Cyril Wong has been called a confessional poet, according to The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry (2013), based on “the brutally candid sexuality in his poetry, along with a barely submerged anxiety over the fragility of human connection and a relentless self-querying”. He is the Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of poetry collections such as Unmarked Treasure, Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light and After You. He has also published Let Me Tell You Something About That Night, a collection of strange tales, and a novel, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza. A past recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for Literature, he completed his doctoral degree in English Literature at the National University of Singapore in 2012. His poems have been anthologised in Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (W. W. Norton 2008) and Chinese Erotic Poems (Everyman’s Library 2007), amongst various journals and publications across the world.
Not surprising that we’d meet again,
even after we fought over SMS
and promised we would never call.
Not recognising each other’s online
profile, we dialled the numbers
as strangers, since we’d deleted
everything from our phones.
That quick flash of surprise upon
seeing each other at the door: what
did we argue about again? Perhaps
it was more desperation than wisdom
that made us forgive and forget,
so we could charge on with
new smiles and conversation, then
making love without making love,
a curious operation we know too well.
Who can say exactly why we do
the things we do? I like to think
that afterwards, on my taxi ride back,
I was thinking about the future, love
like a sun wavering as it scaled
that high wall of the horizon,
blackness making room between
buildings and streetlamps whipping
past outside the window. More likely
that I was trying to catch
a nap before daybreak, nothing
on my mind besides the odd feeling
that although this journey was supposed
to be brief, the driver was taking
too long to bring me home.
In the cupboard, bare hangers are skeletons
for future selves; a complimentary bathrobe
waits like a new and better, even purer, skin;
fresh pillows are the unformed bodies
of lovers yet to be born; bedroom slippers
become footwear for shuffling up
an airy flight of stairs free of this life.
Open the fridge, lean past the overpriced
chocolate and the smugly settled soft drinks
and tune in to voices from the god-realm,
where beings reminisce, not unfondly, about
past desires and mistaken attachments.
On the bed, our bodies stay unentwined
in rest because love is in a different room
in a faraway country; but beneath us,
cowering children press ears to the floor,
absorbing the footfalls of fathers retreating,
heads lowered in shame or shaking with disgust;
these trembling versions of us reach
for each other now, smaller hands taking hold.
In reality, the air-con sighs as discreetly
as possible; behind translucent curtains, night
slowly lifts; nobody expects the morning
to be spectacular; although my eyes are
reluctant to close, still hungry for the ever-new;
while another stranger beside me sleeps and sleeps.
There’s the smaller mind
caught up in the operations
of tongues, hands and lower parts.
But what turns it off?
Just as somebody’s finger is required
to flip the switch, surely the mind is incapable
of shutting itself down.
So I suspect there’s a second mind
behind the first, a bigger mind
of sleep and deeper desires,
supervising the traffic of breath and blood
and the heart’s continuous labour.
Eventually the first mind
must return home like a child from school,
the other mind like its knowing parent
waiting in silence at the door;
or the partner already in bed
but not asleep, as the lover who has strayed
slips back under the covers to enter his arms again.