No. 8


Yong Shu Hoong  

Doing Time 

Thinking back, is it your chuckle I remember the most 
or the beady eyes peering through grease-stained glasses 
yearning to be wiped? Or perhaps both these attributes 
were put to good use when you had to make your bargain 
with the Grim Reaper – most definitely whilst flirting 
with that salesgirl you’d fancied working in a cassette shop 
just a few bus stops from our camp. I have to say 
the only time we were really close was sitting together 
in a three-tonner as you took it for a spin around camp 
before testing its brakes along a designated road. 
I never picked up much vehicle mechanics – not from you 
who often preferred to sully your own hands, knowing how 
I wasn’t much good in wielding a spanner. Instead 
I passed you the right tools like a surgeon’s assistant, only 
draining the engine’s oil or bleeding brake fluid on occasions 
where I could be trusted. Still, there was camaraderie 
in the same way we stunk in our sweat-soiled overalls, or how 
the acid from car batteries burnt holes like battle scars 
upon the green cloth we bore across our abs. Regrettably 
losing touch after I got out of the army, I only saw you again 
at your funeral, compartmentalised within a different failure 
from a career that never went beyond three stripes adorning 
each sleeve. Suddenly thinking of you today, I begin 
to imagine how you have found a new purpose oiling chariots 
for the skies – until I decide that perhaps you’d rather enjoy 
a change of vocation. I can only hope that there is mercy enough 
in the next world to spare you another bout of incarceration.

Rock Garden

I suppose Father knew best
regarding playgrounds within easy reach. 
My brother and I did our rounds
engaging our eager limbs and minds 
with different contraptions: see-saws,
rusty swings, cement horses. Yet 
the only venue that sticks in my mind today 
is a public park near Tiong Bahru 
with its random assemblage of boulders 
which must have read like strange coordinates 
when viewed from the air. But for a child
a boulder is only something to clamber atop, 
not danger nor a question of poise; 
and a row of boulders must surely lead 
to fascination at the other end. 
In adulthood, such ornament of stones 
are giant abacus seeds disbanded, 
or if you are lucky, stir the imagination 
in different ways: an ancient affiliation 
with Stonehenge or a meditation upon 
a Japanese garden’s Zen aesthetics. 
Remembering once watching Pericles
Prince of Tyre staged in a barn house 
under different stars, I now envisage 
an amphitheatre of tragedies 
and probable dreams, the boulders 
as props or seats. It’s only later that I weigh 
reality in the changing face of progress: 
Is that inconspicuous garden still there?




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