Musical Chairs

The minute you walk in at Tampines,
the beeping stops and the game begins
here on this train from Pasir Ris

to Boon Lay on a weekday night.
You start to think of many things: what if
the train breaks down and there’s no power?

But whatever you do, don’t give up
your seat to that old lady in gold chains
and jade manacles, whose only reason

for joining the game tonight is because
her busy son-in-law can’t pick her up
from mahjong. The Reserved Seating sticker

points to a lie: in a free-seating economy it’s all
about possession. Then there’s that woman
with the smell who can’t stop scratching herself,

her belongings in a big red plastic bag:
an empty coke can rolls out from her world.
And don’t forget those who are still searching

for Jesus in little bound booklets. What if
he’s still around somewhere, waiting
with arms wide open for a hug nobody

tosses into his cup anymore? Foreign
workers know the rules of engagement
in confined spaces; they just don’t speak it

well enough, that’s all. Instead, they yell
into their phones so the folks back home
can put a finger on where they are on a

map spread out on the floor. After we run out
of things to look at we pretend to be staring out
the window, when stealing looks at another man’s 

paper makes for more exciting reading,
a play-pretend reality where stale scandals
change tracks to bigger fonts and even bigger

splashes of shock. Overhead the announcement
calls for new players to join in at Jurong East,
and it’s time for you to get up and go.

by Loh Guan Liang
from Transparent Strangers (2012)


SELECTED POEMS: “Neighbourhood Watch" >