Bird With One Wing

The black winds of evening
rustle along the quayside,
tongueing the bones of the houses,
lapping the leas upon the hills
until whole hills are lost
             to the darkness,
and we can claim at last
some kinship with the stars,

Who scrawl their age-old script
a million light-years away,
ignored by a faithless world:
the power of man increases
with the decline of the times;
under the lamp-light,
dust from a hundred nuclear
fallouts shower the air.

For we relish only fire;
             our souls,
not knowing what to believe,
continue to hunger,
planning factories and governments
to reach into our bones:
everywhere the gendarmes patrol us,
armed with walkie-talkies and truncheon sticks.

Now darkness is upon the world,
and all things are possible;
other echoes inhabit the present,
borne upon the waters of the past,
those silver-filled seas of antiquity;
we become involved with shadows,
congruent with nameless dreams,
with the moment’s pure movement.

Sense and place dissolve,
present, past and future
run into new shapes
            like driven clouds
in squalls across the mind:
we can no longer grasp
verities, nor know
the lie of the land.

And possessions do not suffice,
nor the company of friends,
nor yesterday’s love:
they are as a floating cloud
and will become nothing
undone by the faint moonlight,
the reek of magnolia and wine,
drunk with the world’s revolving.

I am the bird with one wing,
never knowing when to return
            from the night
shaped with malevolence,
catching the paranoia of the times
            when tribes and nations
contend for their vaults
filled with skeletons.

The human heart hoards many stones,
           spurn the due seasons,
the simple truths
           within our grasp;
our heads over-stuffed
           with useless knowledge
only empirically derived,
denervated by the wrong riches.

What can comfort these old bones?
Shall I plunge into the unknown,
           abandon thought,
           the burden of money,
the choice of staying aloof from life,
and be like Gauguin at Punaauia,
            prosperous stockbroker
turned penurious painter?

Far better to go dancing after
the damsels with the gazelle eyes,
frolic with wahines on the beach,
            be light of heart.
If I can return to my own people,
do nothing more serious than sing,
perhaps I may live up to my new name,
            Te Manu Tini.

The fleeting world is but a stream,
so let the heart shed its care;
            blood and sinews untied
will ride over the rocks in gay cascades;
let us surrender youth and grief
to time, that sacred river;
the passing years will slip away
and flesh returns to ashes and to earth.

by Goh Poh Seng
from Bird With One Wing (1982)


SELECTED POEMS: "Lately, The Going's Hard" >