On History

(for Lim Chin Siong 1933-1996)

Outside the prison, a radiant young man opens his hands and releases a dove. Someone has draped a garland round his neck; the weight is reassuring, like a comrade’s arm. The bird is a little flustered by its freedom, swooping in unsteady arches before it soars into the sky and alights onto a branch. The young man doesn’t have time to contemplate its flight; there is a lot to do, new shifts to balance. Things are happening so fast in his country that they drown out the white thrashing of wings. This only resurfaces years later, after more pain and prison pushes him off his country and the flashing political days end for good. In his London exile, the boxes of fruit and vegetables he sells each day calm him with their abundance; the people in the Bayswater grocery keep mispronouncing his name so in the end they call him George. A new name helps him forget the way his country peeled from his eyes as the aeroplane took off. Sometimes he thinks of another man, the long-faced one with a Cambridge accent and tiny eyes. The one they called visionary because he spent his whole life forcing gold gloves on the ‘digits’ he ruled so they would not clench into fists. Now he hears that the government has decided to put public money into bird-feed, giving them so much to eat that they no longer sing at twilight or move their fattened wings.

by Teng Qian Xi
from They hear salt crystallising (2010)


SELECTED POEMS: "Ghazal of Winter" >