(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 bodys 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 childs 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...
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 rains 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 skys 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 beds feet my room ignites,
white with the moons 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.
Wongs 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.