A Broken Violin

 

This happened today
Bernardo needs putting back
Together. Erm, glue?

I had seen a small separation between the fingerboard and the neck the other week. I wondered whether the humidity was playing havoc with it. So I had an inkling that my violin would break this morning. But still, when the fingerboard separated from the neck in my hands, my heart sank. Bless him, my friend Pov said, “Glue it back together, no problem.” 

Yes, hopefully. But that will done by a specialist. Bernardo needs some TLC. 

The Mosquito Bites

The Mosquito Bites 

If you join the dots,

There’s an equilateral triangle mapped out on my chest.

My skin, a canvas to the mosquitoes,

Like the night sky, and they are gods.

 

You made me think

that I had measles or shingles, all for a moment.

Then I found the final

Dot.  The Southern Cross.  On my chin.

Newborn

About a year ago, I went to visit some friends and their hours-old baby at the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital at the riverside in Phnom Penh.  Stirred by the din of our party of four’s arrival, this little boy opened his beautiful black eyes to take us in.  “Hello, little one.”  He stared back and then closed one eye.  *LOL*  He got me thinking about what it must be like as a newborn.  Do they feel overwhelmed by this multi-sensory realm, full of new smells, noises and colour?

We often think of babies as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, with no sense of self.  And perhaps they are.  But I wanted to invert that in this poem and imagine that a newborn could form their thoughts, as an adult, self-aware and with the vocabulary to match.  I wrote out the first draft and then left it for a few months while life went on.

And then along came little P.

This newest addition to the family has been lovingly provided by my sister and brother-in-law, in the form of a beautiful baby boy who came 3 weeks early.  In actual fact, the moment my sister told me that she was pregnant, I began to miss Owotato, as I dubbed him (a conglomeration of their surname and potato).  Now, she whatsapps me photos, we google hangout and she sends me wee videos of him.  But in all honesty, what I long to do is hold him and blow air on his face!  In the meantime, this poem, which is dedicated to him, will have to suffice.

Newborn

Voices approach.
Chattering, excited.
Sweet and high.
Gravelly and low-pitched.
There’s quite a few
close to me.

Open eyes.
Foggy mist.
Shapes of different sizes
loom in. Peer.
Can’t quite make out
how many.

Perhaps if you came closer?
Too late. Out they zoom.

One of them is asking,
is it overwhelming
being a newborn?

YES! The air feels cold on my skin.
I miss the wet warmth.

Having said that,
I don’t seem to run out of room to stretch out,
I punch
and shake my fist to test it.
And – wow!
Hit nothing.

I can smell my mother’s milk.
Comforting,
amidst sharp,
sour notes surrounding me.
I twitch my nose
towards it.

I’ve begun to use my mouth to suck
and my throat to swallow. Wonderfully,
instinctively, it knows what to do.

I’m not so sure.
I am going to practise making the moves in my own time.
I want to know how.

Shadows reach in
to hold me.
Please be gentle.
It can hurt,
I try to tell them.
But they don’t seem to understand me.

Oh hello! You smell different.
What? This one likes blowing air on my face.
Stop it! I blink.

I daren’t move my head.
I’m scared,
that if I turn it to one side
I won’t be able to bring it back.

So, I turn
my eyes
to take it all in.
This cacophony of colour
and light.

Thursday, 3pm

Screenshot 2016-04-26 13.03.14Last year, the writing group that I’m part of asked for submissions for a Sputnik creative project, ‘What is it to be Human’.  I submitted this for inclusion into their anthology of short stories and poems and it was accepted.  You can buy the whole creative pack here or download the e-book for free, if you want.

I deliberately left it a year before posting this poem.  When honesty shakes up a friendship, some things are better left carefully tucked away to rest so that the friendship can recover and forge forward in a new way.  And then, at some point, when it’s healthy, I think these moments can be shared.

I remember that I found writing this therapeutic and surprisingly making myself write it in iambic pentameter was helpful: the discipline required in da DUM da DUM da DUM, forced me to take the time to work through each painful moment for what it was.  Normally I lack the patience to do that, but I convinced myself that this was an one-off – much like the conversation below!  As one of my friends remarked after the event, “It’s not like you’re planning to have these kinds of conversations on a daily basis!”

Indeed not!

But how necessary, it was.  And how my heart soared free, thereafter.

THURSDAY, 3PM.

They say that the heart is purely muscle
Beating, pumping, pushing blood through highways
of capillaries and veins. Coursing life
into every member of the body.
It has four chambers. The two small ones are
called atria and the larger ones are
ventricles. The aortic valve is
what controls the flow of blood out of the
left ventricle to the aorta
(the body’s main artery). I learned all
of this in biology. So, how then –
as I’m sitting opposite you, waiting
for my drink to arrive. “Carrot shake, please” –
Does it know to pump doubly hard, rush blood
upwards to my face. Cause my palms to sweat,
hands tremble so I have to sit on them.

Somehow, it has guessed it’s impending fate.
Ah, here’s the drink. “Thank you.” Sip. Swallow.
Breath. Out. In. Steady. I need slow, sure words.
This is a delicate operation.
It will require all my skill to cut
out my heart, in one piece, adeptly
manoeuvre it from the ribbed darkroom where
feelings develop. Reveal my heart to
you so that you understand. And I don’t
have to repeat this ordeal again.
Ever! “I like you, a lot.” Words spill out,
clattering across the table like
loose change, stunning you. Eyes widen. Dumbstruck,
Your swift ripostes rendered suddenly mute.
My eyes hold yours steady and assure you,
I’m serious. Your lips make to move, but
you stop and try to work and rework out
what to say and how. I know your answer
already. I want to tell you that. And
as you laugh in nervousness. I join in.

An Evening Walk in Phsar Doeum Thkov

a view from the frangipani flowers on my street
a view from the frangipani flowers on my street

I’ve joined this writing group and the first assignment was to write a poem in iambic pentameter (penta, means 5.  iambs, that’s a unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, think daDUM.  So iambic pentameter is 5 sets of iambs).  They gave us some lines to start us off.  I found the exercise much trickier than I thought it would be.  In the end, I wrote something but it felt like it was fitting a square peg in a round hole.

So, I’ve unpegged it.  And let the lines run free.  I think they feel better for it.  I’ve tried to keep the ending in iambic pentameter.  A bit of discipline never went amiss.

It’s a bit dark… but it was sort of inspired by the upcoming 40th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge.

*Phsar Doeum Thkov is the neighbourhood where I live in Phnom Penh.

An evening walk in Phsar Doeum Thkov*

These streets have no name.  They’re just numbers on a map.

Street five hundred is mine.

 

I walk them as sun sets.

Five-0-two is next.

Dogs shake off hot sun,

stretch and yap at my feet.

I don’t like it.

 

5-0-4 is cheerfully lined with white, pink and yellow

frangipani trees. I’d linger but,

for the dogs. Besides, I’m meant to be doing exercise.

There, a huge white house stands behind

iron gates. Next door, a wooden shack.

Do the neighbours talk to one another?

 

These nameless streets hold innumerable,

unsaid, unspoken, memories. Walls, Stones,

dare I ask, what happened? Who fell? When? Who

cowered? Cried? Wept? Died? How? Bludgeoned? Shot? Who

survived? What? And can they grieve now? Or do

unspeakable acts of terror haunt them?

As sun sets? As the dark draws in. I wonder.

Mosquito, a haiku

sunset by the sailing club
sunset dinner by Kep sailing club

I went away on holiday with five friends to the sleepy seaside town of Kep (pronounced Gaip), in Cambodia recently. I forgot to take my journal with me and I felt like I couldn’t do any meaningful reflection without it, as I wouldn’t be able to write it down.

Instead, I chose to write down a few poems that I’ve been mulching on for pretty much a year.  Actually, pretty much the entire time that I’ve been in Cambodia.  They’re all about mosquitoes.  Here’s the first one.

It’s a haiku for no other reason, than that’s how it came out.  I had this image in my mind, of a squadron of mosquitoes flying in formation at night, getting ready to attack.  Mosquitoes don’t hunt in packs; it can sure feel like it when you have multiple bites within 5 minutes.  Why stealth fighters?  The peculiar thing about Cambodian mosquitoes is, is their silence.

You have to imagine the venom in my voice towards the mosquitoes as I’m saying it.

Mosquito

stealthy night fighter,

flying under the radar,

leaving pock-marked skin.

the prepared fish in their 'marquee'
the prepared fish in their ‘marquee’ before the seafood barbeque
a view of Kep from the sailing club
a view of Kep from the sailing club

Gasping

Talk about ghosts of the past. I found this poem biding it’s time in my drafts folder while I was looking for a creative piece of writing. It’s for an anthology that Catalyst are putting together this year. The anthology looks like an exciting creative project.

Can I share a secret with you?  I’m a wee bit nervous about posting this poem.  See, I’ve posted some poems in past. However, this is the first posting of any very personal poetry that I’ve written.  And I’ve gone and written one about love, of all things!

Well, this poem is unpolished. It’s raw. It’s unsophisticated.  I tidied it up a bit when I reread it.  And yet, I think I want to keep it in this form. I keep being reminded of how much I love poetry for being a medium to express emotion in such an honest way.  When I read it now, it takes me right back to the moment when I wrote it. I was trying to work through some issues *laughter* – there’s an understatement – of an unrequited love and an unresolved relationship.

Perhaps, you’ll empathise a little with the pain too.

Gasping

Time has rewritten the history of you.
You are no longer the hand that squeezed my heart
And gripped it, tight.

In fact, my face turned blue
And I felt nothing, for 5 years
I felt nothing. Comatose.

How did I describe it before?
Ah yes. Like I was frozen.
Not all of me.

Just that part of me that falls in love,
And notices the little cobwebs that grow around one’s eyes.
I wanted it to be
someone else’s eyes.

How can I explain it?
Like my heart had been put on hold. A pause button
You pressed.
No, I had let you press
When I couldn’t let go of that idea of us.

Get it?
Pretty good effort from an asphyxiated girl.

Reprieve came with your questions.
Those shock pads that you jollily jumped me with.

(See. You had claim to my frozen heart.
But my lungs were mine and had just been sucked of dreams.
Gasping. That’s when you shocked me.)

It’s summer and there’s somebody else.
He may not fancy me.
But I don’t care. My heart is free from you.

We’re crossing paths again. And,
Suddenly, you’ve become this figure in my future.
And in 30 days when we meet

I want to be “just friends”.
I need to dismantle “us”.
I wish I knew how this poem ends.
I want to know how this poem ends.

Time had written you out of my heart.
But I’ve found the ghost of you lurking and

I don’t how to –

Keep the cold out.

Birmingham New Street Station in a Heatwave

My CELTA course in Birmingham and the summer’s astonishing heatwave have coincided in July 2013. It has meant that I’ve become a rail commuter again and I get to traipse through Birmingham New Street’s revamped station. I rather like its new look.

It’s a shame that they haven’t done anything about the narrow escalators and stairs that connect the platforms and the concourse.

I think that we’d had an input session on teaching writing one morning in which we’d discussed how we could encourage ESL students to write poetry. It reminded me of how I always preferred to write poetry than prose at Korean school when they set their writing competitions: poetry requires minimal words and I was the weakest student in my group. Somehow, I managed to wow someone with my creative outputs and won a few prizes. Ironically, they were dictionaries!

I’ve been reading the Psalms and Norman MacCaig’s poems during my commute. The combination of all these things has culminated in me writing a wee one of my own.

Birmingham New Street Station in a Heatwave
It’s okay,
It’s fine really,
until you’re at the top of the stairs and then –

My nose!
My nose!

Assaulted by these people’s
sticky, sweaty,
familiar smells. Their stale scents
stick at the back of my throat.

Descending the steps into
sultry staleness.
Dim, dingy, dirty.
Pining for fresh air.

Stalemate.
Waiting for my shiny steed to whisk me away.

LOOK what I MADE for my MUM!

How to present a cupcake bouquet in a watering can

(SsssshH! This is a secret.)



Buy a vase,

(or in my case, a pint-size dotty watering can).

Take an oasis. Half it.
Choose some flowers
and foliage,
Charm a few canes from the florist.
“Thank-you.”


Get out the strawberry cupcakesI baked earlier.
Now, meringue buttercream is a faff

– this step takes about an hour –

but once you’ve piped roses and tasted it, you’ll see it’s worth, the faff.
Poke a hole in the bottom of the cupcakes with the canes.
Make a mess whilst arranging them all – and
Ta DA!


Look what I MADE for my MUM!
– a cupcake bouquet!



mummum cupcake bouquet 1

happy birthday mum

p.s. she liked it A LOT! but I don’t think that she wanted to eat it because it looked so nice on the table.