One poem leads to another. Reading Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi at the public library, I wanted to read more poems about Singapore.
And, as luck would have it, I came across another anthology, this one co-edited by Alvin Pang, whose poem, Merlign, I particularly liked among all the poems about the Merlion. This anthology is called Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, edited by Alvin Pang and John Kinsella. I immediately liked two of the poems: Bumboat Cruise on the Singapore River by Miriam Wei Wei Lo and They Say by Kirpal Singh.
Why are poems so hard to find on the Net? There should be a few by every poet so we may want to read more of their works.
Bumboat Cruise on the Singapore River
By Miriam Wei Wei Lo
Rhetoric is what keeps this island afloat.
Singaporean voice with a strong American accent,
barely audible above the drone of the bumboat engine:
“Singaporeans are crazy about their food.
They are especially fond of all-you-can-eat buffets.
Why not do as the locals do and try out one of the buffets
at these hotels along the waterfront.” The Swissotel looms.
The Grand Copthorne. The Miramar. All glass
and upward-sweeping architecture. Why not do
as the locals do. Here in this city where conspicuous consumption
is an artform. Where white tourists wearing slippers and singlets
are tolerated in black-tie establishments. Dollars. Sense.
How did I ever live in this place? Sixteen years of my life
afloat in this sea of contradictions, of which I was, equally, one;
half-white, half-Chinese; the taxi-driver cannot decide
if I am a tourist or a local, so he pitches at my husband:
“Everything in Singapore is changing all the time.”
Strong gestures. Manic conviction. “This is good.
We are never bored. Sometimes my customers
ask me to take them to a destination, but it is no longer there.”
We tighten our grip on two squirming children and pray
that the bumboat tour will exist. Nothing short of a miracle
this small wooden boat which is taking us now past Boat Quay,
in its current incarnation, past the Fullerton Hotel
To the mouth of the Singapore river, where the Merlion
still astonishes: grotesque and beautiful as a gargoyle.
The children begin to chafe at confinement. My daughter wails
above the drone of the engine. There’s talk of closing the mouth
of the river. New water supply. There’s talk of a casino.
Heated debate in the Cabinet. Old Lee and Young Lee
locked in some Oedipal battle. The swell is bigger out here
in the harbour, slapping up spray against the sides of the boat,
as if it were waves that kept it afloat, this boat,
this island, caught between sinking and swimming,
as I am caught now. As if rhetoric mattered.
As if this place gives me a name for myself.
By Kirpal Singh
They say do this and they say do that
And so we all do
They say think this and they say think that
And so we all do
They say eat this and they say eat that
And so we all do
They say and they say and they say
They have so much to say
We just don’t know what to do!
So we just frolic around
Get our kicks
Get our highs
And let them think we do what they say
Wow! This is good everyone says
For we all do what we really wanna do
And everyone thinks we all do good things
And of course we are, we wouldn’t dare otherwise
Not in a place where they say do this, do that
Not in a place where they say think this, think that
And certainly not, no never, in a place
Where they say eat this and eat that
For how can we live if we don’t eat?
And if they don’t give us food
Then we are dead meat!