Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Seven Stones

The first stone is the weight of my envy
Unspeakable and hidden, like my crooked smile in old photos
Where I wanted to be the prettier child
It is hard to let go of things you know you will never have

The second stone slides off my hand reluctantly,
Sloth tumbling down the slope of my fingers like a child getting off a swing
Selfish and pouting, the memory of
Late mornings in bed, the third cup of tea
Looking up memories to pass the time

The third stone is the largest, spotted like
Greed at a sale when the unbeautiful pretend they can afford
Anything and you rush for that dress that you saw on the girl with your
Best friend’s boyfriend’s ex-classmate
And buy the dress in three different colours,
Including the one you know you will never wear and console yourself with
A matching handbag for the pain

The fourth stone burns my palm
Lust can come quietly, as you watch a movie about someone else’s life and wonder
If it is a cliché to ask if that could happen to you
I throw it like a heartache, it clings to my fingers like a kiss
Asking for forgiveness before I let it fly

The fifth stone sparkles to catch my neighbour’s eye
Pride has no place in prayer, but everyone still worships at the
Shrine of “Keeping Up With The Neighbours” and there is no more fact
Or fiction only the lines between being proud and being honest
And the division depends on if you think I am trying to be better than you

The sixth stone is heavy like the
Gluttony that is a national treasure
How else do we shore up the economy?
All you can eat buffets and nothing to do but eat and then look in the mirror,
I tried to stop you from eating dinner for two by yourself but
Mia sees gluttony in the mirror since they are both empty, and never satisfied

The seventh stone shatters on the pillar
Wrath, for all the times my heart held nothing but blood and fire
And bitter words I spoke to too many people
I hope you’ve forgiven me, maybe youth is anger because we resist the fact that
We have to wait ten years for power and by then it will be too late for us
Because we will not remember why we wanted it
This stone, at least, in its shattering will change

My hands are empty, there are no more stones.

My heart is water
In the pool of my body
I have nothing left to say that God does not already know
He who hears my prayers before my crooked lips shape the words,
Holds my heart, mute and blinded
By everyday sin and daily indignity
I know now that my soul is for Him, and that the rest of me will follow
Flesh to bone to cracked soil and air
And maybe there will be seven stones, after the dust of my feet has settled,
Holding the memory of my hands and my penitence.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Lions of Baghdad

The lions of Baghdad rise from the Round City
Padding softly on paws of sunlight and dust
Licking blood off the wounds of the women and children
Upon whom the world has declared war

An ivory hook reaches from the darkness
And hooks around the neck of a fat man
Selling his daughter for cigarettes
Those who believe that struggle creates nobility
May wash their hands in the blood on the streets

The lions prop up a roof of stone that has lasted
Through childbirth, cannons, and corruption
Lowering it gently, until finally the sleeping man underneath
Wakes up in the arms of his long-dead wife and smiles.

A soft feline breath sends soldiers and children
Dreams of crisp air and the possibility of a life without fear
When the explosion is over,
Who can tell the difference between a soldier who will never see his child
And a child who could not remember his father?
They have both been cheated by amateur chess players
Who know only to sacrifice pawns for kings

The lions are the last ones to have unbroken hearts
Though they have watched Baghdad bleed from a bellycut of bitterness
Since the palace became the centre of the world
And the mosque its satellite
Yet they will not leave this city of ashes
And its static chatter of dread
Until there are living hearts in the burning pulpits
And the children only smell of bread.


really not quite sure what to think of this one. in some ways very reminiscent of my rather simplistic older works, but i did like it at the time i wrote it. perhaps in a couple of weeks will just be a case of fairy gold. will see.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Joyas Voladoras, " by Brian Doyle

Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird's heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird's heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird's heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.
Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmetcrests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant's fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.
Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles -- anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.
The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It's as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs, and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.
Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.
So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end -- not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman's second glance, a child's apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother's papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

green apples

Since the hippie-formerly-known-as-Prince said “Okay, honey, let’s leave the land of the free, and play house in yellow submarines”, no one really remembers that they had a son. Skin as white as snow? Check. Hair as black as ebony? Check. Lips as red as roses? (Or blood, if you prefer.) Check. But see, nobody realised a wish could be hereditary. So the son gets away with everything. Which is his birthright, after all. Not everyone can sleep in the beds of dwarves (vertically challenged uncles), or sing to animals (‘The Lion King’, stage right, exit), and get away with it looking even better.

I know I’ve forgotten his name, the way you’re supposed to, with old stories. Not stories like Odysseus’ Odyssey, where he becomes his story in all its epic length and flowery verse, but the stories that distil themselves. The one where people are known as the third wife, who sacrifices herself to save her daughter, or the eldest son, who defeats rampaging evil #3.

The sun is out, like a Sunday night miracle. It’s farmer’s market day, in the heart of this old city. With the shopping centres and the mobile phone shops a two-minute walk away. The castle’s in the background, with the rabbits like warriors on its craggy granite rock foundation, charging up the hill for God and country.

He’s standing there at an apple stall. Poison green, acid green. I wonder if he’s doing it for the sheer dramatic irony. Standing there, a knife in one hand, an apple in the other. Obviously the knife is small, sharp bladed, its hilt as black as his nails, painted like a heartbreak in July. He takes another apple. The sun paints half of it gold, leaving the other half purple. He holds it like a woman holds her prayers, close to her, where they will do no harm. He winks.

JUGGLING? That’s just too much. Even old ma queen witch woman would have complained. The story has to make sense. When you’re standing there, the sun burning the movement of curls across your cheek, your eyes not quite staying the same colour from one moment to the next, there has to be a big show. Juggling is so Punch and Judy, I expected something from The Globe.

He beckons me over. Cuts the apple he’s just caught. The knife pops the acid skin, into the flesh as white as his. It’s sibilant, the sound of the blade through the apple, like the snake tempting Eve. He takes the half that used to be gold, I take the purple. I watch him bite into his half before I do. He notices, and the roses in his face twitch.

“The same as last week, luv?”


“I’ve been thinking, maybe we should start calling these ‘Wicked Witches’, eh? Instead of Granny Smith. Pity the old girl, someone must have loved her so much they named these after her. Only sweetens up when someone cooks her goose in the oven. What d’you think, luv?”

I smile, red hot iron.

“Maybe she danced for joy.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Decidedly Not Divine Miss P

The decidedly not divine Miss P was annoyed. She tapped her blood-red fingernails on the table, reading yet another article on identifying Singapore’s favourite undead. They’d gotten it all wrong! Again! Was it really her fault she liked floral fragrances? She went to great trouble to smell nice, and they thought it was all frangipani! Or jasmine! The living! They never noticed anything!

She looked around, ignoring the steam rising from her kopi-o. The Lido girl was here, dragging a teddy bear around the old-fashioned coffeeshop, asking the uncle for Milo. Miss P smiled at the girl, and shifted on the old wooden bench to make space for her. The girl had been really excited about some upcoming movie about a boy wizard, even dressing up her bear with a wizard’s hat. Miss P thought it was just as well the girl had a seat for every movie, she looked like might just rematerialise in anticipation. The uncle came over with Milo for the girl, and Miss P’s kaya toast. She called out to his head, which kept a watchful eye from the counter, thanking him.

The army boys were all at one large table, as usual, drinking Tiger Beer, and eating as fast as they could. Between the vulgarities and the army acronyms, it sounded like they’d had a good night’s work, giving an entire camp full of newly-minted NS boys nightmares of ORD-ing six months late. A particularly sensitive boy had woken up screaming. He was now being imitated ad nauseum, the boys laughing themselves, well, obviously not to death, but hard enough. One boy kept his spilling entrails on the chair next to him. Another had blooms of blood on his No.4s, military medals in crimson. Both swore instead of using punctuation.

She’d had a good night as well. Taking the last MRT train to be early, she’d decided to wander around her usual haunts. At a reservoir, she’d terrified a girl into hysterics, putting paid to her boyfriend’s idea of a wild night in a parked car. She’d thought to get a lift, since the car they were in was speeding in her direction, but decided to continue wandering. Seeing more parked cars, she had repeated herself, terrifying 3 more girls before taking the night bus back.

She looked around. There was the odd soldier in an old-fashioned uniform. They were usually quiet, asking only for drinks and to borrow a newspaper. The livid bayonet and gunshot wounds were horrific even by their standards. They deserved respect, these men, who had fought and died for a country not yet formed. The war dead rarely came here, preferring to live in their old bunkers. They practiced marching in order to have something to do, and kept to themselves. This had become a country almost foreign to them. Most of the places they knew no longer existed. Those of their companions still alive were mostly in hospitals and old age homes. They visited as often as they could, she knew, always asking forgiveness for not being the ones who had to survive. On the nights they marched, they always hoped that there would be someone to see them, a distant nephew, perhaps, or a granddaughter. But that was rare, and as time went by, fewer people remembered them. They had no graves, only memories, and those were fading.

Miss P smiled to herself. At least she wasn’t losing her popularity. Everyone knew her, or thought they did. She frowned again. Who exactly came up with the idea that she lived in a banana tree? To her, bananas were good for fibre and potassium, and not much else. Anyway, technically banana trees weren’t trees, but large herbs. She lived in a shophouse these days, storing her vast collection of white dresses in several rooms. Their world kept expanding, as buildings were torn down to make way for new ones. She’d been surprised to see the National Library appear, with its red brick walls and the fountain in the courtyard. It still smelled like old books, quiet and accepting. She’d seen the new library, and thought it was odd, cold efficient glass and metal, not particularly something you could have feelings about. Recently the National Stadium had begun to appear. It was like there was more than one Singapore, the past and the present ones, neither having much in common with the other. But then again, she was old, older than she looked, and her ideas of history and belonging had no place anymore in the land of the living.

“Mari kita rakyat singapura sama-sama menuju bahagia…”

The radio began blaring. Miss P looked at the clock, it was the end of tonight, and the beginning of tomorrow. She sang along.

“Majulah Singapura. Majulah Singapura.”

- Nurul Jihadah Hussain 2007
Published in Life! section of the Straits Times on the 29th of July as part of their Ghost Stories Competition.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

i got a piece published in the straits times!!! omg i am so excited! haha its coming out next sunday! i hope people like it. anyway, i'll put it up here when it comes out. still want to work on the original, which involved politics and the kranji war memorial. but that would mean going to kranji war memorial, and no one wants to go with me, and its a bit too much in the middle of nowhere for me to go alone. anyway, for that piece, i think it would have required too much emotional honesty for me to want it to be published in the papers. not to mention that since it would have been about GHOSTS, and the people commemorated at the war memorial may still have family alive, it might not have been very sensitive. but i really want to do a piece on it. gr.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rabindrath Tagore- from the collection: Gitanjali

Day after day, O lord of my life, shall I stand before thee face to face? With folded hands, O lord of all worlds, shall I stand before thee face to face?

Under thy great sky in solitude and silence, with humble heart shall I stand before three face to face?

In this laborious world of thine, tumultuous with toil and with struggle, among hurrying crowds shall I stand before thee face to face?

And when my work shall be done in this world, O King of kings, alone and speechless shall I stand before thee face to face?