Letters & Melaka

by Vernon Daim


for my maternal grandparents

The early ones are heavier.
Like beams and pillars
for a new house, they are solid

with news about starting a life
in the new land. In the old house now
they are eaten into latticework by silverfish.

In my scaffolding years in my clumsy hand
I wrote to you childishly guided by
the modern pinyin dictionary of our ancient tongue.

Now they lie folded neatly, peacefully
in their envelope-coffins in the old house
as the new century inches towards adolescence.


Melaka: Trishaw Ride Observations

Once a while they passed by –
heavily decorated trishaws, dripping with shimmering glitter
and fake flowers, dangdut techno playing at full blast –
ferrying tanned tourists insisting on stopping
to capture haiku moments with their SLR cameras
of crows and pigeons perching on facade,
looking like part of the symbolic ornament,
or a constellation of spider webs
quietly trapping dust and bugs at a corner.

For profit, the past lingers on deliberately in this part of town.
An untorn calendar still shows the year 1989 –
the year Communism toppled in faraway nations,
the year UPSR started for a Primary 6 student here.
Antique shops play old records on gramophones
evoking the glamour of old Shanghai –
sultry Bai Kwang waiting patiently for her lover to return,
tragic Zhou Xuan singing about the life of a wandering songstress.

Under the brutal tropical weather
a disused public phone stands defiantly by the junction,
shards of paint peeling off like scars, rust slowly spreading like cancer.
Once upon a time, young lovers forbidden by tradition
sneaked out to declare their undying love on the line.
Now, its service is no longer needed in times of crisis or courtship.
These are now sepia anecdotes for Chinese New Year gatherings
or wedding anniversaries of a suffocating union.

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