Drift

sea.png

We once thought we could fathom the vastness of the sea
from the lap of an island shore. Watching ships
tip over the horizon, we laughed, knowing nothing
could survive the fall past the edge of the world.

We did not see how, deep beyond the continental margins, submarine
canyons channeled secret rivers onto underwater plains, or how
the abyssal fish slowly went blind, their unseen lights
speckling the cavernous dark.

In our sleep we hear
the seabed groan with the weight of all its shipwrecks,
lift its hem, and settle into a hot embrace
around the mantle, the sulfide pools simmering through its cracks
where it presses close to the magma light.

Here I chance upon the sparkling clasp of a coral reef necklace
tracing a line from one atoll to the next.
Following it I leapfrog dashed borders, beginning
to contrive an idea of you
from the contours of these countless coasts.

The geological record says we are five centimetres closer
every year. In geologic time—perhaps,
if you were a reef and I, an archipelago—we’d meet
at a faultline in the next eon and crumble together, leaving
a new continent where we were before.

Today, we stand knee deep in the shoals, losing ships
to the horizon between us. Salt sifts
between our toes.

When you laugh, it almost feels
like those ten million years have already passed.

Alienate

fewer stars

They don’t tell you there are fewer stars
in some places than others.
The city frightens them
with the threat of their obsoleting, and they hide to save
their light. There are fewer stars in places where personhood
is loudest.

They don’t tell you alienation is spelled
in unfamiliar constellations. Astronomic signposts dip
out of sight, occluded by some dark enormity
as the jet crew slides the planet
between you and your homeland lights.

You lack context and it shows.

Streetlights here are a strange colour, stirred and filtered
through pigment washes of aged grime, graffiti, someone’s
mistake, someone’s
purse, the rats–records of changing walkways, a sky
they mirror and defy.

You have been told there are so many lights in every city
that they are visible from space stations–even the highways, traceable
with one’s finger against orbital glass. You envy astronauts because
through those interstitial windows, they might still glimpse
familiarity.

Standing deep in the city’s gullet, you clumsily
triangulate the route
of your signal beacon home.

A subway ceiling intercepts it, humming its reply.

Themself

The day I learnt self
was once spelled selbaz I realised my lexicon was full
of fickle male lyrebirds, stealing
chainsaw refrains and shutter clicks for their mates
and that warships are she’s because
they’re grand and ineffable
and let’s admit it, because captains are men and men
linguistically deserve their women, even though ships
have no genitals
nor lips to protest it.

And in class we’re told that they
is too potent to be wielded by a person alone
because sacrosanct subject-verb
agreement doesn’t care for the nature of self
and you’re either he or she or error
and errors make people uncomfortable

And then we are taught to squirm
when such errors are made.

Because my card says F
and my body lies, she, she, she
spelled somehow from G A T C
and they answer, she, she, she, she
as if words in libraries could orchestrate the building of cities
as if Alexandria were an armoury
as if I were a ship.

Are you a girl or a boy? asks a pair of bright
pink lips. “I am a girl
a girl,” I parrot
“and I like dolls
because of my karyotype”

And I’m standing in sneakers and self-hatred
at the washroom door as I slide into another she
though I have not been able to bring myself
to wear a dress
to wear my double X
for a decade

and I’m just a liar
liar
lyrebird
speaking stolen words
but the one that lays the eggs
without his pharyngeal virtuosity.

Springwood Height, Singapore

Their genealogies are manifold: there is no record of where
they were sewn, or sutured, as with a wound.

Dismember their home as they may, they eat from
the same tarnished pot, the same boiled grain and though
they may spit and rinse the taste from their mouths afterwards
they return to the pot, and it reminds them that they share their seed.

I do not think they severed their own roots
merely lost them in transplant: trees and rivers
do not bear the names of raindrops that fed them.

They are afraid to admit
that when they open their mouths to speak, they hear
their siblings’ voices. And this is not a theft but a becoming
as grasses become each other, as rains become each other
seeping into foreign soil and calling it their own.

Love is deciduous

Meeting you the first time was like
burrowing fingers into fragrant soil after rain
to find earthworms, curled up like springs and summers
in the notches in the feet of trees.
And in some vernal ways too it was like
the sun glowing through green cocoons above
the swing, revealing maps of veins
and corpses melting to nectar
soon to be stitched and unfolded as butterflies.

But passion like all flowers greys too soon and when
we began shrivelling into gnarly things we started
to understand that you were a rhyme short of a childhood
and I was the tattered rind left by the calling birds
when they’d finished the fruit.

I cannot put a name to it—love, or regret—
which, like the twining branches, become a little more
indistinguishable with every turn of the light
as their boundaries knit into each other’s

It leaves but a crumbling aftertaste—
or a wish for one—
of a vestige of sunlight in this winter ache
and of earth-dwelling creatures
entombed in frost before
they knew
to flee.

Radio: star-crossed

We first heard the humming of the cosmic
microwave background when we hung
satellites in our ionosphere and recorded
by accident the conspirational whisper
of radiowave noise

–a love letter
from the faraway galaxies that we
exalted in our flickering screens, like
schoolchildren pledging romance–

that radiometric anomaly
is the sigh of a lover finally acknowledged

Radio: dead air

silence is white
as smoke exhaled
or the whisper of shadows
ghosting
under trees

the orchestrated nothing
of smooth mossy stones
between empty skyscrapers
under trees

it is as if
a dandelion of voices
felt the breath of giants
and melted
in the blue of void

voyagers
into the canyons
of dreamtime
under trees

Cosmos Breathing

∞.

Scrutinised
through certain lenses,
the perfect isotropy of the universe suggests
that if you kept very
very quiet
you might hear
the harmonics
of a rain drop
drowning
in the thundercrash of a collapsing star.

1.

You are the universes’ dark eyes
expressing themselves in flesh and fire.

Is it not plain to see
you are the many-armed goddess
you scream to be?

Galaxies threaded on your fingers—
crepe-mobile worlds papering
the ceiling of your existential expanse—

You are all that
and all that
is traffic
between your cranial stars.

Coming of age

When I was thirteen years old, I began to feel the bird inside me. Crammed inside a pelvis too small for its wings, it was trying to unfold. It burbled something, hoarsely, a parody of birdsong, as I stared and pretended not to hear.

I was inside a tepid factory of scratching pens and clattering clocks, chalkboards bearing evidence of war, scuffed desk corners remembering the brutality of children’s nails. I was sprawled across my operating table, the fan blades slitting gashes in each thought.

We were all waiting for something in the heat.

“Destroy the establishment,” rasped my little bird in me, while I stared at chalk marks on deep green.

The room was boiling the sweat out of my skin and the howling fans could not hold out against the heat. Sweat stained the seats of chairs. Sweat smudged pencil marks. I could feel the groaning metal, could feel the windows straining inward.

And we were all waiting for something in the heat.

The pen nibs went scratch, scratch, scratch, like birds clawing at the windowpanes of my brain, drawing the coastal flyways they would never explore.

“They’re all sick,” said mine, gaining a semblance of a voice though it was still choked. “They are sick, in this infirmary, so bring them salvation.”

My heart boomed, blood shooting through the arteries in my ears. The teacher’s chalk began to scrape: S, O, C, I, E, T, Y, and then the white stick jammed against the black and with a bright snap the upper end went spinning through the air, stabbing the monitress in the cheek.

“I’m—” He picked the oppressive thing from the groove in her desk. “—sorry.” His brow knitted behind his glasses as his eyes met the monitress’ unprotesting silence. The trees were cracking in the heat.

By now I felt a small thrumming stir where my bird had clawed its way through my gut into my chest. It was gasping, starved of air by the whir of fans beating the heat away.

“Destroy yourself,” it said then, levering at the pencil-spire that jutted into my spinal cord.

So I did.

I watched myself ascend into the higher air, volcanic heat lashing at my lids. I began to crush my pencils in my hands. I felt their splinters bury themselves in my fingers.

“Stop that.”

I watched eyes glisten.

The bird drove me, desk by colossal desk, as I split each prison and freed the hissing, beating creature inside. The heat burst through my blood. I watched the teacher try to spread his claws but his skull was too tight and his tiger had long taken to cowering inside its cage. And the class listened to no ringmaster.

In the thick of flying sheets I heard my bird, and it was barely breathing, but its throat filled with air every time I snapped a ruler as if breaking a murderer’s neck.

“Stop right there,” the tiger mewled. I kicked him to his knees and drove a pen against his chin, grinning.

My bird had climbed onto my tongue. “You’ll pay,” it snarled.

You’ll answer to the principal,” answered the teacher while my pen drew incision lines on his neck.

Then the little tiger found just enough strength in itself to fling me, chirping, to the tiles. He had his chalk again and he had wrenched his phone from inside his pocket, and I was lying in the remains of shattered desk legs and pen nibs torn from sockets.

By then the classroom was empty and I felt my bloodied hands uncurl, all chafed, as the bird fled me and began to destroy the school.

romanticism is well and good but

they were wrong:
we are not stardust. We are
fact, pieced together over
millennia, we are
solipsistic nightmare
photographic evidence
broken-mirrored
on billions of retinas and we are not
stardust. We are thought
and sensation, developed,
expired