The Key of Songs

Time, warping: like I have U-turned
back into the 60s, walking straight
into a public housing project in Singapore—
remindful of those brick walkups in District 3,
playpen of my childhood whims. Except that
these satellite dishes would never have been
erected in such open view. This island, named
after Christmas, used to be Singapore soil;
the only clue is this dilapidated neighbourhood
bearing the Housing Board’s clumsy handiwork.
With no chance of upgrading—I want to tell
this diaspora of fellow countrymen, who
a long time ago came here to work and then
chose to remain behind. For a better life,
presumably. And I admire their laid-back
Australian ways now—steering a boat out to sea
whenever they like, to trawl back what the waves
care to cough up; their children taking joyous dips
at the end of the jetty’s wooden runway; the sun
setting and rising with no skyscrapers eclipsing,
no artificial colouring brought on by pollution;
roads unclogged for their entire lengths without
a single traffic lamp in command. I wonder
about the different key of songs that birds
inflect in unhindered airspace and, most of all,
what sleep envelopes these islanders, still
unburdened by the shrieks of manic city states.

by Yong Shu Hoong
from Frottage (2005)


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