Desmond F. X. Kon ZC-MD
Desmond F. X. Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is the author of a novel, a quasi-memoir, two lyric essay monographs, four hybrid works, and nine poetry collections. A former journalist, he has edited over twenty-five titles. Recipient of grants from the National Arts Council and Singapore International Foundation, Desmond has earned several accolades, such as the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, Independent Publisher Book Award, National Indie Excellence Book Award, Poetry World Cup, Singapore Literature Prize, and three Living Now Book Awards, among others. He can be found at: desmondkon.com.
A Reference Point
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.”
I kiss the top of my holy bible, lips against leather, along edge.
I am writing again, and the squall has settled.
Into restful night.
Oh, the silence. The breathless, the stormless.
The pastoral is writing itself out, like an open field.
Did it state atonement,
as if already steadied and preparatory?
(Yes, I said atonement, the second life of penance.)
A promise repeated so many times
—in admonition, at times, to make stark.
Like stature, of holy relic.
A reminder suggested, to self and story.
The Only Christmas Movie Worth Its Holiday Reruns
What else can trauma do, if not etch itself in your consciousness forever? Like a permanent tattoo, that’s what it feels like. What it looks like depends on how you’re feeling that day, that afternoon, that hour. An hour is sufficient time, it seems, for a mood—like disappointment with all of yourself, then humanity, that’s what you confess—to come up from behind you, stay a while, then leave, as if it went for a midday vodka.
A friend told me no one should drink in the afternoon, and certainly not alone.
I said he hasn’t lived with himself long enough, he isn’t comfortable enough with his naked reflection, in his own skin.
All those stock phrases were served up, also like a random cocktail, because such cursory judgements seemed equally throwaway. It’s exhausting, you think, having to put up with every opinion needing its airing, like old clothes or smelly shoes.
If you fancy brandy, there’s the Tom and Jerry, which makes you think of Colin Firth in a reindeer sweater—that’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, when it was impolitely funny to see a middle-aged woman fumble about in tummy-tucking panties. We don't joke about shapewear, my aunt says, and never about plus-sized undies. But those Zellweger had on were pretty jumbo.
There must have been eggnog in a party scene somewhere, which is a must in a Christmas movie. Like The Holiday, which is only great for how Jude Law played such an endearing father to his two daughters.
You said eggnog is all-season, when someone asked whether it was a fall or winter drink. As long as they stack the brandy, empty out the cellar's stash of rum and whiskey. You said this, weeping into your drink.
Just an hour earlier, you were deep in contemplation, calmly seated—only that mission style chair for this purpose, far and forgotten in the kitchen corner. We could hear your words, clear as day.
You were asking for intercessions from a roster of saints.
There was St. Joseph, then as if thoughtfully sequenced, St. Jude the Apostle. St. Thérèse of Lisieux. St. Peregrine, St. Patrick, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina. St. Ignatius of Loyola, not surprising given the austerity and sacrifice. St. Francis Xavier too, who together with St. Ignatius, founded the Jesuit order—this you remind us every year, on Ash Wednesday, as well as why you took vows of poverty and chastity two decades ago.
You had your crucifix in both hands, clasped tightly, held out so far in front, the long chain stretched taut. You seemed to make allowance for a petition, your voice louder as if to make public, rather than private, that thin piece of prayer, wedged as if to make room for its sudden appearance.
And hearteningly, you never forget the other Francis: St. Francis of Assisi.
The only Christmas movie I’ve ever let run, on repeat, into the night is The Family Stone. It’s the perfect movie for that time of year, a reminder of how flawed every family is. And yet, all ends well because, well, family.
Claire Danes was luminous, even next to Sarah Jessica Parker, who miraculously made such an unlikable character sympathetic. She had great chemistry with Luke Wilson, the chill sibling with his unmade hair and bed, who waltzes into town with no agenda, just all hugs.
You see that inversion all over Austen's works, you say.
The complexity and complication of character, how human beings never cease to perplex and unsettle us. Even if we try our hardest to let them be, leave them be, trust their good intentions.
Apparently, Bridget Jones’s Diary takes so much from Pride and Prejudice, it's practically a modern retelling. Mark Darcy is Fitzwilliam Darcy.
I like the movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, I say. Someone called it the "muddy hem" version for its realism. When you've trekked across the meadows for half a day, you're drenched in sweat, your hair is a mess. And yes, the hem is dirt-brown from soil.
I'd like to say that people are generally good at heart.
It’s hard nowadays to tell which people possess that genuine kindness. But when it does happen, their inner light is hard to miss. I know very few people who have that quality, that quality I wish I had myself, for what that acknowledgement’s worth. Yes, great chemistry from the moment they met. Sarah Jessica Parker and Luke Wilson, I mean. On the steps. Out in the car. At the bar. In his bedroom, in the morning. In the living room. Back in the bedroom, when all the dust had settled.
You're down to your last shot of bourbon, and still you're nowhere done with the stories of your travel. The travelling minister or the wandering minstrel, which will it be this round? You ask this, and already you've unearthed a holy card of St. Augustine, ready to ask for something else—to make all of this, all this casual talk something a bit better. Something blessed, and altogether sanctified.
Fr. Gabriel’s Oboe
[First Version Completed Fri, 6 Nov 2020, Circa 3:00pm]
[Penultimate Version Completed Mon, 21 Jun 2021, Circa 3:30pm]
A song, the sacred sound of sanctified sound.
Question: Can a song—without lyric, without words—be a prayer?
Response: A song is language too.
Response: Its own language, music as being, its own givenness.
Response: Sound is language is text is (when sacrosanct) prayer.
That qualification came from virtue,
from God-fear turned God-love.
Gabriel’s Oboe, in any form,
no matter the player or instrument or how big the orchestral sound,
is the song of the angels.
It is early morning, and dawn’s light is angel song too.
The light enters my window, just as the outside lights up.
There is no delayed conveyance.
No jammed carriage.
Yet with the flute and oboe, you can discern—
this is the distinction
of what it truly means
the empyrean passage, aerial,
its own settled firmament.
The wild blue yonder:
a cliché so sublime, it doesn’t lose its newness, of character.
Fr. Gabriel tires easily these days, has to lean
into each act of contrition—true and sincere contrition,
By definition, compunction is fleeting, mere feeling.
An autem prickear, now obsolete
—perhaps it was ill-timed, ill-suited,
is nowhere and anywhere because the language
has fallen into disuse;
as is the current sense of things,
the sadness of disaffection.
An abrupt prick of the conscience—pointed, apical,
barbed thorn wreath.
Craig Hella Johnson has dramatic hands.
Even hymns have some fixed order, strict metric patterning.
Hymns, and what employed articles of meaning.
Read: the anaphora and paradox.
Read: the hyperbole, the tautology.
Conspirare is being shepherded, assemblage of human sounds.
Fr. Gabriel leans again, head against armoured breast,
St. Gabriel the Archangel
swathing white raiment, mantle of light.
Is this what Daniel, Zechariah, Mother Mary saw?
I asked once the nature of true ethereal light:
What is the white light
of God's love,
its clear form and nature and property
Good words have become alluring again
—this, the language that speaks
of worth and love and virtue.
Yes, love, again and again, yet again.
Only a holy love, that I ask for always,
yes, yes, yes
to the eternal yes.
Today’s homily tells me to suspend judgement
—no gazing at the splinter, spindle in anyone’s eye
without pulling out the plank in mine,
pried from the years
of so many words,
so many futile, fruitless words.
So, no words today, love tells me as warrant and counsel.
So, here’s the music, in all its wordless, ineffable glory—
caught in mid-air,
carefully attended and listened to.
This exact moment, of morning breaking, crisp cusp of dawn.
This must be an exercise, along with response song and daylight.
This must be a spiritual exercise, its own temperance,
I tell myself now.
Rommel Chrisden Rollan Samarita
Rommel Chrisden Rollan Samarita is a teacher, researcher, poet, and poetry translator from the Philippines. His poems and translations have appeared and are forthcoming in Ani, Artis Natura, Comma, Highwind Press, High Shelf Press, Kasingkasing Press, Parentheses Journal, Performance Research (Routledge by Taylor & Francis), Philippine Collegian, Rattle, Sirena Books, Taj Mahal Review, and The Coil by Alternating Current Press.
In the Middle of Space
Day by day, my body
in growing spaces:
the growing width
of the room, the growing
height of the walls,
the growing distance
between my body
and the room door.
My spirit grows restless
in the bottomless bed.
In time, my flesh will
levitate in vastness
and will plummet
in depth knowing
that my body can
no longer overcome
this excessive sadness.
The Serenity of the World
When you wake up and witness:
the ground and walls of your room wriggle,
your body and objects inside
the room float and somersault,
the clarity and tranquility
in your mind and heart hurtle,
close your eyes.
Align the rhythm
of your soul
with the rhythm
of fish swimming in waves.
Align your rhythm with the rhythm
of birds winging in whirlwinds.
Always, the destruction of the world
is temporary. The serenity of the world
and your serenity will return, once more.
Now that fear has conquered
my chest, I will light the candle
in the room. I will let
the smoke that inspirits all
the dying cells that had fought
the wars inside my body
enter my lungs. I will gaze
at the blaze of the candlelight.
I will follow the motions
of the flame like the motions
of the Word made flesh
who will save the world again.
Now that my skin has dried
and my flesh has weakened,
I will soak my hands in cool
water. Like the scene in front
of a holy water font, I will lave
my lips and forehead with water.
Water will wash away the dread
in the temple and matrix of hope.
I will let the coolness of water
enter the crevices of my face
‘til the sacred enables my mouth
to offer a prayer for the world.