Monday, January 29, 2007

Other People's Words For When I'm Few and Far Between

A Blessing by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

The Second Coming
by W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Few and Far Between

Times are strange, I feel stranger. I'd blame it on the moon, except that I don't even know if it waxes or wanes, if it's yellow or orange or silver or purple, heck I haven't seen the moon in days, does it glare?

The grass bleeds silver, they attack the coconut trees (all rotten, all dead), and time seems to move in several different keys - it doesn't offend so much as whisper and we fall off edges only to regain space.

Sneakers sneak off to dance on wet grass and the twelve princesses were talking about you, no solitude, but noise doesn't have to be noisy, it can be pleasant, the howl of a dog against an impervious moon pockmarked with hope, clad in plaid (the moon, not the dog).

Not that I have to make anything clear because she asked me to leap off the edge of my understanding where things don't have to be real and I did.

I did.

So forgive me I seem off keen,
at the moment I'm few
and far between.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Fortune

The thing is, Ben never believed in horoscopes. He considered them an indulgence for the lazy and weak-minded who didn't have the gumption to make it ahead on their own steam. Luck was something you made. Not something you were born with.

The man who had supported a family (his mother and sisters) from the time he was 11 knew what he was talking about. He arrived in Malaya with only the shirt on his back, a fair command on the English language garnered from deciphering Dickens under a streetlamp.

Within a few years he was a millionaire.

Ben had a toughness, a resilience that gave him the strength to bounce back whatever the business reverse. Take the crash of 1929; he negotiated with the bank so they forgave the loan to the tune of a million pounds. Nothing got him down for long.

One day, he was having tea with the Indian High Commissioner: "What can I get you from India? You know something that you couldn't get here?"

"Nothing old chap, don't trouble yourself, I have everything I want."

Unsatisfied, the High Commissioner went home to think. And then he slapped his knee in glee. He would get Ben's horoscope done. He had once broached the subject, but Ben had dismissed it. "A man makes his own fortune, Ram. I don't believe in all that nonsense."

Nevertheless, the High Commissioner called to get the date and time of birth and within a couple of months, a package arrived from India, many pages of closely typed paper bound together, Ben's horoscope in fact. He had gone to one of the top men in India.

Ben smiled indulgently, put the package away in a drawer and promptly forgot about it. A few years later, when ill in bed, he asked his wife to get him something from that particular drawer, and she found the horoscope.

"What's this Benny?"

He stared at it hard, trying to remember. "Oh that's just the horoscope old Ram did for me. You can throw it away if you want."

"Now Benny, that's not very nice. If he went through all that trouble, surely the least you could do is read it."

"You're right my dear."

He started to leaf through the pages listlessly and was struck by how accurate it was in regards to his early life and his subsequent rise in fortunes. Everything up to the present was dead centre. It took his breath away. The former sceptic read eagerly on to see how his life was to turn out.

He would lose all his money (he already had, through a series of reverses). But he would make it back several times over. And he would die at 84, rich and powerful and satisfied.

Ben leaned back on his bed and sighed. 84 was a good time to die. And he would make it all back. So there was no need to worry. Since everything up to that point was accurate, it had to follow that the rest of it was spot on too.

There crept a flabbiness into his character, that hadn't been there before. Where before he pushed and capitalised on every opportunity, using the force of his character to create deals, now he lay back and waited. wny work hard when it was up to destiny? And everything was going to turn out fine anyway? The horoscope said so. His "luck" would return. It was just a matter of time.

He allowed it to sap his customary energy. It may have had something to do with his illness. It may have had to do with the loss of two children from which he never recovered. It may be that the British, whom he had hitherto loved and admired, returned after the war to accuse him of being a Japanese collaborator because he was responsible for helping set the town to rights after the invasion. This was although his two eldest sons were in the British air force, the eldest dying while firing at German tanks in France and the second, a decorated war hero, while the rest of the family were incarcerated and tortured for a year.

Ben emerged from the war, ill, bruised, broken, penniless. And heartbroken.

Every day he waited for his "luck" to change. When he was hospitalised at 55, he didn't think much of it. After all, he was only going to die at 84. Still many years left for his fortune to shift, for his star to be in the ascendant.

But something happened before any of this could take place.

He died.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Starting To Get To Me

When you first join the newspaper, you're sent out to cover all the crappy stories - product launches, if you're a business reporter, floods, if you're in crime, and if you're in the tabloids, boy oh boy oh boy. Any crank calling up to complain about anything, and I mean anything, could mean a story.

"Go check it out. Take a photographer, who knows, mebbe something there," the editor tells you cooly, between puffs of his noxious cigarette, one hand clearing somebody else's screwed up story (aiya, what kind of shit is this?) and one shoulder cradling a phone, as he's in the middle of another conversation. You're only worth about a quarter of his attention.

OK, you have this piece of paper with an address. An old lady called up to say her neighbour makes it a habit of throwing shit over the fence. You want me to follow up on this? You gotta be fucking kidding me! But you're new, anxious to make a good impression and that means you take whatever comes. Even shit. Literally.

OK, so you pull up with the photographer outside this terrace house in a relatively nice neighbourhood. Not the sort of place you would have imagined for this to happen. But it takes all sorts.

The old lady is waiting for you. Eagerly she invites you in, recounts with relish the evil ways of these neighbours. Ugh, what won't they stoop to.

But why, you ask innocently. Why?

"They're jealous, that's what. See my garden so neat. So nice my house. Not like theirs."

You peer over the fence and wonder. The other house looks just as nice. Just as neat. OK, there may be some toys outside, evidence of children, but other than that...both houses, equally nice.

"You don't know, there are plenty of evil people in the world, donnolar what goes on in the mind. Here I am minding my own business, and they do all these things, just because I'm old, alone, helpless." She sniffs a little, takes out a tissue to dab at her eyes.

OK, whatever. So what type of waste do they hurl, you ask.

Old lady pauses, mouth slightly open. You notice the grey hair sort of coming loose from the bun, framing her face. Those eyes look a wonder about her.

"Dog shit. Yeah, dog shit."

You look pointedly over the fence for evidence of a dog. Or cat. Or any animal. Nothing.

OK, you say, with a smile, snapping shut your notebook, I'll just wait for them to come back to get their side of the story. We always give the other party the right of reply.

Aiya, no needlar, she says, dismissively. Why you want to talk to them? They are no good one!

Nevertheless, you smile apologetically, it's a requirement. You know, what with lawsuits and trail off. Both you and the giggling photographer get into the car and wait. And wait. Then wait some more. Finally a car pulls up, mother and father in front, three kids at the back. They look like nice people. But who can tell?

As the mother gets out to open the gate, you approach her with a smile. Ma'am, I'm from Clotherweather News, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to answer a few questions. Your neighbour (you turn to see the old lady peering at you from behind her hall curtains) has made a complaint. The wife looks at the husband. They look tired. They sigh.

"You want to tell her?" the wife asks.

"Why not?" the husband answers. "I mean, she called the press in, what to do?"

They invite you in and recount how the old lady has launched a campaign of harrassment from emptying their dustbin to screaming imprecations at the kids to throwing chicken manure on their car. They kept ignoring the attacks, hoping that she would get tired and stop. Obviously, this was not going to happen.

"Why haven't you made a police report? Surely this sort of harrassment..."

"Aiya, not nice, old ladylar, maybe she'll stop after this. Anyway we're looking for a new place."

You feel sorry for them. Nice people. But there's no story. So you leave with the photographer. And wonder what it's like to be these people, to live with the constant persecution of a crazy jealous old woman with nothing but time on her hands to scheme and make mischief.

I no longer wonder now, I know. A series of petty irritations like minor terrorist attacks designed to disturb your peace of mind. You never know what's coming next. The Crazed Relative rubs her hands in glee. She messes with the common gate so it's difficult for us to reverse out. She patrols the area with broom and dustpan, waiting for the chance to break and enter. She wants to pluck the orchids, which are blooming luxuriantly. She wants to tell the roses, "I hate you, I hate you, why don't you die!" (No, I'm not kidding, she did this) She wants to help herself to a few pots of this and that. Unfortunately, Mom has installed locks on all our gates. So she gnashes her teeth in rage and hides the dustbin. So she hides behind the window and glares at us in moronic rage, plotting, plotting, plotting. So she makes like banshee and howls at the moon.

I have to admit, it's starting to get to me.

Friday, January 19, 2007


They move about in circles, the grey-cloaked ones, listening, listening, to the wind moving through the coconut tree leaves. Sometimes the wind plucks a coconut. From that height it could kill. So far, no one has died.

I stand at the edges, licking my lollipop, chin smeared with red candy, watching them. All that discipline. What would it take to be one of them? To move in those quiet circles and avoid the coconuts?

They ignore me of course. A kid at the edges with her lolly, watching with large interested eyes, just doesn't exist.

I wish I could see their faces.

Jackie comes to stand beside me. She breathes deeply:

"Where is the Horse and the Rider?
Where is the Horn that was blowing?
They have passed like Rain on the Mountains,
Like Wind in the Meadows.
The Days have gone down in the West,
Behind the Hills,
Into Shadow.

It seems vaguely appropriate.

Julie gambols up like a parti-coloured harlequin with milk chocolate on her eyebrows: "What's 'taters' precious? What's 'taters', eh?"

I intone gravely: "Now for for Ruin...and a Red Dawn..."

We charge and scatter the grey spectres. They flap their cloaks, eager to escape and I throw mine into the sea over the fence but it swerves sharply falls into the sky. Jackie keeps hers under her coat and Julie allows hers to lick her eyebrows.

We bow and back away. Bow and back away. Bow and back away.

The leaves continue to rustle. It is always cold under these trees.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hostilities Resumed

Simon, if you're reading this can you tell Jackie that hostilities have been resumed? That mad old woman, with the flyaway hair, mouth slightly open baring her teeth in unconscious snarl, is at it again.

Started with the gate. She shut it slightly to make it difficult for Mom to reverse out. Mom had tuition to go for. She woke me up. I heard the sweeping with a purpose going on behind and thought, uh oh, what have we here?

Now I'd gone to bed about 4 this morning, nobody's fault, was just faffing around, reading Chub's present to me, watching two episodes of The Waltons, reading Blandings Castle, you know how it is. So wasn't too pleased to be woken up. But when I heard the purposeful sweeping, I thought, oh dear, here we go again.

And Jackie, I know it's hard to believe, I know you think the Big M is exaggerating, but there I was, sitting on the blue stool, after I closed our gate on the Moms pulling out, when who should stride purposefully forward, but the Strange and Crazy Relative.

At first she placed a few plastic bags in the bin. Saw me sitting there, twice as big as life, decided I looked sleepy (I was) and that I wouldn't stick around, so it was safe for her to come back. Returned with another tiny plastic bag of rubbish and saw me still seated there like the Buddha.

Then she returned with her trusty broom and dustpan. There I was, playing with Maggotty, watching her silently.

Silent and hostile, that's me.
The mandur, that's me.
Cross my path and you won't know what hit you, that's me.

Honestly Jacks, there was nothing whatsoever to sweep, so at first, she started pulling in some grass from the the little incline behind the culvert. Then she went out onto the road. And swept. Every so often she would shoot these poisonous glances in my direction and I would get to thinking...why do you wander the field with gloves, oh thin grey woman that nobody loves. Not that she was wearing gloves. But she certainly is a thin grey woman that nobody loves.

Anyway sweeping up the hill didn't work, so she tried sweeping down the hill. The people from across the road in the stall having their morning roti canai looked amused. Mad Hatter at it again. Sweeping roads. I mean maybe the JB city council should pay her or something. Give her street-sweeping contracts. Am sure she would do a very good job.

I continued to sit there stolidly. In my own house, playing with my dogs, why you looking at me like that, you crazy geriatric? Finally she gave up and went to the back, where she swept up leaves in a temper.

I decided to stick around, although I'd prefer to go back to sleep, and keep an eye on the situation. I peep out of that hole in the wall on the steps to see her still sweeping. Wonder what is going on in that tiny brain. Wonder how much of her is still sane.

That thin grey woman that nobody loves...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

She has no friends

I wonder about that girl, sometimes. All persona, no personality. She is the outer crust of nothing. She laughs gaily.

Do you wanna hear, do you wanna hear, do you know what happened to me the other day?

They turn away.

The impressive words, straight from Wuthering Heights (which is, like, her favourite novel, like, ever!) dissolve in her throat.

They turn away.

Look at me, look at me. You know that story I did. Award-winning journalist. Yes, me. I'm talking about me. Listen to me, listen to me. I'm better than you. I'm better than all of you. I have the right background. I studied in London. Law. So refined. I know which knife to use when. I know how to fold my napkin. One night stand with Bon Jovi. Really! Look at me, look at me! Dammit, I said LOOK AT ME!

They turn away.

You see, she has no friends.

She sits in her corner and surveys the hostile surroundings. Tries to maintain authority. Tries to say, you do what I tell you to do. I'm the senior. I'm the boss. Look at my brass badge. It says, I'm the boss. Technically. Sort of. Really. Listen to me!

But she can't. Nobody will take it. Not anymore. Too many toes stepped on. Too many lines crossed. Only so many bridges you can burn.

She has no friends.

Such a good mother that she made her kids sick. (If you spray disinfectant over everything, your kids may get sicker than if you let them muck about in a few healthy germs)

Overprotective? Tick.

Smothering? Tick.

Toxic? Tick.

She has no friends.

She sits in a corner working on stories, pretending to herself (because there's no one else to pretend to) that she's on top of her game. That she's great. That the only reason they don't like her is cos they're jealous. And the only reason she doesn't get invited to weddings is cos they're rude. What about etiquette eh? What about protocol? What about common decency? You invite everyone and you don't invite me? She's too good for them anyway.

So she has no friends.

I was thinking about her last night after the phone call. I was thinking Praby, that it must be a lonely life.

A very lonely life.

Because, you see, she has no friends.

Water, water, everywhere

Kiss the Monkey

My clearest image of Sarawak is an angry sea trying to dash me against the rocks. Also my sister Jackie. Also my sister Julie. Julie hurt her toe. Jackie and I, emerge bruised, bleeding freely, after a bout with the sea. It was so angry, it was foaming. The surf roared. Every time you lifted your head, another wave dashed you against the rocks. We got out of there. Barely. Intact.

Cuts and scratches are funny after the fact. We examine them with interest, tracing the network of scabs on our arms, our legs. A bruise is good for a laugh. Maybe two. The larger the bruise, the more impressive. Jackie beat me there. She fell on her sit-upon and sustained quite a nasty one. I fell through a gap in a wooden bridge in the jungle and was similarly empurpled. Upper thigh. I'll show you if you want. It's still there, purple around the edges, getting better. Mom makes a face when she sees it and suggests Aloe Vera. I tell her she doesn't really care because she didn't wake me up putting Skin Repair on the edges of my broken skin like she did with Jackie.

We squished through a rainforest, to get to a waterfall where the water was red, as if with blood, but it was really because of the alkaline soil (Simon said so and he knows what's what). It was nice sitting on the edge of a little waterfall. Kind of like a jacuzzi. We all slipped on moss-covered stones. I nearly died on the first 750 metres which was steeply uphill, scrambling up slick stones, slipping and sliding and breathing heavily. When you're 20 kgs overweight and severely unfit, that's what you do.

And then it got easier. The ground sort of levelled out. I thought every tree root was a snake. And because of the continuous rain before we came, we squished through kilometres of waterlogged terraces. Mud, by any other name, is still mud. New trainers soaked through. (If you can't tell, I'm too sedentary for the adventurous life...give me a nice book, a notebook, a cup of tea and my iPod, and leave me alone, I will create new worlds. Drag me along on adventurous expeditions, and you'll soon be wishing you hadn't...puff, puff, puff, ache, ache, ache, complain, complain, complain)

We saw some nice proboscis monkeys and Jackie nearly stepped on a snake. More adventures. I preferred the monkeys. Cute buggers with large honkers. We saw them up close munching on leaves in the mangrove swamps. Why are swamps always so wet?

In fact, why is everything so wet?

Water, water, everywhere...I come from Johor...have you seen what they're saying about us in the news these days?

We're drowning.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year and then some

I'm sitting in the apartment alone, the pretty Victorian lampshade, a beige thing of fringes, casts a yellow glow over the mysterious new radio and my notebook is splayed open. Fresh page. A long fluted glass filled with golden Drambuie, just opened, sweet, tastes of honey, dissolves tears. The phone rings a couple of times. Parties. Come join us. But no, it will be the first day of my year alone. I have to see it in likewise. Anita was over earlier. We broke open the bottle together. Clinked glasses. She's off to a party. The radio is on at Mix. Or maybe it was Light and Easy. Or I could have been playing a CD, way down low. Mood is everything. Ritual is everything. A sip of Drambuie and I scribble down a few dreams. I don't remember what they were. We finished the Drambuie later that year in a train. We passed it from person to person, drank straight from the bottle.

Sometimes you have to drink Drambuie straight from the bottle if life is to make sense.

Fast forward: I'm talking to someone who has made up her mind. My words, hard little bullets, bounce off her force-field. She smiles benign and peaceful when one gets through. And I think, man, I've made a hit. But not really. They start to die when they've decided. And nothing you say will make a difference. Remember me, remember what I was like, before all this. What do you mean? Remember me...

Trying to make sense of life. No sense. A sip of Drambuie. Nothing. I eat up books like air. Still no sense. No little truths to illuminate more than a page or sear through me. Just nuggets like my ineffectual bullets, bouncing off a mind, saturated and sad. Sometimes happy. Which is the illusion? If Dylan couldn't tell you, what makes you think I could?

Everywhere people finding themselves. Moving into comfortable spaces. Yes, this is life when you don't resist it. You grow and fill out the space. Complete in yourself. Complete in your family. Complete in your truths. This is life. This is the way things are supposed to be. You're not happy because you swim against the tides. Give up. Give in. This is the way things are supposed to be.

Not yet.

Why not?

I still live.

How do you know?

I breathe.


I breathe. And that's enough for now.