Saturday, January 27, 2007

Penang Hill

for my mother

As the train crawled up the green girth
of the hill, you watched a sepia dream
turn Technicolor. The peak was ecstasy
when we imagined ourselves birds

till Sunday-dressed crowds plucked us
from our perch, to wind a driveway
to an aviary where real birds moped
outside a hotel moulting in the sun.

Nearby, Hindus chanted over coals
in an aluminium trough small enough
for barbecue. A garish-gold mosque
raised a mute loudspeaker to the sky.

On the next concrete contour, ringed
by scraggy bougainvillea in clay pots,
a Chinese coffeeshop squatted and spat
the fag ends of old men’s laughter.

Outside the shop was set up like a studio.
You wanted a photo: you holding a tendril
drooping from a wooden trellis, you posing
demurely like some film star in the fifties.

Why I did not ask afterwards, whether
you closed your eyes for a moment’s
commemoration or a blinding flash
of recognition that this visit was reward

for years of longing (granddad’s stories,
black family albums, wavy-edged
postcards)--to arrive in Paradise curling
at its edges--I don’t pretend to know.

2 comments:

BRENT GOODMAN said...

Jee Leong -

What a beautiful blend of lush landscape imagery and language! One of my new favorites. Thanks for the mid day gem.

Brent

Jee Leong Koh said...

Dear Brent,
thanks for reading it and leaving a comment. An old poem that I reworked recently.

Jee Leong