1. Ways of Exile by Wong Phui Nam

(Skoob 1993, 158pp., pbk 5.99) ISBN 1-871438-09-8


Extracts from Nocturnes and Bagatelles...

i. Our Quarrel


Because I acted callously,

I left you

widowed upon your doorstep

with your dower of tears

withheld from the indifferent high door

and the suddenly important

wire-netting round the flowering lime.

I left you cradling your hurt,

the snapped ends of old twigs showing blood,

under the dull reality of an electric bulb

lighting the porch. The light pressed in

upon your person, already given

to the pawing of half-men, vestigial in the windy trees.

Because I acted callously,

I woke in the night thinking of you to the infinite

loneliness of the empty curtains

the yellow room-light picking out

the heap of my soiled clothes

you had piled in the corner.

I heard above the distant stray bark of some dog,

an infant crying behind windows,

discovering the incipient tubers of my pain.

The flesh will yield to their pushing

when the image of your hurt becomes the ghost

bright in the inhospitable terrain growing out of your absence.


viii. For my old amah


To most your dying seems distant,

outside the palings of our concern.

Only to you the fact was real

when the flame caught among the final brambles

of your pain. And lying there

in this cubicle, on your trestle

over the old newspapers and spittoon,

your face bears the waste of terror

at the crumbling of your body’s walls.

The moth fluttering against the electric bulb,

and on the wall your old photographs,

do not know your going. I do not know

when it has wrenched open the old wounds.

When branches snapped in the dark

you would have had a god among the trees

make us a journey of your going.

Your palm crushed the child’s tears from my face.

Now this room will become your going, brutal

in the discarded combs, the biscuit tins

and neat piles of your dresses.

- - -


Extracts from How the Hills Are Distant...


xiii. Rimbaud:


From the first, when the fire would no longer catch,

you, out of the doused flames,

the dried blood smoking in your face,

from the damp logs, the pyre of your vision,

would emerge, not the magi invoking

new flowers, new stars, new flesh and languages,

but the fierce, the charred mute

upon whom the flesh would always close again

to feel the inevitable first shock

of the rain’s invasion, the abstract hunger

of pavements outside the tall cathedral door,

and hear the express ravening in from the suburbs,

from sunsets behind chimneys where your cloudy tragedians,

losing assurance, become the black beast to prowl in your sleep.




To most only the despair is real,

winding from the face by rough steps

upward to the overwhelming hill

of Calvary, and the long deep strikes of pain

into the shoulder, as the dragged heavy end

of the cross, knocks in the teeth

of the lower steps following the ascent.

The mean fact of houses bars the way

crowding upon the lonely self,

and bare walls that hide our weeping in the garden.

There is only the self in the midst of fire -

when the planted crown strikes root

upon the skull

the agony beats back the overhanging Roman sun

and the multitude pressing in upon the hour

told in the sky’s final desolation.

To most who after, turn away,

there cannot be wine-rows upon the slopes,

but the wind sawing at ruined walls

and a hint of bones in its tracks across the sands.

- - -

Extract from Taoist Poems...

iv. Home thoughts


At my bed’s feet my room ignites,

white with the moon’s loneliness.

And I feel outside, the cold, incendiary

in the hard frost upon the ground.

I am full of the moon, on looking up,

hanging large above the window,

and in my dark, I meet, on looking down,

my fierce unsatisfied longing to be home.


Ó Wong Phui Nam, 1993


WONG PHUI NAM was born in 1935 in Kuala Lumpur and received his early education at the Batu Road School and later at the Victoria Institution. He graduated form the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) in Economics and has since worked mainly in development finance and merchant banking.

While at the university he was actively involved in The New Cauldron, a magazine founded by students of Raffles College which later became the University of Malaya. He was joint editor of Litmus One, an anthology of university verse.

Most of the poems he wrote during the sixties first appeared in Bunga Eamas, an anthology of Malaysian writing published in the United Kingdom in 1963. They were subsequently collected in book form and published as How the Hills are Distant in 1968 (Tenggara Supplement) by the department of English, University of Malaya. He remained silent throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s. In 1989 his second volume Remembering Grandma and Other Rumours was published by the English Department, National University of Singapore.

Wong’s poems have also appeared in Seven Poets, The Second Tongue, The Flowering Tree, Young Commonwealth Poets ‘65, Poems from India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaya. He was also published by literary journals like Tengarra, Tumasek, South East Asian Review of English and Westerly and has translated the selected poems of Latiff Mohidin.