all is quiet on kusu. we sit suspended on the rocks, adrift
between a world that was and our own. ahead, city turrets
blaspheme the sky, wholehearted—each a dream rooted
in another, a vision twice envisioned. behind, our past
enshrined atop an unreclaimed hill, where three keramats,
like an inner ear, fill up with many prayers. pak ali’s trilingual chant
(ju gong, one, two- terima kasih) spills down the yellow railings:
he begins each rite with after that, sings continuity into our wishes.
the temple below, plastic and shrill, houses all manner of carvings,
variously-lit deities, and a stall hawking joss-sticks. twenty-four,
we are told, are required to enter heaven. tua pek kong perches outside,
soundless in the tide of penitents: we follow one faithful
as she wanders down the crinkled path, her lips working assiduous thanks
for the paper insurance in her palm. she slows, stops
at the edge of the rocky shore, lets good-luck fly unerring
toward the city across the waves. through the blurring rain, son
and talisman become one; even after they vanish she stands there
watching as only a mother can. soon the sea washes higher
and we are forced to leave, to embark on our own pilgrimage
towards that vision of many towers: our altar against the northern sky
perched soundless in the rain, where twenty-four is never enough.

by Theophilus Kwek
from Circle Line (2014)


SELECTED POEMS: "On History" >