Friction

Alvin Pang

i.

Tending to her, I run my hands
down the papyrus feel of her skin,
I rub away at the bruises,
where the veins had been
scrawled on too long
by the drip needle, have spilled
their blue in dull pools
beneath her skin.

They fascinate my touch
Small, soft circles
from which warmth begins
to spread, as dead blood
disperses, and feeling
returns.

I imagine her
gaunt cheeks, soft hollow
fill and breathe with colour,
her eyes catching fire
as I rub at her wrists
for the heat of friction.

ii.

I remember what my grandfather did
when I ran out of the shower and slipped
and nearly broke my head on the wall:
He bore me on his back like a gunny sack
all the way to the hospital, although he was ill,
he waited in the silent corridors until

he was sure I was fine. I remember
but this is what grandmother would tell me,
over and over, as I winced and flinched,
ungrateful with pain as she tended my bruises
with firm thumb and the soft balm of story,
the next time I fell, and the next time.

iii.

Not the crease and hump of
bones that have surfaced
from a dark sea of cloth
and beached themselves

not the weight of her eyes
pressed lightly on mine,
those eyes that once
could hold fire

not the ragged pull
of her lungs, receding
deeper into sleep, flailing
as if she were drowning

not the fragile thread
of breath unravelling
which pulls me nearer

it is her voice
searching for my voice
to fix on to, to anchor,

it is only her voice
calling my name, after all,
I tell myself

she is asking
only for words.

iv.

Let there be song
without praise.
Let the words fall,
harsh and wild
to rile and rake the sleeping
to wakefulness.

Let the light fall
where it will, and let its glare
cast away the shadow
of yourself that you have
become.

If I could give you my heart
like a ripe red fruit
plucked from your limbs
and peel it, skin by skin
to its luscious, pulsing, vital core,
offer it to your dry lips,
if it could rouse you.

But there is nothing now
to wake the dead
slumber of years
long since laid down,
and your slow unresisting
ease, this letting go
is very much for real.

v.

I will give you these words
that you ask for, not knowing
what you ask for.
I will return your stories of pain,
injustice, grievances, struggle,
family strife, the friction
of souls, each seeking
its own way in the small
spaces between moments.

Brother holding bitterness
against brother. A family
bearing and bearing
its burden of greed, and
the young at its feet, meekly
holding their tongues.

Take them with you. You
gave them to me once, to keep
and you will need them now.
Once, you found heat enough
within you
to bring forth my father.
Clear a space

before us. Look.
I have brought you
a mesh of dry scraps
and tinder of story
to rub together
as kindling,

to incense
a small flame, lucid and keen
that I must tend to
and which you will need
to see you through
these long dead nights.

Published in Testing the Silence (1997)


Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Alvin Pang