Singapore is a densely populated city state in South-East Asia. It sits south of the Malay Peninsula, across the Johor Straits. The country is made up of Singapore Island and about 60 much smaller islands. Most of the main island is low lying. There are low hills in the central region and large areas of swamp in the north-east.
5.686 million (2022)
720 sq. km.
H.E. Mr LIM Thuan Kuan
1965, on leaving the Federation of Malaysia and becoming an independent state
Eric Tinsay Valles
Eric Tinsay VALLES recreates home in exile, whether physical or spiritual. He has won a Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing prize for poems in his second collection, After the Fall (dirges among ruins). His first poetry book was A World in Transit. He has won Illumination and ELit awards for his co-edited A Given Graceanthology. He co-edited also the Get Lucky and Get Luckier anthologies of Singapore and Filipino writings, Sg Poems 2015-2016, Anima Methodi, The Nature of Poetry, The Atelier of Healing and Finding God in All Things. He has been featured in & Words, Reflecting on the Merlion, Southeast Asian Review of English, Straits Times, Routledge’s New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing and other journals. His critical essays have appeared in The Asiatic and Writing Diaspora. He has been invited to read poetry or commentaries at Baylor, Melbourne and Oxford Universities as well as Kistrech Poetry Festival. He is a director of Poetry Festival (Singapore).
Covid-19 War of the Worlds
Arms akimbo, migrant workers in facemasks,
impervious to intimidation by the security guard
stake out a few square feet of parquet floor
for prayer mats with gray tape, one meter apart.
Their red-flame eyes try hard not to show
that they have been up all night crying,
on the edge above a yard of their dorm,
guessing who among them will the ambulance take next.
Glaring through a shield at an air-conditioned ward,
squinting through glasses, I scrutinize their symptoms.
Save for the color, they have the same furrowed forehead
as locals when they are told they’re positive.
Lungi, toothbrush, paste will be carted away
in boxes to Khoo Teck Puat where they’re given soft pillows.
Their hearts are not of stone so they break down:
They’ve never had soft pillows in Cochrane Lodge II.
Restoring a Mural in Changi Chapel
From After the Fall (dirges among ruins) [Ethos 2014]
Under layers of paint,
like tar pits of memory,
the wearied arms and legs
of five half-naked POWs–
crouching in outline.
They are the dead we mourn–
who are raising Christ,
alive and golden on the cross
in the mid-afternoon sun,
as if mercy sprouts a leaf
breaking out of an ice floe,
as if hope could summon
from deep marble slumber,
out of a plastered tomb wall
as a British bombardier
fights invisible monsters,
of raising blistered hands,
bony after three years of want,
of making brush bristles from hair
and mixing paint with crushed chalk.
The prisoner mixes linseed oil
with salty sweat for body and gloss;
his figures’ eyes are closed to defeat,
their spirit breaking at last the bonds of war.
Uncle Never Knew
He lived – if you could call it that – two streets off
Boat Quay north. Tranquil as leaves left in a tea cup.
Always alone but never lonely. The daily bustle
Of barge and coolie ferrying rubber, rice and spice,
All energy and profit, for towkays and Guthrie’s,
Slipped past without ripple or sound or promise.
No enterprising cleverness to make his brothers
Happy, as nothing drew him to our hot meridian.
Often after rain, he would watch the day dry out.
But if a few fine drops caught the sun and glittered
Against that thinning blue strip of northern sky,
He was back in Swatow. At his table preparing
Ink and brush; fingering his father’s piece ofjade;
Intoning Li Po, Tu Fu, and reading Mao. Sipped tea;
Fed his carps, while waiting for his drinking friend.
Great houses are history, clan, essential unity; belief.
A way of life which brooks no breaking of fidelity.
Rooted comforts reaffirm; nothing is extinguished.
Memory is full and whole: he was ensconced; secure.
Many see this as overdoing; a few it’s the only pulse.
But not here, this little island Cheng Ho barely noticed.
Stroked his undernourished beard. Spoke to clouds,
Not people. Moonlight climbed roofs as he waited
For glow-worms to signify the darkening bamboos.
Communing with self, he was his favorite neighbour.
He could not hear migrant hearts change rivers,
From big to little, smelly one. Or feel the dreams
Gathering along Carpenter Street, down Telok Ayer,
Up Ang Siang Hill, answering to calls of temple bells.
The world was hard language, felt daily, as heart
And will dropped into soft releasing opium working
Up hungry lungs, as shadows flickered on the wall.
He never knew our age in full; had no transplanted way
To name its joys, its follies. True exile, he denied this
Home, till life do us part, in ’51, leaving companions
Marx, Engle and Mao, Lu Shun, the Li Sao, T’ao Ch’ien.
When I am by your, river, I feel Uncle watching me.
Much returns from inside of his spirit, his affirmations,
As stories of the Old Country re-surface, tell their life,
As the House I’ve never seen, tries to sketch itself.