WRITING
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
99p conversation

I sent out letters to my friends today
Queen Elizabeth’s portrait in pink hues
stamped on slim white envelopes
to Terka in the Czech Republic and
Sabrina, seven thousand miles away.
Do they remember receiving anything else?
than bills and bank statements, monthly zines 
with a page of ten percent discount 
a shirt, forever in their wardrobe.

A shabby stamp with frayed fringes
ink bleed from rain through the rift
a brief essay to say my life hasn’t changed
in the swamp of comings and goings.

Do you remember the last time
you paid 99p to speak across the seas,
your words in a box for safekeeping.

To whom will I leave

my books and beaded shoes
a two-inch layer of dust that
blankets over them, my 
potted daisies by the sill
that I call my children
or the yellowed home grants
that sleep in the stiff oak safe.

But today,
I saw how they bubble wrapped
my sister’s television, her vases
and set of chairs, the name of relatives
on every valuable surface, 
ready for a new home.

Her flaking stamp albums
cracked pans of watercolours
favourite box of chocolates
buried in her house that 
waits to be sold.

the very things that defined her.

Serif

The black metal box with 4-53 inscribed
still empty. It’s been vacant for two months
after clearing the envelopes of white
and brown, plastic sheets over brochures
that travelled in chutes and slots,
the risk of never being read or sent back
to either names written on it.

There are no Christmas cards
Santander stopped sending statements
the ‘paperfree’ option is better
with serif being everyone’s 
new handwriting on brightly lit screens.

 

Paper map extinction

The crisp edges unfold, crinkling, its crispness already contracting, the right corner rips, down the middle margin, cleaving through contours, the red and blue fills the fissures of your thumbs, it turns grey stained by grease. 

In 200 metres, turn left.

They will probably never feel the furrows in paper, have inks imbue their finger tips, seal torn ridges and realise that maps decay faster than books. They may never hold a paper map in their hands.

Děkuji ale je mi líto

(‘Děkuji ale je mi líto’ translates to ‘thank you but I’m sorry’ in Czech)

Thank you
for pausing and capturing moments,
cameras flashing from the end of selfie sticks
as you stop in the heart of Staroměstská
mesmerised by the beauty of our architecture
that mirrors a woman’s bosom; its dark outlines 
and embellishments on beige and brown.

But 
you trod my home as your own,
lined the streets with shattered bottles 
and stamped cigarettes
which the homeless take drags of
as if the roasted meat hanging by the deli fronts
are not whorish enough.

Sorry
it is a seductive bitch of 
cheap food, liquor and cigarettes
now swamped by the acidic burst of vomit,
subduing its orange glow
that makes fairytales and myths alive.

I Chope You

STRAITS QUAY – NIGHT
Lighthouse towers the crowd, with the sound and colours of fireworks. Below, WILLIAM whom is dressed in a snazzy navy suit kneels in front of his girlfriend.

WILLIAM: Will you marry me? 

“No”, she replied. His manhood shrunk.
Tiny as the mineral that could not bounce
rainbow lights into her eyes.

CHULIA STREET – NIGHT
Servers yell orders to the counter. Chatters in Hokkien, Malay and English overlay the sizzling and tapping of spatulas against woks.

Specks of spit into greasy plates, sat
in ten-fold heat. William’s drenched shirt,
sour like his bowl of laksa for tea.

WILLIAM suddenly drops to a knee. He places a Kleenex packet on his girlfriend’s thigh.

WILLIAM: Will you marry me now? 

His girlfriend laughs.

chope. Verb. (Malaysia/Singapore) to reserve a place, such as a seat at a hawker stall or a fast food restaurant, by placing a packet of tissue paper on it.

Domov

It remains blazing,
illuminated by orange lamps
and the cobblestone shines from fresh snow
that blankets the buildings around.

Although barely visible,
it reminds me of a secret lover.
As I mesmerise its beauty
my coat is slowly tainted by 
the scent of nicotine, meat and 16 crown beer,
seducing me to want more.

I am sucked into a wind tunnel
in a gust of hundred others,
whizzing through hues and wires,
transporting me back to Budějovická.

Down this lane
of unpleasant tags on mundane flats
there exists a hush.

The orange glow lulls,
like the time he read me a story to bed,
it remains blazing.

 

Conex

They are the boring cuboids left to rust on abandoned grounds, hues of brown that pair with drying dirt.

They are the travellers you see but never noticed. On sea and land, perched on the backs of trucks, 80 miles per hour down the motorway to ports.

They are the blackness that swallow you whole. Trapped migrants, drugs, weapons that don’t exist.

They are the forsaken that store your shirts, skirts and dolls. Remembered when water envelops their cold steel like human skin.

They are the wealthy servants. Now hotels, shops, galleries – an old closet for your labeled clothes made in Bangladesh across the seas.

Liberate Her

(hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia)

some collect hibiscuses like coins
uprooted and wrapped in clear cellophane 

without rights to reside where they
sprouted or thrived, high 
as mischievous monkeys swing
between branches to the top of a tree
what was plucked to possess, now
a repulsive brown with slight red tints

if you must seize it, do not imprison it
wear the hibiscus behind your ear
take it dancing, whirls of grace
in the fragrance of a forest bed

CELINA

I remember when I first learned my ABCs.
A is for apple 
B is for ball
C is for cat

but as I grow older, I learned that 
ABC also means American Born Chinese, except 
they don’t have an acronym for Asians that
don’t seem to belong, living outside the United States.

Then I realised it’s CELINA as
I introduce myself at school, work, restaurants,
walking out of rooms with 
a Polish first name 
and a Malaysian last name.

C is for Celina,
Celina is my name
but why doesn’t it match my face?
Do I not look ethnic enough?
Is that why you’re dubious?

E is for eyes,
the slits you make fun of,
telling me that I only see half of what you do.
Here’s a fact, that’s not true.

L is for language,
people in England have asked me,
Do you speak English?
As a matter of fact, I do.
Actually, I speak four. What about you?

I is for identity,
a thing I have yet to find because
I do not feel accepted. Give me some time,
I know I will.

N is for nationality,
something that I did not choose.
Hence every time you assume than ask,
Ni hao! Chinese? Thai? Korean?
you strip me from my individuality.

A is for Asian,
as in the asian girl you want to date
because you believe I am exotic,
the cure to your yellow fever. Well, no.

Now here’s the thing. To me,
A is still for apple, B is still for ball and C is still for cat.
So the next time you come across someone like me, 
please remember your ABCs.

 

Kde domov můj?

Put yourself in my shoes, your home in an unfamiliar city for three years. Shrill metal clacking, *hiss.. as green lines spray across your building wall. Your foreign accent reverberates through the bedroom window down the streets, reaching but not quite there. You think in Czech but speak in English.

You walk down to your mailbox, its curled paint reminds you of crisp leaves, a tear across the slim white envelope, uncovering a letter from your mother. Her words recited in a Malaysian accent in your head and now water gushes out your eyes like that leaking sink in your kitchen that needed fixing long ago.

When paying for bell peppers at Sainsbury’s, you find yourself unable to articulate the coins in your wallet. The pennies of varying sizes that do not make sense, even after you’ve poured them onto your palm. It is not home, your home. And the self-checkout continues to ask for the remaining 5p.

Buluhku

deep rooted and tall, it knew no bounds
and settled throughout the trails up north
my sisters and I rarely look that way
exchanges on the soft bubbles beneath our feet
from long walks to the dumplings for tea
there was not a word about you

*

it did not bleed when cut, in the time
the moon weaved in and out of black ribbons
it made the chair you built, rocking on the verandah
it made the angklung you used to play to me
cut in the time the moon weaved in and out
of black ribbons, I promised not to weep.

Mindhiding

a term invented by his wife
when he forgets that he has boiled 
the kettle three times this morning

the expression on his children’s face 
like oak leaves sinking on a walkway
bidding farewell to summer, enticing autumn in

a daily ritual by the breakfast table
he winces as he sips his overly salted coffee
and talks of camels he’s ridden in Egypt but never been

his wrinkle-etched hand fishing in the tray
surfacing his jingling Volkswagen keys
always amused that it would not start

his wife hardly speaks and if she does
it would be about the weather
‘tarmac’s hot enough to make a full English’

he sits up and ponders about this
strings of milky stratus to the pale blue sky
anticipating a downpour.

 

Adequate Relations

simple stories 
don’t exist because 
language forces distance

the days grow sticky and without a drink
a question stammers in the mind for weeks
a key vibrates on the piano *plink

in the course of one day
your head will point in all 
the cardinal directions

it is good to wake and sleep
scrape Nutella jars with spoons and have 
orange Calippo stitch sugar in your mouth

police sirens clear the air
but the TV burns out – unknowingly
redrawing the borders of your hunger

somewhere, you are being sewn 
into a storyline, in the smooth lobe 
of another’s mind.

 
 
 

© Celina Loh 2020

 

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