a matching pair
followed by three
that go from
small to smaller to smallest…
this tableau makes me
see
I must look for cures
elsewhere.

15. A month before
Aug 22
I didn’t know
your name
or that
you’re alive.
A month since
Aug 22
I can’t breathe
without
your name
on my every breath
or the awareness
of your existence
in my every
heartbeat.

16. Who would have thought
from her composed carriage
her quiet dress
her dulcet tone or
the career
she sacrificed
to succeed
as mother and wife
that she was once
the life-wire
of Eusoffe
and Singapore’s own
Betty Friedan or
Germaine Greer?
Then as now,
butter won’t melt
in her mouth
but once upon a time,
many a strong man
did.
17. The suited old man at the taxi-stand
at Colombo Court
told her he was a lawyer
but retired now
and lives in a big mansion
on a hill
somewhere in Bukit Timah.
Come and visit me,
he said,
with the quiet desperation
of someone
wanting to make
connection
before
an empty taxi’s
arrival cut short
his attempt.
When she read in the papers
that an old wealthy lawyer
had donated
millions
to the universities,
she wondered
whether
it could be
the same old
man
reaching out in
one final
burst
before the night
closed in
on him.

18. You say skin’s
the best
antiseptic.
So why has your cool professional
hand
on my bare
skin
infected me
with this sickness
that melts me
every time
I think of
you?
    
19. In her youth,
she was taught to despise
free verse
because
without metre or feet
modern poetry won’t have
a leg
to stand on.
In her middle-age
free verse is
her crutch
to hobble
over the landscapes
in her head.

20. His hands grip her
arms.
His eyes burn into hers
with commitment.
His mouth spews words of
“I love you.”
“Me too, me too,”
she cries and
buries her face in his
hoping he will not
detect
the dissembling
behind the
semantics.
What she has declared
is not
what she intends
him to understand
she means.
It’s not reciprocity
she has in mind
but concurrence with
his devotion to
her.

21. She returns
to the lonely
losman
on the dark deserted beach
guided by the winking
light within.
She is dumbstruck
by her find.
Her lover sitting cross-legged
on the floor,
his head hanging
forward,
limp.
His throat slit
by his own hand.
Pity him, losing his life
so young.
But pity her
more,
for keeping her life
but losing her mind
so young.

22. In Europe we pour wine
with our right hand;
the left is for
serving those condemned to die.
So declares
the confident
white maiden
to her yellow man.
To which her insecure
yellow man replies:
You are in Asia
just remember that
and do as Asians do.
Western-educated,
he doesn’t really know
what Asians do
but he wants to put
the white woman
in her place
and drum into her
that West is no longer
best
unless as a trophy
to accompany
the newly-fashionable
Eastern dress.
 
23. I sat on your bed
marvelling at how
your six weeks
in Singapore
are now reduced to
two overflowing suitcases
of soiled clothes, shopping
and a list of restaurants
visited
and food savoured.

24. Officious forms demand:
Occupation?
Intimidated, I choose
writer.
More anonymous and vague than
journalist
less contentious than
reporter
to immigration officers
of sensitive governments.
But in truth
more pretentious than
the  more accurate
reporter or journalist.

25. At Puri Cendana
the night is hot
and still.
Mosquitoes circle
me
like diners at a buffet
selecting the most delectable
morsel.
They suck their fill
leaving me
itching all over for
you.

26. Friday the 13th
is a very good day
for breaking
all
taboos
superstitions
for doing away with
fears
tears and
for catching up with
life
lived too long
in
arrears.

27. Singapore art exhibition.
Three themos flasks.
Dug up ground
with a string running through it.
Dabs and globs of paint
on paper,
canvas and cloth.
How to tell
the genius
from the dunce?

28. Modern poetry,
freed verse
though without any
feet
can still be a
runaway success
for tracing the heart’s
labyrinths.

29. Bold-eyed girl
marches
into a pub
alone
to show off her
equality to
men.
She drinks her pleasures
unescorted.
Behind her painted
confidence,
what frightened
insecurity
lurks?
30. When I was 18
I saw acres of life
ahead.
Today at 48,
it is still more
rolling lawns
in front of me
but
they lie in Choa Chu Kang.

31. Here they lie
side by side
like parallel lines.
His thoughts move East,
hers go West.
They might as well be
sleeping
worlds apart.

32. Two moths flew into
my home last night.
Unable to find their way
out
they will die
by dawn
as others had
before.
Yet more will come
for the same
fate
just like women chasing
men
only with time for
other men.

33. You traced my name
on my palm.
I traced yours on yours.
Mine you did in Chinese
Yours I did in English.
Can we ever
bridge this
chasm?

34. It’s midnight
And you must be asleep
somewhere
while I’m wide awake
here
with thoughts of
you
and a poor substitute for
you
by my side.

35. Our eyes meet for one moment
and our hearts speak
volumes
too heavy for
our tender consciences
to bear.
I look down,
you turn away
and we each go
our separate ways
back to our respective
spouses.

36. History keeps repeating
itself
with me.
Yet every time
I forget
till what I want to become
my future
has deteriorated again into
another bit of
history.
37. Another day
another night
another week
another month
another year
another decade
and so my life
continues
another cycle.

38.I’m older than you
so I mustn’t waste time
hanging
around.
If only my heart can
understand
my head’s simple sums.

39.A silent phone
is the worst
companion
for lonely
waiting
made worse
by a flurry
of wrong
numbers.

40. If you’re
an Amos cookie
I’d eat
you
up
up
up.
41. I pray to many gods
I pray at many shrines
for a happy ending
to all my prayers.

42.You handed me a bowl of sharksfin soup
I thought
it symbolic of things
to come
until I saw you doing
the same
for the other guests.

43. Beautiful Kay at 35
had bags below her eyes
removed.
So did big-eye Amy at 44.
Shall I likewise
lighten up
for
you?

44. It’s tuna in foccacia
for me but
you prefer
niang tofu.
Can we ever learn to enjoy
the same food from
the same table?

45.My long ear-rings dangle
perilously from my
ear-lobes
swaying
 in
   secure
        ly
like my faith in
you.

46. Two cappuchinos
brimmed with foam
when I took them from
Ed’s counter.
One cup is empty now,
the other’s top is flat,
like my heart
as I sit waiting
for you.

47. You don’t look your age
I’ve often been told.
But for you
I wish I look
younger.

48. I stand at the glass windonw
of the departure lounge.
I look up at the sky.
I see plane after plane go by.
Which one is carrying you away
from me
like the receding tide of
fading
love has already done?

49.Every coin the woman fed into
the insatiable slot machine
at Genting
is put in with hope
and a prayer
that it’ll come out
jackpot.
But her prayers are unanswered,
her hopes
misplaced.
Time after time.

50.Chinatown coffeeshop
crowded with people.
Hot food sold with no air-con.
Not my idea of fine dining
till I ate with you.

51. The frogs in the dark
outside
are noisy tonight
creating a barroque
symphony
while we inside
this thatch hut
make our own
gamelan music.

52. Sundown.
The end of another day
spent
minting words.

53.They say culture,
language and tradition
will take me
back
to my Chinese
roots.
But who needs them
when
I can thrill to our shared
ancestry with you,
my own
Chinese root?
54. You never promised me
a rose garden,
it’s true.
But then,
I didn’t expect
a nettle patch
either.

55.She rests her left elbow
possessively on
the white man’s
right elbow
to signal
he’s been
taken
just in case
the many dateless fellow-citizen
sisters
present
mistake his
party manner
for something more.

56. He is restless.
He keeps looking for change
in new faces
in new places.
But how can anything be
different
when he brings
himself
wherever he goes?

57. The MRT is cool
it takes me from
city chic
to ulu
with no fuss
and seemingly
no effort.
If only life’s
journey
is as
seamless.

58. What power you have
over me,
over my being.
With one phone call
a brief hallo
you change
my mood
from bleak
to bright and set
my heart humming.

59. Jack Sprat will eat no fat
His dream girl will eat no lean.
That’s why together
they make such
a perfect team.

60.Why do women’s mags
sing so often of
single women
doing just fine
on their own?
That there’s no room for
voids
in lives so
fulfilled through 
work, fun and one another.
Why do men’s mags not
trumpet
that bachelor boys are doing
great too?
Perhaps the swinging
sorority
protests too much.

61. With typical inconsideration,
she left him for another
woman.
If it’d been another
man,
he moaned,
my mother
would have understood.
But why should she care
about his
or his mother’s
convenience?

62. Like Sheherazade, she knows
1,001
tales
to keep her listeners
rooted, sleepless
through  as many nights.
Better
than Sheherazade, she teases
more endings from
every tale
to mesmerise her audience
forever wanting more.
Pity she can’t
interest the man
who matters most
to stay another second
to hear how
their story ends.

63. I’ve walked through nights
of purple shade
looking for
where our hearts lost
their way
despite their journey’s
promising start.
Searching, searching
but I came back with
nothing.

64. Two tooth brushes,
two face cloths
in the bathroom –
silent testimonies
to your past
presence,
present reminders
your absence
and desperate hope
of your future
return.

65. Sunny, lazy Sunday,
promenade by the sea,
half of Singapore
congregates
at the food stalls
leaving those selling
arts and crafts
to tourists looking for
souvenirs
to prove they’ve been
abroad
to those back home.

66. Like the sun he rose
to brighten her life
turned black by one
whose leaving
threatened night
for her
just as his arrival had
eclipsed
Sunny
so long ago.
 
67. She’s so embarrassed
she’s pregnant
at her age
when all along
she thought
she was just
sick.
But another
baby
at 39
is surely preferred
to premature
menopause?

68. he turns 50 today
the big 5 0!
the women
in his life past
turn up
to sing happy birthday
the one he married
and then divorced
the one he rejected
and then regretted
the one who was never
interested
and the one who
never interested him.
so many roads
to happiness
but he chose the one
to a cul de sac.

69. Temptation
is a piece of cake
only in Singapore,
sold in a shop and not to be
resisted.

70. Grey hair is better than
no hair
though better than grey
hair
is a headful of
black hair.

71. She weeps as he
signs his will.
The kids are grown,
there’d be no more burden when
I’m gone.
He consoles her,
missing the point
of her desperate tears.
She’s not yet
set for widowhood,
not when regret
weighs her
down 
and it’s too late
to become
the perfect wife
he thinks she is.
She never
was.
72. He’s only a panel beater
at the workshop where
she sends her husband’s Merc.
But his rippling biceps
and the heady mixture of
motor grease and
masculine sweat
make her quite forget
her queenly ways.
When prissy tai tai stoops again to
folly
she regains
her composure
with another course at the latest spa
to slather off the grime of
slumming.

73. I don’t want to live,
he says
and with a bottle of whisky and
100 pills gets
his way.
I don’t want to die,
she says
but despite the diet,
the early nights
and turning her slinky back on
her alley cat ways,
she’s no more sure
of longevity than
that it won’t rain
tomorrow.

74. Happiness is discovering
the heart
can sing
again.
Never mind
if it’s just another
false
note.

75. Sad,
 bad
 and mad
 add up to
 fads
 like Michael Jackson.

76. Her tits
were no British
standard handfuls.
Not bakchang-size.
More like kee chang
and pert.
But when the surgeon’s
knife is through
and offending specks
invisible to the naked
eye
excised,
one breast is now mini
Danish leaving the other
forlorn,
unmatched.

77. When life hands you a lemon
make lemonade;
when your hair waves you
goodbye,
say hello to a wig;
when you lose, plan again
to win;
if you refuse to swim
then you must
sink.

78. Life is like a bite of
watermelon.
If you spit out all the seeds,
there’d be nothing
left
to eat.

79. Age is all in the mind
they say
but the mind
makes sure that
a woman 12 years older
than a man
will be thought
too old
for him
whereas a woman 
will not be thought
too young for
a man 12 years
her senior
in the same equation.

80. 12 years, one whole cycle
of the Chinese horoscope,
a stage
when a child gets
his first IC
and completes
his PSLE.
Only 12 years
separate you and me
but it might as well be
a millennium.

81. Middle-aged single women
have a dilemma.
All the attractive men
are far too young
whereas those of
the right age
are all wrong
or
they will not still be
single.

82. Seduction
is no way to repay
a man for
saving your life
as it causes his wife
and him to weep.
He for his guilt and
she for her heartbreak.

83. It’s taken
her 23 years
to shake off the cultural cringe,
delete
the double-barrel
Scotts-Leigh name and
revert proudly to her own
d/o Sumbramaniam
despite the pleas
from him,
her family and
his.
With a
decree nisi
absolute,
she’s cancelled the interim
and returned
to the past.

84. For ancient Omar
a loaf
of bread
(what else?)
and a jug of wine
made perfect lovers’
grub.
For greedy me,
it must be
mocca
Haagen Daz,
Veuve Clicquot
salmon sashimi
and unlimited
helpings of
chicken breast.

85. Yes, go back to her
you son of a bitch
and make it sunset
for me
by taking
the sun 
out of my life
with your retreat.  

86. At this quayside table
a year ago
flushed cheeks,
attentive eyes and hands
made their eternal pledge.
The quayside table stands
desserted
today.
New revellers have gone to
Chijmes.
Old lovers part,
past loves in old haunts
die,
liberating hearts
to seek fresh
fires in restored
surroundings.

87. It’s such a relief
to be bold enough 
to wave goodbye
to old routines,
entrenched habits
and turn a deaf ear 
to the same tired tears
of one
pleading another chance.

88. He came East
looking for a perfect
headstone
for his late wife’s
grave.
He found the marble and more
in Singapore.
Charms and arms
envelope his grief
and bury it
deep,
without marking
the spot.

89. Here I sit in Ubud
watching the Legong dance
under a full moon
while you in Uppsala
dance attendance
to the chairman
under the same moonlight.
Continents apart
but similar footsteps
keep us both
entranced. 

90. In a wheelchair.
Eyeless.
Deaf to the world.
Grip his hand
for old times’ sake.
Response, involuntary
spasm.
No memory
of loves past nor
sense of present resentment.
Lost in another world
beyond recall.
Waiting,
waiting for complete
night fall.

91.If Venus  de Milo had arms
but no breasts,
would she
still
be the erotic
symbol
of eternal
womanhood?

92. Bless those hands that heal and
bless those talking eyes
promising
wicked bliss
even as those lips mouth
standard prescriptions
for ailments
that need more than
a Valium 2 mg
twice a day
to put right.

93. She wore a frangi pani
lei around her neck
city girl’s concession to village dress
(or so she thought)
to meet his mum
for the first time,
not knowing
what the blooms mean to the old Sharifah
who in any case
won’t accept
any Muslim girl
for her Syed,
let alone
a non-Muslim
one
ignorant of customs.

94. Tang,
Ming &
Ching &
Wong May too
who was Wong Chong
teaching how to grow
a wisteria
without hysteria
and Arthur’s lines,
only lines
especially those about
the old lech
of Ang Siang Hill
rolling home nightly
reeking of some bitch
even as a wife and
3 concubines wait
to serve his needs.
These fragments and more
go into 
making mosaic-word  pictures.
     
95. She at 84 doesn’t hear so well.
He at 91 is bent
like a U-sign
held upside down.
Cooped up in a
one-room HDB
like two guppies
in a fish-bowl
puffing, pouting
and always ready
to tear each other’s
tails and gills
to shreds.
Who would imagine that
these were a pair
of turtle doves once?

96. The ambitious divorcee
 was happy
 when invited to
 the Brasserie
 for lunch
 by a taipan
 VIP,
 as her fantasies see
 possibilities
 of a second chance.
 But she was disappointed
 even before they were
 seated
 for what she thought
 was to be a cosy meal a deux
 was  a family outing.
 His Mrs and sons
 rose from the reserved table
 to welcome them.

97. White cherries, red cherries
claret-coloured cherries and
those with colours in between.
So many options make
choosing difficult
just like a pretty girl
faced with too many suitors
often can’t fathom
the true
one.

98. She brings the old woman
a box of chocs
for her birthday.
A sop for the vanished youth
she can’t replace.

99. Two ex IJ-ers
stand in the renewed chapel
smart in its new plaster,
stained glass and
cut-glass chandeliers
winking inappropriate
messages.
One sees Lazarus
risen from the dead.
The other Lazurus’ corpse
in late 20th century
winding sheet.

100. The chapel was a private place
Dim, if not for the perpetual light
Cool, high gothic ceilings
shield it from the heat.
Quiet, few visitors,
no chattering ones.
Progress brings the chapel
new life,
a different life,
and so the old one must
die.

101. White lotus,
red flowers,
a pig-tailed pugilist
in love with his 13th aunt.
Fragments of a heritage
learned too late
to replace Romeo
and Juliet.

102. Farewell my tender love.
The bugle calls and I must go.
If this flag
instead of me
you see,
then know I’ve
ceased to be,
for the sake
of our beloved
country.

103. Two pearls you hand me
for my ears
are like two well-shaped
teardrops
though not from my eyes.
I’ve no need for tears
or sadness
just because
we met
only after I
had wed.
I won’t have
appreciated you
without the comparison.

104.  He chased the moon
dangling on the shimmering lake
and drowned.
She followed her dream
relentlessly.
That’s why she’s
got no life
outside of Woodbridge.

105. Would Croesus swop
half his gold
for the return of  
half his youth?
I know I would
but I guess that’s why
I’m not Croesus.

106. Imagine, a kweilo
like Naisbitt telling
Asians about
the megatrends rising
out of Asia
and that Asia was once
the centre of the world
and will be again.
If Asians can’t work
this out for ourselves
then we deserve
to remain backward
forever.
107. Hot coffee aromas wake me
and you’re standing by our bed
cup in hand
in charge.
Promises of another
perfect day.

108. The first time I ever
saw your face
it left no impression.
But with the quiet insistence
of an Estee Lauder scent,
you worked your way
into me.
I can’t think now
of an existence
without your presence
everywhere.
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
   
 

Responses

  1. […] To check if it’s worth your while to get the hard copy, go here. […]

  2. […] Which brings me to more recent times, a fortnight ago to be exact. I was in Hong Kong and not knowing what to bring my friends living there, I hit on the al-cheapo idea of passing them copies of a book of poems I self-published ages ago and which entirety can be found here. […]


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