Friday, December 30, 2005

When My Son Is Sick

When my son is so sick that he falls asleep
in the middle of the day, his small oval
hard head hurting so much he
prefers to let go of consciousness like
someone dangling from a burning rope just
letting go of his life, I sit and
hardly breathe. I think about the
half-liquid skin of his lips,
swollen and nicked with red slits like the
fissures in a volcano crust, down
which you see the fire. Though I am
down the hall from him I see the
quick bellies of his eyeballs jerk
behind the greenish lids, his temples
red and sour with pain, his skin going
pale gold as cold butter and then
turning a little like rancid butter till the
freckles seem to spread, black little
islands of mold, he sleeps the awful
sleep of the sick, his hard-working heart
banging like pipes inside his body, like a
shoe struck on iron bars when
someone wants to be let out, I
sit, I sit very still, I am out at the
rim of the world, the edge they saw
when they knew it was flat – the torn edge,
thick and soil-black, the vessels and
veins and tendons hanging free,
dangling down,
when my boy is sick I sit on the lip of
nothing and hang my legs over
and sometimes let a shoe fall
to give it something.

By Sharon Olds


I know I am supposed to feature only 5 poems from Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell, with Our Son and the Water Shortage being the last featured poem. However I have some difficulties regarding the above poem and hope you guys can help me out. How do you interpret these few lines?

“when my boy is sick I sit on the lip of
nothing and hang my legs over
and sometimes let a shoe fall
to give it something.”

What message is the poet trying to convey here?

(Updated on 1 January 2006)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Our Son and the Water Shortage

When the water shortage comes along
he’s been waiting all his life for it,
all nine years for something to need him as the
water needs him now. He becomes
its protector – he stops washing, till dirt
shines on the bones behind his ears
over his brain, and his hands blaze like
dark badges of love. He will not
flush the toilet, putting the life of the
water first, until the bowl
crusts with gold like the heart’s riches and his
room stinks, and when I sneak in and
flush he almost weeps, holds his
hands a foot apart in the air and
says do I know there is only about
this much water left! He befriends it, he
sits by its bedside as if it is a dying
friend, a small figure of water
gleaming on the sheets. He keeps a tiny
jar to brush his teeth in, till green
bugs bathe in its scum, but talk about
germs and he’s willing to sacrifice his health
to put the life of the water first, its
helplessness breaks his heart, the way it
waits at all the faucets in the city for the
cocks to be turned, and then it cannot
help itself, it has to spill
to the last drop. Weeks go by and
our son is glazed with grime, and every
cell of dirt upon his body is a
molecule of water saved and he
loves those tiny molecules
translucent as his own flesh in the spring, this
thin vivid liquid boy who has
given his heart to water, element
so much like a nine-year-old – you can
cut it, channel it, see through it and
watch it, then, a fifty-foot
tidal wave, approaching your house
and picking up speed as it comes.

By Sharon Olds


Unlike my friends Cheong and Gilbert, I find it extremely difficult to write about my childhood. I’ve tried several times and they all ended up either too prosy or too sentimental. I seriously suspect I am trying to suppress certain episodes of my childhood’s memories. What could they be?

Was it that time when I “accidentally” saw some girls bathing along the river? Maybe it was that time when I “accidentally” played my uncle’s video tape assuming all tapes labelled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs must be, ahem, about the fairly tale? Gosh, childhood is indeed a dangerous time where “accidents” happenes so frequently.

Like the boy in the above poem, I do have certain obsessions when I was a kid. One particular obsession stood out from the rest, i.e. I was obsessed with comma. Yupe, I was obsessed with this --> (,). I love to spend my free time counting commas in story books. Not only that, I organized competitions for my story books and declared the book with the most commas wins. Weird right?

Maybe I wasn't weird, maybe I was bored. I don't know. So who wants to count the number of commas in this post?

(Updated on 28 December 2005)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Wish

Last year
they told him if he takes the pills
like a good boy, Santa Claus
would visits him on Christmas Eve
and turns those nasty viruses
into snowflakes;

and he can finally build
his first snowman.

This Christmas
his body lies deep
beneath soil and broken ice, stiffed
like a frozen tuna.

When Spring comes, his flesh
will slowly fades away as if
he is made of snow;

his wish finally
comes true.

Copyright 2005 Alson Teo
Instant Poetry
(Written on 20 December 2005, Tuesday)


Do I hate Christmas? Of course not, although I am not a Christian but like most Singaporean I look forward to this day every year. It is the time when everyone is in the mood to shop, that is if you still hold a job. It is also the time when your children fight among themselves to decide who get to put the angel on top of the Christmas tree, that is you still have a roof over your head. Do I sound pessimistic?

Like all my poems I started it off with an image or a line. In this case it was an image of a frozen tuna. Why in the world a frozen tuna I have no idea. It just popped into my head. Unlike sashimi lover, frozen tuna reminds me of fish market in Japan. It reminds of death. It reminds me of mutilated bodies. It reminds me of children dying in hospitals even during Christmas Day, and it reminds me of cruelties in life. I know I have a great imagination.

But again, there is still something positive in this poem; Winter will soon be over and Spring is approaching; he is now part of Mother Nature; he longer needs to take the pills which he hated. Most importantly, his wish has finally come true although not exactly what he had in mind, but that’s life.

Monday, December 12, 2005

First Sex

(for J.)

I knew little, and what I knew
I did not believe – they had lied to me
so many times, so I just took it as it
came, his naked body on the sheet,
the tiny hairs curling on his legs like
fine, gold shells, his sex
harder and harder under my palm
and yet not hard as a rock his face cocked
back as if in terror, the sweat
jumping out of his pores like sudden
trails from the tiny snails when his knees
locked with little clicks and under my
hand he gathered and shook and the actual
flood like milk came out of his body, I
saw it glow on his belly, all they had
said and more, I rubbed it into my
hands like lotion, I signed on for the duration.

By Sharon Olds

Image taken from

Afterthought I

No I am not going to discuss my first sex, although I don’t mind if you do. What I am more interested are these two lines in the poem,

“and yet not hard as a rock his face cocked
back as if in terror, the sweat”

Do we men really look "back as if in terror" when we are reaching orgasm? Gosh, there is really something new for me. I mean I do experienced hardness, thank you very much, but not my face right? This is really interesting. I have yet to see my own “terrify” expression as described in the poem and I am really curious. Luckily there are a few ways of achieving that,

1) Asking my wife to use her hand-phone to take my photo during our lovemaking.
2) Videotaping our lovemaking.
3) Installing mirrors at the ceiling/side walls.

Let me see, the first option is out. My wife has a bad habit of sharing her hand-phone with her friends and occasionally her mum. And I think it will be unfair for her to be distracted during our special moment.

What about the second option? Personally I really don’t mind. In fact I’ve been toying with this idea for quite some time, but unfortunately my wife will have none of it. She is not really into the movie business especially if it is a XXX film and she is the main actress. I totally understand. Any volunteers?

And now for the last option, what do you guys think? Cool eh? Compare to the other 2 options this seems to be a better choice. Of course it will cost us some moneys but what the heck, it is a small price to pay to get to know oneself better. Guess it is time to renovate the house.

Afterthought II

Coincidentally First Sex is also featured in The Poet’s Companion. Let’s see what it has to say about this poem.

“This poem works on many levels, and for many reasons: it employs the use of repetition, opposition, the surprising similes of the gold shells and tiny snails, and the devices of rhythm and rhyme. But let’s take a closer look at the language itself. Re-read that third line: “… so I just took it as it / came …” The word “came” used in the context of the line doesn’t refer to sexual climax, but the word is there, to conjure up the idea. And later, “his face cocked / back …” is used to describe the angle of the man’s face. In both cases, words or phrases we attach to a sexual act have been slightly displaced. Also notice how those words are emphasized by being positioned at the beginning or end of the line. When the actual “climax” of the poem occurs in the line “he gathered and shook,” we are pleased and surprised by the similes describing the man’s semen as “like milk,” “like lotion.” On first reading we feel as if we’ve been given a rather graphic description of the sexual act. But have we? Body parts are mentioned: “his legs,” “his sex,” “palm,” “face,” “hand,” and “belly,” even each tiny hair and pore in the skin, and yet there is no feeling of vulgarity about the poem. What we feel is the magic, the wonder and surprise of first sex, the strangeness of its sounds and sights, the sensuality of it. We also sense the joy of it in the humor of the last line which is emphasized by the use of rhyme: lotion / duration. Olds has shown us a way into this material by making use of the old language in a new context.”

(Updated on 14 December 2005)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Freshly Chopped

Within an hour
two more frogs
are going
to die.

My wife has just
her craving
for their

I must go now.
It is unwise to keep
a hungry woman

She expects
them to be

Copyright 2005 Alson Teo
Instant Poetry
(Written on 25 November 2005, Friday)


Do you love instant noodles? It takes about 3 minutes to cook them. They can be quite delicious (even without adding other ingredients) especially if you are hungry or when payday is still 2 weeks away and you have only 20 dollars in your wallet.

In fact I also love writing instant poems. Just like the noodles, it takes about 3 minutes to complete. These poems come fast and furious, usually without warning. Stand in their way and they will send you flying to the moon. I love these poems because I don’t have to work too hard to complete them. Of course they are not excellent poems but like my other not-so-instant poems, they speak to me.

Usually when I start writing a poem I have no ideas how it will end. Through my subconscious it slowly reveals my hidden thoughts and emotions. For example Freshly Chopped is not about frog’s legs. No, it is about my relation with my wife. It is about the tensions in our marriage. It doesn’t sound like a happy marriage right? Of course not, our marriage is the one that was being “freshly chopped.” But sorry froggies but you are still going to die.

Have you guys seen our legs?

(Updated on 10 December 2005)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On the Subway

The young man and I face each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of light
rapidly moving through darkness. He has
or my white eye imagines he has the
casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing old fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken and
used. I look at his raw face,
he looks at my dark coat, and I don’t
know if I am in his power –
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life –
or if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he may not be eating, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from his darkness,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation’s heart, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
life he could break so easily, the way I
think his back is being broken, the
rod of his soul that a birth was dark and
fluid, rich as the heart of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.

By Sharon Olds


Singapore’s main subway system is known as MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). But there is also another subway system known as LRT (Light Rail Transit) which serves as feeders to existing MRT network. I have to take these 2 systems in order to reach my workplace 5 days a week, and each trip takes more than an hour. Thus each day, I spend more than 2 hours traveling in trains.

It is kind of boring if you have nothing to do during those 2 hours. Occasionally I take short naps but I tend to snore when I fall asleep. So I try doing things that will attract less attentions to myself such as reading poetry books. But sometimes it backfires because in this country it is rare to find anyone reading a poetry book in the public. I’ve yet to encounter anyone doing so.

Besides reading, another favourite pastime is analyzing my fellow passengers. I love to guess what’s going through their minds, read their body language, etc. If I am lucky, I might encounter some interesting characters such as a man singing loudly to himself, a young couple in school uniforms conducting research on "Public’s tolerance level towards French kissing in the public" or children who can't decide if they are humans or monkeys. Cool.

(Updated on 10 December 2005)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Getting Out

That year we hardly slept, walking like inmates
who beat the walls. Every night
another refusal, the silent work
of tightening the heart.
Exhausted, we gave up; escaped
to the apartment pool, swimming those laps
until the first light relieved us.

Days were different: FM and full-blast
blues, hours of guitar "you gonna miss me
when I'm gone." Think how you tried
to pack up and go, for weeks stumbling
over piles of clothing, the unstrung tennis rackets.
Finally locked into blame, we paced
that short hall, heaving words like furniture.

I have the last unshredded pictures
of our matching eyes and hair. We've kept
to separate sides of the map,
still I'm startled by men who look like you.
And in the yearly letter, you're sure to say
you're happy now. Yet I think of the lawyer's bewilderment
when we cried, the last day. Taking hands
we walked apart, until our arms stretched
between us. We held on tight, and let go.

By Cleopatra Mathis


Written on 20 November 2005, Sunday

Today is my 33rd birthday and our 8th Wedding Anniversary (Registry of Marriages). Nothing much, no birthday cake, no exchanging of gifts, just a simple meal in a Thai restaurant near our house.

On this day 8 years ago we decided to get married. Legally, we became husband and wife. However we waited for another 4 years to hold our Chinese custom wedding. We've been together for more than 12 years. When I first met her it was in July 1993. That was such a long time ago.

We were pen-pals, our 1st date was a blind date, it was love at first sight, and she was only 18 years old and I was 20.

Unfortunately we are from two different worlds; we have different goals in life, different beliefs, different characters, different hobbies, basically we have nothing in common. But for some reasons we are comfortable with each other, but maybe too comfortable. The fire that sustains our love flickers in the storm threatening to extinguish itself.

Our marriage is in a mess. We quarrel so often that we’ve lost count. “Divorce” is a word commonly used during our quarrels. We even calmly discussed our future after the divorce, for example what we are going to do next, will we remarried, should we continue to be friends, etc. But each time just as we were about to give up, something holds us back - a touch, an apology, a kiss on the forehead, a hug, and we decided to give each other another chance.

And also for some weird reasons whenever it is close to some important dates in our lives, we start quarreling. Maybe during these periods we tend to have higher expectations of each other. It is like a curse. The last time we quarreled was on my 33rd birthday and our 8th Wedding Anniversary, 20 November 2005. Yes today. This time our marriage narrowly escaped death. It was too close, really too close.

Somehow we managed to reconcile again, but next time we might not be so lucky.

But for now, Happy Wedding Anniversary my Dear.

P.S. Did anyone of you watch The Mexican starring Brad Pitt & Julia Roberts? Their characters in the movie, well to certain extent echo our situation, especially that part when Samantha asks Jerry, “If two people love each other but they just can’t seems to get it together. When do you get to that point of enough is enough?” and Jerry answers “Never.”

(Updated on 22 November 2005)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Michiko Dead

He manages like somebody carrying a box
that is too heavy, first with his arms
underneath. When their strength gives out,
he moves the hands forward, hooking them
on the corners, pulling the weight against
his chest. He moves his thumbs slightly
when the fingers begin to tire, and it makes
different muscles take over. Afterward,
he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood
drains out of the arm that is stretched up
to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now
the man can hold underneath again, so that
he can go on without ever putting the box down.

By Jack Gilbert


This poem is taken from The Poet’s Companion written by Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux, a book I highly recommend to aspiring poets.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Pope’s Penis

It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver seaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat – and at night,
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.

By Sharon Olds

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Food-Thief

(Uganda, drought)

They drive him along the road in the steady
conscious way they drove their cattle
when they had cattle, when they had homes and
living children. They drive him with pliant
peeled sticks, snapped from trees
whose bark cannot be eaten – snapped,
not cut, no one has a knife, and the trees that can be
eaten have been eaten leaf and trunk and the
long roots pulled from the ground and eaten.
They drive him and beat him, a loose circle of
thin men with sapling sticks,
driving him along slowly, slowly
beating him to death. He turns to them
with all the eloquence of the body, the
wrist turned out and the vein up his forearm
running like a root just under the surface, the
wounds on his head ripe and wet as a
rich furrow cut back and cut back at
plough-time to farrow a trench for the seed, his
eye pleading, the iris black and
gleaming as his skin, the white a dark
occluded white like cloud-cover on the
morning of a day of heavy rain.
His lips are open to his brothers as the body of a
woman might be open, as the earth itself was
split and folded back and wet and
seedy to them once, the lines on his lips
fine as the thousand tributaries of a
root-hair, a river, he is asking them for life
with his whole body, and they are driving his body
all the way down the road because
they know the life he is asking for –
it is their life.

By Sharon Olds


I have with me ‘The Gold Cell’, Sharon Olds' third collection of poems, and which the above poem was taken. This is the first time I have read a poetry book written by a single poet. I usually go for collections or anthologies. Like a charm it works its magic, enslaving me under its spell.

(Updated on 14 November 2005)

Friday, November 11, 2005

How Many Times

No matter how many times I try I can’t stop my father
from walking into my sister’s room

and I can’t see any better, leaning from here to look
in his eyes. It’s dark in the hall

and everyone’s sleeping. This is the past
where everything is perfect already and nothing changes,

where the water glass falls to the bathroom floor
and bounces once before breaking.

Nothing. Not the small sound my sister makes, turning
over, not the thump of the dog’s tail

when he opens one eye to see him stumbling back to bed
still drunk, a little bewildered.

This is exactly as I knew it would be.
And if I whisper her name, hissing a warning,

I’ve been doing that for years now, and still the dog
startles and growls until he sees

it’s our father, and still the door opens, and she
makes that small oh turning over.

By Marie Howe


Capital punishment is currently a hot topic among bloggers in Singapore. In fact it was also briefly touched on by local poets Gilbert Koh and Kirpal Singh during the poetry reading event I attended a few days ago at Central Lending Library.

As a freethinker I do not believe in the existence of Heaven and Hell. I do not believe that murderers, sex predators, etc, will go straight to Hell after their death. I do not believe in reincarnation and they will get what they deserved eventually in their next life. I believe in having justice done while they are still alive. I believe murderers should pay for their crimes.

Yes I’ve said it; I am for the death sentence.

Whether certain crimes deserve death is another matter. But if capital punishment continues to remain in this country, I strongly welcome adding adults that sexually abused their children or grandchildren to the Reaper’s list.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Home Visit

The soup tastes terrible. Not
the first time she adds too much salt.
She pours another,
“I know you miss my cooking.”
You force a smile, your fourth bowl.
There is no rush. The kitchen

is a mini stage; frenzied fruit flies dance
around rotten bananas hanging on
naked wall. Below, bold cockroaches
play hide-and-seek among
unwashed clothes. She asks

about her grandson, and scolds you
for not bringing him here. You blame
the long distance, and try to cheer
her with stories about junior,
how he made a card for your wife
on Mother’s Day. Before you leave

she passes you a packet of instant-noodles
wrapped in crumpled newspapers – a gift
to her grandson. You will return it
unwrapped, together with packets of rice,
sugar, salt, and lies

a month later
when you volunteer
again to be her
forgotten son.

Copyright 2005 Alson Teo
(Written on 22 September 2005)

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Plate of Char Siew Rice

My parents used to say it is sinful
to indulge in luxury, satisfied
with brackish water and burnt bread.
(God must be very pleased,
and soon called for them.)

My brother and I still attend church
for prayers and free buns. But today
they served luxury –
Slices of tender pork roasted
to perfection, lay upon fragrant rice
soaked in rosy sweet sauce.

Today we were late.

With only a serving left
to share, who could resist
such temptation?
Not me.

I lowered my head to avoid
my brother’s eyes and licked
that last grain
off the plate.

Copyright 2005 Alson Teo
(Written on 18 March 2005, Friday)