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Hedy Habra

Contributor Biography

Hedy Habra has authored three poetry collections, most recently, The Taste of the Earth, winner of the 2020 Nautilus Silver Award and Honorable Mention for the 2020 Eric Hoffer Award. Tea in Heliopolis won the Best Book Award and was finalist for the International Book Award, and Under Brushstrokes was finalist for the Best Book Award and the International Book Award. A sixteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her website is

Obsessive Compulsion

I knew a woman who spent hours in front 
of her magnifying mirror, chasing split hairs
like a huntress. She’d enter the intricacy of 
parallel lines, watch forking tips grow into 
reeds, swelling into bamboo shoots painted in
Chinese ink over transparent rice paper through 
which she saw her son falling from a cliff, light 
as a clipping, he lies at the bottom of the dark 
ravine, his foot severed, tshuk tshuk tshuk 
crisscross, cuts the slightest twist, he’s being 
raised with pulleys, in a fog she wanders in 
deserted streets unable to find her way back,
she’d forgotten her own name, thinking of her 
son’s severed foot bleeding, his thick fragrant 
blood an oddity in the night scented with 
rosemary and lavender, she thinks of mountain 
lions, coyotes, a jugular vein prey to canines 
sharper than shears, hears feline raspy tongues 
licking the wound, refuses to see the man’s body 
tremble, the tense hardening of muscles prior 
to rigor mortis that would come so fast, yes, 
he shouldn’t suffer she prays, eyes closed, finds 
herself back in front of her bathroom mirror 
holding the scissors, holding her breath, yes, 
it was only an illusion and her son was recovering 
now with nails stuck into his leg, surgeons cleaned 
the wound nine hours long, gloved hands cut 
tshuk tshuk sawed scraps, sewed back tissues
and bones, the rest of him whole, tshuk tshuk tshuk 
the crisscrossing cuts the slightest deviance, none
will escape, crisscross she aims, tinkers with precision.

The Ages of Man

She lives with a man she now softly calls a living dead, fingers covering her lips, like a feathered fan, she whispers more than proffers these words, feels trapped, yes, as walls shrink around her, getting closer each day. She who never had children, is nursing her no longer lover. Always by his side, rubbing his failing limbs, calming his speeding pulse. He has aged so much after his illness, she thinks, watches how his skin fails to wrap the bones, hanging in places like the folds of a handed down garment. He suddenly awakens at night anguished, fears the sandman, needs to lie next to her and hold her hand. She dreams of opening the door wide-open, of stepping out to the light, to an uninterrupted sleep.  

After Twenty-Five Years

I came to Beirut to retrace my steps but its warmth enveloped me in its ample mantle through streets I didn’t recognize; mushrooming bridges and roads led me to Phoenician bronze letters gracing the Corniche railings. I caught glimpses of a façade’s laced arcades vivid in my dreams, its twin sister’s face disfigured by bullet holes.

Here and there, a jogger runs along the Promenade. Steeped in lost footsteps, the water seems darker as though hiding painful memories. Only the vendor of crisp sesame breads makes me feel at home; with a smile, he fills my kaak with fragrant zaatar. We won’t linger in a café to sense the sea’s mist suffused with bitterness, hear the stories of the wind; instead we go to the new Friday’s.  

I wish I’d pace the streets to gather some crumbs of what I miss the most, the traces of a city hiding within a city hidden under my eyelids. This is not what the heart remembers, I say to myself until the jacaranda’s blue light anchors me back, whispering, yes, it’s here, deep inside, fluttering like a dove’s wings.

Author's Note:

"Obsessive Compulsion" was first published by Drunken Boat, and appeared

in Under Brushstrokes (Press 53, 2015).

"The Ages of Man" was first published by Connotation Press, and appeared

in Under Brushstrokes (Press 53, 2015).

"After Twenty-Five Years" was first published by Sukoon, and appeared in 

From The Taste of the Earth (Press 53, 2020).

Phan Ming Yen 

Contributor Biography

Phan Ming Yen published his debut collection That Night By the Beach and Other Stories for a Film Score (Ethos Books) in 2012. He is also one of the four writers in the collaborative writing projects, The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (2015) and Lost Bodies: Poems Between Portugal and Home (2016), while other short stories have appeared in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Phan has also written on the history of music in Singapore in Cultural Connections, the journal of the Culture Academy of the Ministry of Culture, Communications and Youth and in Singapore Soundscape: Musical Renaissance of a Global City.  


“These days, however, the occasion is hardly remembered,

much less commemorated enthusiastically.

Checks with the National Library Board, the National Heritage Board and

the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League (SAFVL) show no events

have been planned, in part because of the coronavirus.”

The Straits Times, Sept 13, 2020 on the 75th anniversary

of the end of World War II in Southeast Asia 

I.    Clocks

movement stopped at 8.15 am.

the children left

a burnt lunch box
a shadow on stone
a stained dress
a twisted tricycle 

and 999 paper cranes
folding upon themselves in the black rain

(there are always 
never enough
words to
make visible
or restore)


II.    Hair

his touch never reaches the
only part they left behind:
her hair,
always lying there
unmoving and unchanging.

his drained fingers
limp from these years of trying
maps exhaustion
down the pane of glass:
a cold transparent
that cuts between them
satisfying history’s need
of entombing one among the many,
transcending death in an exhibit.

always, next to him,
a visitor whose camera lens
is not wide enough to capture:
lines of auburn, silver, gold

the silent un-writing
of an unspoken play


III.     Meme

the meme said 
our grandparents 
were asked to fight a war

In September 2020, three young girls in the Andaman Islands

learnt that their 46-year old father, a construction worker in Singapore,

had killed himself in April. 

and all that was asked 
of us were to sit on our couches

Their father had been tested positive for Covid-19.

He had no complications from the disease and was on track

to be transferred to a community facility.

and we could do it. 

From April to September, more than 300,000 migrant workers

had been placed in lockdown as part of the government’s

efforts to curb the spread of the disease.

they forgot

While the mental health of the workers remained a concern for many

during those months, the Ministry of Manpower reported that it had not

noted any spike in the number of migrant worker suicides

as compared to previous years.

that whether 
it is the River Kwai
or a dormitory block
there are always
those longing for home
those waiting at home

The youngest daughter, only six years old, was “too young to grasp”

what had happened. A child psychologist told the press

that the children will struggle to “rationalise”

with what their father had done even as they grow up

those who will never return home.    


Author's Note:

"Remains" is a triptych. The second poem within the triptych appeared online in 2004, at the now-defunct Stylus. The third poem, "Meme", drew upon newspaper reports including The New Paper, 28 September 2020, among others.

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