Remember Grandfather

Alvin Pang

When it happened it was around November too.
We had to bring you back from the hospital
in the chill; they would not keep the dying.

And so you folded into your wrinkles in
bed, shrivelled in rasping sleep. Children
were kept away from you. Your pallor and stench

was something I could only peek at, slightly,
through the door; I could not tell you
from the spectre you were in the ward, and wondered

why they let the sick home, uncured. When it finally
happened, they said that you died appropriately,
scant audience so as not to frighten the grandchildren, or

disrupt their exams. We were only told some minutes later
through the phone; our first grave. I
stood, vaguely baseless, a tree with torn

roots. At the funeral we dressed and played
beside you, rice on your lips. We children
would peek at you through the glass, sleeping

as we burnt stack of paper money for you, oblivious
to the frantic chanting in temple Teochew
we could scarcely understand, how the stained, black

dressed faces came and we'd bow before they ate
our food or drank the drinks I dished out. We
held candles to you, and paraded aimless circles

all the way to Mount Vernon, to the blare of horns.
There was no grave after all: you were to become
flame. Safe in your box, we could not see you

crackle and blacken as they slid you in.
Through the glass, the air wavered and smoked,
the panel slipped shut. Days later

we were told to collect you, the shards
of your discoloured bones. I fingered them,
each piece of drug-painted marrow in the urn.

Later they stacked you up into some high row in a temple
filled with jars of unknown ashes, next to a spot reserved
for grandma, for her turn. We once had trouble

finding you, and had to count rows
or spot your picture. Now that I know
your place, and look at you

You stare out at me and all
Who call here and pray here
Who do not speak of you.

Published in In Search of Words (1991)

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Alvin Pang