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?

Friday, June 8, 2007

okay, explanation for the blog title. its from one of my favourite poems:

by grace chua

1. ying3/shadow

not fantastic, just reflected light.
i wish i had your second sight,
but all i am is seconds late. you race ahead,
i'm just delayed, bouncing off you
and stumbling into walls
in my haste. i'm such a waste
of time, forever
skulking in your shadow, now and then i fall
through windows, beaming, and all
i do is hurt myself. slowed
by my own medium, trying to catch
the uncertain sunshine of your smile.

oh, this daylight no one can save.

2. neon gods

following the wrong god home
like hansel or gretel, crouched
in a cage of your own making,
a birdcage made of light that lingers
down your interlocking fingers
down the bridge of your nose, doing a flip
and careening down your spine.
preening, you
give me that look. you give me chills.
you're mine.
restless young angel
smashing lightbulbs to fight the darkness
with shards of broken glass.

you used to be
a prodigy,
now you're just
a shot
in the dark.
i'm sorry, we all make
that sort of mistake,
it was just
a trick
of the light

3. illumination

the oldest game, the greatest show
never ask me how i know
never ask how tricks are done
that would ruin all your fun
soda sluts and candymen
showtown girls and caravans
razzledazzle superstar
high up, on trapezia
smoke-and-mirror scatterlight
take me from the world tonight
mirages masking shades of grey
live fast, nothing gold can stay
are you going to the fair?
will you help to get me there?

don't ask strangers for directions
little girls, whose indiscretions
lead to nasty shocks, may cry.
no one tells the truth: they lie
in the gold of rainbows' ends.
here nobody makes amends.
defloweration and diffusion
carouselling in confusion
senses gape at bright illusion

EXIT (,stu,mbling,ly)

don't rub the magic lamp the wrong way

Thursday, June 7, 2007

published in 'but,' 05. supposed to be like, a performance piece in writing. and really, did not warrant the deathglare my beloved writing mentor gave me. i was 17! for crying out loud. am thinking of reworking it so that it would be more... performance friendly



I’d trace the Cyrillic words for truth on your eyelids
Shade the way the shadows hold you
Dip my hands in ink, and there would be
Two curved trails of fingerprints, tracing where your wings would have been
My name in Arabic on the back of your neck, where you can’t see it
Just above yours, in any language you love.

Down, down, down your spine
The figure-shapes of all the languages I can think of
Cambodian, Japanese, Bengali
For love and everything else too perfect that I would rather you not know I want
In old, old languages, where the ache of history has lingered on.

I would trace your lifeline and mark the constellations around it
Your lifeline: the Big Dipper, your love line: Orion’s belt
These marks Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Draco
I’d cover your scars with promises; mark your bruises with lies.

In the thinnest pen I would write everything I could never say to you
In my handwriting that you can’t be bothered to read
Inking the gaps between your hands and mine.
okay, this poem just frustrates me. its not particularly brilliant, especially with the non-ending. but i like bits of it. so shall just put it up. the only thing i wrote for like, 18months. comments MUCH appreciated.


This city with its stone streets is not mine
Fought over by the men like boys today
Sitting in front of me with blood on their knuckles and scars under their eyes
Learning languages spoken by their enemies
The streets are spoken for and the girls are
Corners, defining men and air

The winds are political, they bend over the young
Caressing faces, shaping limbs, then they look up and smile
Marble, like the memory of a knife
And hit the old with gales, the useless with force, they destroy the unbending
The different, those who are outside, those on the news tonight

The winds say walk with me, or fight

There is glass on the streets, under shoes, there is glass in the air
The windows are shattered, there will be no hope tomorrow
Because tonight the bars stay open and prayer only speaks at dawn

Blood is keeping the city warm
The blood of mistaken identities in the park, in the parking lot
The blood in the vomit of the children studying to be doctors
Pretending not to be scared by the dead becoming familiar
Blood in the memories of old deaths, the old man trading cigarettes for warmth has his name on the wall for the Great Wars, the dead wars
The wars that the grandchildren that would be theirs are still fighting

They are restless in the old graveyards, they know it will be pointless

There is blood in the languages, the conquered who are accused of conquering.
There is blood in the spice, of the jewel in the crown, of the heathen dead
Blood in the accents of the living
Those who have traded their languages willingly,
Sell a past to buy a future, sell a future to buy today.


(see, no ending. argh.)
published in 'eye on the world' 04, i think. am the proudest of this poem. once in a while i take it out and read it and feel all happy. i know, so sad right.


A city from sand

They live like sultans, simply, in an istana of wood
By a stream that stopped paying tribute a generation ago
Mahsuri is still bleeding white, cursing her own people for seven generations
Hang Tuah sits by the window, balancing his keris on one bony finger
Still thinking if he should have loved the one who loved him best

Puteri Gunung Ledang knows now what she will ask the Sultan for
It will not be the seven trays of mosquito hearts, or the seven jars of virgins’ tears
Or even the bowl of blood from his son, because she knows he has bled him dry already
She will ask him to teach their people to remember what they have lost
And who they might have become

They who have kept but one promise, an old one by their ancestor
Demang Lebar Daun to Sang Nila Utama , liege-man to his king,
To serve those who rule them without treachery or dishonour.

While those who have overthrown Sang Nila Utama
Through the coup d’etat of stories systematically shot in the head
Have filed him away,
Descendant of King Solomon and Alexander the Great,
Into children’s stories and cheap local paperbacks
As the slightly foolish young man who was so entranced by one lion
That he created a city from sand.

December 2004

Mahsuri- Central character of a Malay myth who is wrongly lynched for adultery
Hang Tuah- Legendary Malay hero who killed his best friend, who had been running amok, on orders from the sultan
Keris- Traditional dagger
Puteri Gunung Ledang- Mythical fairy princess who lives on top of Mt. Ledang in Malaysia. Asks for impossible wedding gifts from suitors so as to discourage them
Demang Lebar Daun- Chief Minister to Sang Nila Utama
Sang Nila Utama- Founder of Singapore, also Palembang ruler from which many Malay Sultans claim descent