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Moving On

15 February 2013 Leave a comment

Moving On

It’d been awhile. But, perhaps, he wondered, it only seemed that way and felt that way, that feeling of the stretch of the memory to a time full of the voices of the friends who were now far across the world, or working sixteen-hour days. He remembered hearing, “You’ll be okay.” He thought he was.

I posted this 55-word piece of microfiction for the 2013 All In! Young Writers Festival. I was prompted to do so after I read the ones an old friend of mine posted for it.

Categories: Writing Tags: ,

Light Through A Window

16 June 2011 1 comment

‘Ours is a well-lit city.’

I’ve thought these words often; I think them again as I fold my arms tighter in the compressor-cooled air of the last bus for the night. The upper deck is, unsurprisingly, empty – and colder for it. Outside the window, the lights are orange, and the uniform curve in the neck of each Lycorpole street-lamp is something I’d like to think I can be counted on to recognize. It is a notion of home that is as perfect and elemental as any I’ve ever dreamt of, and yet, also, I think, this notion of home is something I’ve grown into rather than away from.

It was on these orange city streets that I used to run in the night-time, an escape at an age when I had too many thoughts and not enough privacy. There were other nights, some of my happiest being those I spent in search of supper after playing a concert, when we would stroll around Holland Village or City Hall, all the while chatting happily or tiredly while the decision made itself. More recently, these were the streets I missed when, in barracks on a darker, off-shore island, I’d dream of Singapore city and how I’d spend my first soldier’s wage.

‘Ours is a well-lit city,’ I think, as my night bus wends its way back home through the mostly empty but still illuminated streets. Behind the window, in cold air and warm light, it is easy to dream.

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More Subtil Than Any Beast

11 August 2010 1 comment

First, a disclaimer: I hesitated about whether to post this because it involved weaving words of my own into the Word proper. The phrases I used intact came exclusively from Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 5:5, and one would do well to return to the words recorded there; I have added on to the verses, and more often I have omitted them, but the text in its entirety is available here and elsewhere. My words are mutable, but the Word is immutable.

Foreword

What follows is my tailored retelling of the Creation and what is known as the Fall of Man. I have divided it into seven segments, with the action unfolding in I, III, V and VII, and a parallel conversation unfolding somewhat less linearly in II, IV and VI. (I acknowledge that you humor me as I speak of lines concerning a narration of Creation, the event in which both time and space came to be.) It was a night’s work, and that is easy enough to justify; the odd segments were almost entirely lifted, and all I did was add on to the original verses and omit those which didn’t bear directly on the image I had in mind, whereas the even (odd-er?) segments were almost entirely reflexive, and also, of course, stylistically precedented.

I have mentioned an image I had in mind, as well as reflexes that I had. As these things are more readily ascribable to me, I shall try to explain and qualify my transcribed script. The image I had in mind was that of the serpent seeking out the Woman in the garden; as far as its words and the act it was performing were deliberate, it was a reaching out to an end. The problem was in the fathoming of those ends, which would have been vain to attempt if I were a mere beast, but which I attempted, and not in the hope of anything but understanding: and that is precisely the danger, for if there is any moral to be drawn, it is that the Knowledge was perilous. The other irony is that the serpent was distinguished from the beasts of the field by its ‘subtil’-ity, and that we were by knowledge, and later the desire of further Knowledge; I have had the odd thought that, perhaps, the desire for knowledge beyond what I already knew, and especially that desire for others beyond what they knew, was an expression of a serpent-like subtility. I find this irony difficult to accept, but I find it even harder to ignore, hence this retelling. As to the matter of the reflexes that gave rise to segments II, IV and VI, the explanation is somewhat simpler; in drawing from the account of the origins of the heavens and the earth and everything in and above it, I had to narrow my lens to the area I was considering, and hence I decided that I would need to place Man in a kind of hierarchy. This hierarchy is  conjecture only, and one would do better to look to the Word directly for authority.

This foreword was written last, in the light of what had been produced and what I had experienced. The process did not involve a conception followed by a bringing-to-fruition. I feel more honest saying that I started with what was evident and worked backwards and around from there.

 

I. Of Temporality

In the beginning, there was God. God created the heaven and the earth.

The earth was without form, was timeless, was void.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water, and there was motion.

As time flowed, God set the work of Creation in it. In time, He received it, and looked upon all that He had done, and saw that it was good.

II. Of Angels

~ When in time did the angels stand, or are they out of it? Were they living souls, knowing good and evil? Were they made from the seed of the tree of life, or were they partakers of its fruit? Were they placed, or do they stand, knowing passion?

~ Well?

≈ I think there is passion, if not the passion of mortality, of life-with-death.

III. Of Soul

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, every plant of the field, and every herb of the field; and there was not a man to till the ground of the field.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

IV. Of Man

≈ We were created, woman and man, in the same breath, and of the same life.

~ But there was man and there was woman, and woman gave the fruit, and man hearkened, and took the fruit, and ate.

≈ After they ate, their eyes were opened that they could rue their fate.

~ And then did they wonder if man would have taken, and woman hearken to his call?

≈ You ask me what I would know of you.

V. Of Knowing

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field, and he said unto the woman, ‘Yea, hath God said – ‘ and also, ‘Hath God said of every tree?’

The serpent also said, ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ and, ‘Ye shall be as gods,’ and waited.

And when the woman saw that it was a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.

And the eyes of them were opened, knowing good and evil, as gods know good and evil.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field, but life was not in knowledge, and the knowledge was bitter to those who had sight.

VI. Of Dust

≈ Of what I am, and from whence I came, that I know.

~ But I, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh, have conceived in sorrow.

≈ In sorrow I have eaten all the days of my life.

~ We have known sorrow, but will we know sleep?

≈ From whence I came, I shall return; but I do not know death, if it is sleep.

VII. Of Mortality

The LORD God sent the man forth from Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken, and he placed at the east of the garden Cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.

And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

Categories: Writing Tags:

Shop-house on New Bridge Road, c. 2010

20 November 2009 Leave a comment

Sergeant Derek, in military dress, has just stepped off the train. He is deciding whether to head northeast or to take the walk home. The iPod goes into the small, useful-looking brown canvas pouch slung at his hip. He slings his black duffel on his other shoulder and sets off in another direction altogether.

He surfaces at one of those other exits, this one near the beginning of Chinatown. He knows there is a bus stop somewhere ahead and veers in that direction, but after a few steps he decides he is quite hungry.

By now, he is a little further down the road, and he sees possibility in the sprawl of tables overflowing onto the already narrow-ish sidewalk. Some of the tables are occupied. Only one of the four shop-houses is open.

With three days of having eaten oily canteen food in mind, he ignores the incongruously offered nasi padang, chicken cutlet and oyster omelet, and orders pei dan chok. There are steamable-looking fish swimming around in the tanks near the entrance of the coffee shop, but Sergeant Derek isn’t feeling quite that adventurous, despite how his feet have carried him to where he is. There is a table by the wall.

As he waits for his porridge, Sergeant Derek wishes he had a camera, or, alternatively, prodigious writing talent. He is trying to put his finger on what strikes him about his surroundings, but he can’t quite manage it, so he starts with the apparent. His table is by the wall, and on the wall there are three rows of framed black-and-white newspaper clippings and photographs. They have captions like ‘South Bridge Road with Elgin Bridge in the background, 1941’ and ‘New Bridge Road, circa 1960’. The wall is browned and watermarked, but the prints are new. The frames are black plastic, like those on Sergeant Derek’s spectacles.

His food arrives. They are generous with the you tiao, and he tries one. It is a bit too soft, and he decides he won’t finish the bowl. On the other hand, the porridge tastes good. He suspects the you tiao would have been better earlier in the day.

There is a Channel 8 drama on TV, one of those current ones with young, smiling actors. ‘Channel 8 drama’ used to mean something else, and Sergeant Derek has the strange feeling that the drama on TV is an intruder on the space of the coffee shop, the only thing out of character, or from the wrong era. That was strange as well, because he realizes that everything else in the shop couldn’t exactly be said to match either. The shelf of wooden pigeonholes (eight by eight) for food orders clipped with wooden pegs was next to the Super Cold beer fridge, at -6.1ºC according to the digital readout. The double row of grease-yellowed power sockets were connected to a closed-circuit television system as well as electric altar candles. He is struck by the lack of concept, and struck again by how ridiculous the notion was. What a ridiculous character, this notional Derek in smart No. 4.

He is nearly done with his porridge. They were generous with the century eggs too, and he doesn’t finish the last one. He closes his notebook.

Categories: Writing Tags: ,

Constructions

29 September 2009 Leave a comment

The scene across the water is a geometric vision. The cranes are a study in angles. The moving ones inscribe precise arcs, and I am reminded of my old mathematical compass. The heavy steel columns suspended at the ends of them are too heavy to swing, and as they glide slowly through the air, it is easy to believe that they are indeed in suspension.

I also notice something that looks as though it might become the roof of a grandstand. I can envision the smooth curve that will eventually be completed, but, as of now, the cross section of it reveals wafers of I-beams forming a gentle stair that I could almost call uneven; I stop short because the intervals vary precisely, and the word ‘gradient’ is brought to mind.

In the foreground: I would use the word ‘skeletal’ to describe the exposed steel reinforcements and scaffolding, as well as the bare concrete beams and pillars. In the background: The uncompleted towers are more shell-like, and less floodlit. It is easy to frame everything because there are hollow rectangles everywhere.

There are lattices of triangles and struts, lines and ridges of fluorescence, and, most stunningly, clusters of bright white lights. The air around the place glows; the air is suffused. I think it is the lights that make it easy to be confused about the type of construction I am witnessing.

What shook me out of my reverie was something so dissonant that the irony clangs. Across my cafe view, four migrant workers in traffic marshal-type luminous green vests-with-reflective-stripes made their way to the work site dragging a low, flatbed-type cart piled with timber.

When their work is completed and the scaffolds are removed and the structures are complete, we will have an unremarkable piece of commercial architecture that I cannot imagine being filled with anything worth being filled with at all. In the transient meantime, at least, we have animated, machinated geometry and an interesting view.

Categories: Perspective, Writing Tags: ,

The Gaps Before The, ‘Go, Go, Go!’

31 July 2009 Leave a comment

I. Chinook

There is something decidedly special about having a helicopter come in for you. The raw power of it is, in itself, a spectacle. You see that power in the way the grass and the leaves and branches on the trees are pressed down, and in the dust flying up all around. The dust storm forces you to narrow your eyes and breathe more carefully, but what you can’t block out is the sound from the blades whipping through the air. Even through your earplugs, you feel the force of the sound.

It was dusk. The blue of the evening was darkening, and there I was, crouched low in the tall grass, watching the sky as the helicopters came in. Their unhurried approach was in stark contrast to the swirling chaos on the ground, but the measured descent of the two great birds was nothing short of majestic.

Then, the ramp opens, and it is time for me to sprint as best as I can with a gun, a field pack and an anti-tank tube in my grip. As I get nearer to my objective, I start to feel like I’m swimming against the current. Am I still breathing in or out, or is it the downwash? My legs are barely bringing me forward, and I am losing my grip on my gear. And then, for a moment, just a step or two before my boot touches the ramp, I feel the heat from the burner. But now, I am in the hold, the last man strapping in. The man on my right helps me with my gear. As I catch my breath, everything is checked and secured. Then, the ramp goes up, and we are flying.

*

The ramp doesn’t actually seal up the hold. There is a gap between the edge of the ramp and the top of the rear opening, so the hold is actually open to the air outside. I am right next to the ramp, and I can see right through the opening. It was evening while the birds were landing, but now it is night, and the city lights below are like what I’ve seen before during take-offs and landings on passenger jets, except that the lights are a lot closer, and we stay at this altitude for most of the twenty minutes. Then again, boarding an Airbus can hardly be compared to the race that is a helicopter load-up, but with a jet the gratification of take-off is nowhere as immediate, plus I’m not even feeling my sweat because of all the air constantly rushing into the hold like when the windows are down when you’re in a car on the highway.

Watching the lights pass by seemingly just below me, I wonder how long the ride will last, and I try not to think of when I’ll be running all out again in the grass and mud. For some reason, I suddenly feel close to the city below me. Maybe it’s because the past ten minutes have been like something from a movie. Then, the helicopter banks, we see the ground through the windows on one side, and we cheer and whoop like the young men we are, everything before and after forgotten. We are flying, and this bird is our ride. I sit back in my seat and enjoy myself, trying not to wish that this didn’t have to end, because I knew that the ride would end.

*

The ramp was lowering. I unstrapped myself, tried to get a good grip on my equipment, and then I was running, first man off the bird. Fifty meters away, I go prone in the grass, weapon at the ready, on the alert, but feeling the weight of my helmet. There were knolls to climb and rivers to cross before dawn. It was as though the mission hadn’t even started.


II. Rain, Leaves, Mud.

 

It would have been an odd sight, had there been anyone to see it. There were about thirty figures, all standing immobile, scattered across the red clay face of the hill. There was no conversation, because no two of them were standing near together. Considering that there were few enough gaps between the trees and not many gentle inclines on the hill slope on which to stand, that the figures were scattered so evenly suggested some deliberation in their placement. They stood like sculptures, strange sculptures, and one suspected that if one were to walk among them they would not have noticed. And over everything, rain was falling, through the trees and branches, trickling down onto their helmets and jackets, flowing down the slope over roots and under brown leaves, turning the red clay into sticky mud.

*

We had reached our objective the day before, after having marched through the night with our boots and uniforms still wet from the river we had crossed. We were beyond tired, but at least we knew what was coming when the order was given. We were deployed to our positions, and after marking them out, we took out our tools and started digging.

What’s digging like? We spent the afternoon brushing away the leaf litter, scraping at clay, all the while trying to keep our footing on the slope, piling up loose earth, which made the slope even more treacherous, and, in between bouts of digging, sitting with our legs in whatever depression we had managed to excavate. But we were done before nightfall, and, having managed that, it was time to grab what rest we could before the next mission. I don’t remember feeling relief, or feeling anything very much at all, as I settled into my hole in the ground, having made it as comfortable as I could.

Very soon, it was morning. It wasn’t light yet, but all the same, it was time to rouse ourselves for the day’s work, which included being prepared for enemy attack. Our traps were layed, and we had made sure that we could find our way around the slope even in the dark should reinforcements be required in another sector. All this had been done the day before. The promised attack came, and fortunately there was only one. We defended, and it ended. After that, stores and supplies were moved or retrieved, and then, we knew, it would be time to move again. The message came for us to prepare.

Then the rain came, just a few drops at first, but, as before, we knew what was coming, and there was no stopping it. We fumbled for our rain jackets, clipped behind us, and tried to put them on as well as we could over our overloaded vests. The hoods came up as well, more to prevent rain from trickling down our necks than to keep our heads dry. We already had helmets on. We also had to move our packs and equipment away from where the water would collect. The rain prompted all this renewed activity, but, gradually, sector by sector, everything seemed to come to a pause.

The message had been passed: we would be moving shortly. Prepare. But we were not moving then; we weren’t moving yet, but, we felt rather than thought, the mission was… over. And so, hoods over our helmets, we stood by our holes in the ground and watched them fill up. We just stood, still, for five or maybe fifteen minutes, or more, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If we shifted our weight or moved our boots, the red mud would shift and squelch; but there were many reasons not to move. We weren’t supposed to go down yet. Our wet socks squelched in our boots whenever we took a step. Sitting down was too much trouble, there was mud everywhere. We’d have to start covering over our shell scrapes soon. We were just waiting for the order.

And perhaps it was just that: we were waiting, in an in-between kind of moment, where we’d otherwise have been waiting at the ready. Or perhaps, even if we had been told to be on the alert, we wouldn’t have been, because we were wet again, miserable, and, after the past three days, exhausted. And there were two days to go. So we stood, kept in place by the mud and a dearth of motivating energy, perhaps extinguished, literally inter-mission, waiting to be galvanized by the next order. It would come.

*

They stood, it seemed, for a long while, hardly moving, water dripping off them like off cold stone.


III. The Candle Dryer

 

I remember a darkened room, quite large, dimly lit despite the combined power of our torches. Later, it was candlelight flickering against the walls. Those hadn’t been lit for illumination, however; the light came from inside our still-wet boots. There were just nine of us, fortunate to have been excluded from the primary mission, spread out along the walls and in the corners.

Our mission tomorrow would be simple, nothing compared to what we’d already done, and, in the meantime, we had seven glorious hours almost to ourselves. We had a roof, and tonight we’d be as dry as we’d ever been since the beginning of it all. Things were winding down for us. The past few days had been constant tension and movement punctuated by bouts of intense activity, and in one case intense inaction; but this was rest.

For a while, we came a little bit alive. We were still tired, but less deadened, now that the strain of a real mission was off our backs. I am picturing how we huddled around to observe the technique one of our number had devised to dry the inside of his boots, and how for a while after that we were all busy distributing the available materials and passing the lighter around in a combined effort to replicate the technique we’d just learned. I think it was one of the rare moments where we could put aside the stress of being tough, focused soldiers-on-a-mission and be, well, relaxed. In the midst of all that happy activity, I could only smile.

In the morning the boots were dry.


(Ex. Grandslam, 20-23 July, 2009.)

 

Bliss Like This

19 July 2008 3 comments

It’s past 11 p.m., and the rules have been relaxed. The paunchy, slimy-looking expat men are showing up with their would-be lays. (Their nervous self-consciousness is quite damning.) I’m looking at a taxi that’s just arrived, and I’m thinking, ‘Booty call.’ These apartments are more hotel than residence, and the tenants are correspondingly sleazy.

But: I am lounging on a pair of chairs with my feet happily bare in the night air. It is remarkably quiet where I am (especially considering how I’m only about three stops away or so from Orchard), and I have coffee. Bliss like this is hard to find, cigarette smoke and sleaze or no. (They at least try to be discreet.)

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