Jerrold Yam is a Singaporean lawyer based in London, UK. He is the author of three poetry collections: Intruder (Ethos Books, 2014), Scattered Vertebrae (Math Paper Press, 2013) and Chasing Curtained Suns (Math Paper Press, 2012). His work has been featured in Prairie Schooner, Wasafiri, Oxford Poetry, Washington Square Review and The Straits Times.
Then, like the most natural thing, I feel
disappointed at the disappointment
of being their son. Two decades ago
my parents welcome me, as if with scrutiny
comes ownership, and over the years
I learn as much as they learn
about themselves, how parenthood
defies one’s capacity for love
and tolerance for neglect. Sometimes
in the benevolent grasp of night
I wake up, as sudden as a newborn’s cry,
to how I will never become
better than what my body has allowed me,
what hurt is rewarded to my parents
by this inevitability. Then
my eyes betray the depth
of its timid pools, my face
conducting its own baptism
to atone for what is never committed.
So here lay the fraying
limits of parental responsibility. When
I walk into their room like a sinner
approaching the confession booth,
what do the ones who have given me life
know about love? What self-righteous
punishment? For once
the television would be muted, all walls,
all light, and before them
the fruit of their tiresome love
broken from its stem.
Peeling it off
aroused by the scent
of pliant tissue, such are
the ways the body
destroys itself: angiogenesis,
how Grandma nurses
her fear of sleep before
waking to her surprise.
"A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in an attack
at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando [...]."
New York Times, June 12, 2016
This is the bed that makes you a family.
This is the woman you have chosen, her chest
softly tidal in sleep. This is your door ajar,
like parted lips, so as not to wake her or your son,
such are the hushed kindnesses
of the family that makes its bed. This is the length
of your street, houses crouching in the dark.
This is your engine gnawing at the silence
as if nourished by it. This is the melted sky,
bruised colour of streets, colour
of how the world continuously begins,
cloaked and uncloaked by darkness.
This is your car left to crouch by the houses.
This is you running, a hushed kindness
blooming between your palms. These are your fingers
working barrel and trigger, the streetlamps
on fire, singing gunmetal. This is
the melted sky colouring
over the pavement. As the world begins
these are the ones you have chosen, female or male,
pigtailed or unkempt, genteel or voluptuous or mercenary
or kind, school-going or employed,
wisecrack or aphorism, this the colour
of parted lips, of families arriving to make their beds.
"Scab" was first published in Axon: Creative Explorations Vol. 3 No. 2 (Oct 2013).
"Pulse" was first published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore Vol. 15 No. 4
Vanessa Teo is a ceaseless voice that stays bottled up most days, and overflows onto whatever medium is put in front of her when it happens. A writer and a forever student, she hopes to be able to continue writing no matter where life takes her. Words are simply one way for her to express herself.
I recently realized how often I lie to myself about how happy I am.
I ignore the twinges in my chest and write them off as windedness from laughing too hard. The swirling in the pit of my stomach is hunger, because it’s 5am and I didn’t have much for dinner. I don’t realize how sore my cheeks have become from forcing the corners of my lips to turn up, not until I’m alone again and your voice is stolen from the air. The room seems much darker than before and I suddenly feel so, so tired. I lie down but I can’t sleep. We exchange some texts that elicit forced laughs from me—I don’t suspect my own fakeness, because why would I have to pretend when I’m alone? I feel my heart sinking lower and lower in my chest; I’m wondering if it’s even still inside my body, but I know it is because I feel it stealing my oxygen. I lie down and think a little. I stop my own thinking and distract myself with whatever’s on my phone screen and subconsciously ignore the thoughts in the back of my mind. I go to sleep feeling nothing, because nothing is wrong, nothing is out of the ordinary, everything is normal and as it should be. I spend days distracting myself from the thoughts that float up to my consciousness every now and then. I push them down as a reflex every single time. And the whole time, I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m even doing it. I don’t realize I’m avoiding it, or even what it is. I don’t think this is love because honestly, I don’t even really know what that is. But it is a feeling—I know, because as I sit here typing this I realize I’ve denied myself from feeling things for so long that each one feels like it’s threatening a flood. I think I’ve somehow managed to trick myself into believing I don’t have feelings anymore.
I’m not sure if it’s sadness, or loneliness, or some other emotion I’ve long buried deep down. But I know I’m not as happy as I think I am, and acknowledging that is probably the first step.
Who will sing the same songs as me?
Who will ride these waves my soul is sending out?
I feel like the lonely whale, sending out frequencies no one can hear.
I feel like I’ll never find someone who plays my tune back to me.
I fall in love easily.
There’s no denying it. I give pieces of my heart to almost everyone I meet; fruitless, careless, hopeless love for all the people I feel connected to.
But I also fall out of love so easily.
It all fades away so fast. I say I’m emotionally detached, despite the former—and it’s true. I don’t quite give a shit about any of the people I’ve been with, or thought about being with. Everything is fleeting, and at times I find myself wondering if I will ever find someone I feel truly connected to.
But lately I’ve been comparing everyone I meet to you. Not on purpose—at least, I don’t think so. I don’t consciously think of you. But I do know I’ve been churning thoughts like this one’s too good, unlike… and I can’t talk to this one, you know, like I do with…
I’m almost hesitant to say your name, even as I tell myself you were just someone I met once and don’t care for. And then I let myself admit that it was a waste letting you slip away. I let myself admit that maybe I should have said yes; maybe I wanted to say yes. But at the end of the day, you were just good fun. I don’t know you. You don’t mean anything to me.
You do not mean anything to me.
I think about how you almost reached me. Someone who’s been shut off for so long, who refused to believe in anything more than physical desires, felt a tiny tinge when you decided to walk away from her walls.
You are so far from perfect. But you sang my songs to me. And in the back of my mind, I am cursing myself because I let you slip away.