The Merlion

Alfian Bin Sa'at

"I wish it had paws," you said,
"It's quite grotesque the way it is,
you know, limbless; can you
imagine it writhing in the water,
like some post-Chernobyl nightmare?
I mean, how does it move? Like a
torpedo? Or does it shoulder itself
against the currents, gnashing with frustration,
its furious mane bleached
the colour of a drowned sun?
But take a second look at it,
how it is poised so terrestrially,
marooned on this rough shore,
as if unsure of its rightful
harbour. Could it be that,
having taken to this unaccustomed limpidity,
it has decided to abandon the seaweed-haunted
depths for land? Perhaps it is even ashamed
(But what a bold front!)
to have been a creature of the sea; look at how
it tries to purge itself of its aquatic ancestry,
in this ceaseless torrent of denial, draining
the body of rivers of histories, lymphatic memories.
What a riddle, this lesser brother of the Sphinx.
What sibling polarity, how its sister's lips are sealed
with self-knowledge and how its own jaws
clamp open in self-doubt, still
surprised after all these years."

"Yet...what brand new sun can dry
the iridescent slime from the scales
and what fresh rain wash the sting of salt
from those chalk-blind eyes?"

A pause.

"And why does it keep spewing that way?
I mean, you know, I mean..."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said,
Eyeing the blond highlights in your black hair
And your blue lenses the shadow of a foreign sky.
It spews continually if only to ruffle
its own reflection in the water; such reminders
will only scare a creature so eager to reinvent itself."

Another pause.

"Yes," you finally replied, in that acquired accent of yours,
"Well, yes, but I still do wish it had paws."

Published in One Fierce Hour (1998)

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Alfian Bin Sa'at