Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Two Poems

Two Poems

By Yong Shu Hoong


Count us fortunate that it’s only on the day of check-out
the rotund owner casually informs us that his boutique hotel
was built over a killing field. Could we have been able to nap
at all, otherwise, or might we have just laid in bed all night,
every night, trying to tune in to the singing bones? In a
neighbouring wat, a compilation of skulls and bones are stacked
within a miniature glass pagoda: senseless sacrifices, abridged
into a reminder of wartime atrocities, now packaged as grisly
curios to mine donations from peeping tourists. This endless
thankless task the dead continue to uphold with leaden calm.

* * *

A Study on Bare Bones

Long after the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage, skeletons were salvaged from its wreckage and osteology applied to determine gender, age, height, illness, and injury.

Understanding little how the body aches in the flesh,
I’m more attuned to the way the lashing wind
or callous words can chill a person to the bone.

According to science, life leaves clearer,
more lasting marks on bones than on the heart.
And for that matter, one shouldn’t fear
nor care if the head, too, is lost.
Ultimately, after skin and tendons rot,
the scaffolding still holds firm, providing clues.

Imagine: Cremation should be outlawed
because you’ll never know when
you’ll need to consult the vertebrae.
And wouldn’t it be apt if coded stanzas
were enshrined in the collarbones of poets?

In lovemaking, reach straight for the ribs—
and do likewise, whenever you crave
for keepsakes from your liaisons.
Don’t discuss matters of the heart
or what’s on your mind. Instead
make our bones grind and rattle through the night.

By contrast, in quiet or desperate times,
we listen to ancient wisdom resonating
through the corridors of our ivory tenements.
And let prayers and intercessions ebb and rise
from within the marrow where our souls reside.

NOTE: This poem first appeared in From within the Marrow (Firstfruits Publications).


Yong Shu Hoong

Yong Shu Hoong has published five books of poetry: Isaac; do-while; Frottage, which won the 2006 Singapore Literature Prize; From within the Marrow; and The Viewing Party. His poems have been featured in literary journals such as Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Asia Literary Review, as well as anthologies such as Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton). As a freelance journalist, he has written for The Straits Times, South China Morning Post, Esquire Singapore, and other publications.

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