Our issues melt away and run, like dirty water into drainage pipes. Black fishes into estuaries. When we are out of each other’s sight, we’ll be out of our minds. Flushed away and forgotten. Invariably some scum stays: stains on a manhole. Is it disgusting? For me to wish thusly: I want to know everything. What are you doing right now? I wonder as I type these words, whether an old poem would remind you of me. Or maybe, an old Weezer track. A putrid display of cliche. Whether some strange, blackened memory comes rushing back out of the depths of the sewer we consigned ourselves to. Something no-one wants to see nor clean. Things – and people – we’d rather let rot somewhere else. So let me say it again, I wish to know everything. As if repeating it makes it any cleaner. I am scrubbing my mouth with this repetition. No matter how disgusting it may be – I want to know where each river ends, where every one runs dry. I want to feel this world: every festering wound, black-mold enclave, drip of a shedding. Every single shoddy half-written metaphor. I want to see you, behind your squeaky-clean 5-stars public-toilet facade. And I want somebody to tell me – that everything which was filthy was fine, everything which was wrong was right – that everything which was not, will be. Truth be told, I’d love it to be you, but I know. I already know the answer. My mind has no qualms with being in the gutter, as ever always.
After ‘Mud man’ by Chikako Yamashiro
the word spread across the town like
rain. we lie, waiting to be exposed
to wisdom from the heavens. we let
the word blot us out, cake us in dirt;
your hands, blooming from the earth
like mangroves. we are tethered here,
grasping at raindrop, leak, and tear.
somewhere behind one of those clouds
god is watching his children, laying
themselves out like clothes to dry.
my tongue trips over teeth,
mashes vowels into consonant,
meaning trite and bright yellow
like a hazard sign. it struggles
to ease past past posts, a fat
cumbersome man stuck in his
own doorway. my tongue is the
elephant, stuck in a room made
of ivory, yellowed and polished,
scared to make a single sound.
unable to make a single move.
Every time it happened you told me
that it was alright. That this is how
the two of you clicked, like gears in
some semiconductor. And every time
I would think to myself of harmless bickering,
like couples did in the dramas you watched.
I found it funny once, as though the more
you fought the more you loved one another.
And I believed it. I really did. I took pride
in my loudness. I saw it as proof that I was
a child of these two irreplaceable souls.
I bore it as a badge of honor. Like the
families in old Old Maid decks. And when
you fought I would just wait it out like
it’s not a fucking big deal, like every
family in every house does this all
the time. I really came to see it as love.
How can you scold someone if you don’t
love them, you would tell me. I really trusted you.
Yet today you fought again. Over
some completely, inconsequential, shit.
Some nonsense about a mattress, or
is it some garbage about a car? Who
even knows. Not like you remember
why you fight or what you fought over.
So now Mum’s locked herself in and you
lie on the sofa the face of a dejected man.
I am ashamed to be alive yet I say nothing.
What can I say? I can’t come over and scold you
for losing your tempers. I can’t say anything
because you told me never to talk back to you.
You tell me to talk to you but you guys don’t listen.
The last time I was so anxious I couldn’t breathe,
so depressed I just lay there staring at the ceiling,
you told me to stop acting crazy and start acting
my age. And now I am that way, always an actor.
One lie begets another.
Well now I must point the question back at you.
You all have betrayed me. You have lied to me.
This is not the family I was shown growing
up. This is not a family. This is but a mash
of people who are related by blood but nothing
more, nothing at all. The children of two broken
families will surely make another. I remember
you told me how lucky I was that my family was
not like yours. And I held onto that, like flotsam
in the wake of a crash. But it, too, sinks. When I
look at others, I wonder, are our lives really that similar?
I ask myself.
Is this really alright?
Is it really alright?
Is it really alright?
I remember that time your fist landed next to my face,
my back to the storeroom door, back in our old HDB flat.
Now I can no longer tell if you missed me because you
had some restraint, or none at all.
I have opened my eyes.
I have learnt. This is not normal. You
are not alright. I taught myself to be
like you and now I must unlearn it all:
what I understood to be okay,
what I once held to be true,
what I mistook for passion,
what I thought was love.
it is the waking that is the hardest.
the first step in sleep deprivation:
you learn you miss dreaming
of holes, the spaces between lines,
the gap between the train and platform.
you dream of ways in which to die,
how the train brushes against your feet,
the space just big enough for your thigh.
there are other gaps you remember:
misspelled gpas, an empty desk
in class. visions of your friends,
long gone and passed, moss-grown,
flowers atop: a forlorn crown.
their faces eating the light.
in chasing the gap you lose yourself
in the coming and going, in finding
the joy of godless verse, the sound
when you spread her legs, or some
other sex line that marks you adult,
because penetration is the space
between childhood and modernity,
the answer to your wet dreams.
you tell that to your mother, spit
in her mouth, regurgitate the soap.
still dripping from last night, your
eyes clouded with the ocean.
before you leave, look in her eyes.
they are the ending credits of a film.
they are the same sea, the same salt.
you, the end of pages in a book.
you, the closed off dog-ear.
because you never hear of
hungry children, you
eat yourself whole, give in
to desire, the single moment
when your teeth eat into your lips
when your mouth burrows into your tongue.
this dream that eats away at your tail.
all this, to uncover
the space which your voice hides in:
the gap behind the kitchen cabinet.
that unknown place it goes
when you can’t find it, unwilling
to be coaxed out, like the last drop of wine
like a petulant child, forever, forever.
When the holes started popping up so did the epiphanies. Men and women rushing to the mountain, eager to find where they fit. When it showed up on the telly I wanted to switch it off – but there I was, rewinding and rewinding the footage, trying to see if anyone I knew had gone there. I had hoped that they would try going in, like a key in the lock. If I could, I’d push them in myself.
Having spent my life on the path, I learnt one day that I was but a stepping stone, when all this while I thought I was moving.
These holes, they stretch all the way through. One in the hole slowly moves, elongated in all directions. There is no way of turning back. They walk deeper and deeper into the the earth. I sat that night in front of mine, peering into the black. This was my hole. Of all the other holes my size, my heart had decided that this was my own. And so I could not muster the strength to go, nor the strength to leave. So there I lay, imagining myself walking through miles of stone, with no light, no sound, no end to be found. I imagine another me having made it through. What would that me look like?
I sat on a hill in Vietnam, looking into the distance. There, I could glimpse into infinity. Surely somewhere, elsewhere, there is a home I do not see myself in. That is a world of nothing but happy places, a glorious plane, one I cannot and do not belong.
There can be no salvation for me now. No escape, no return. The walls close in, like mothers whispering love. This is the path I had chosen – and now I must die on it. Or worse still – I don’t.