Eileen Chong is a Singapore-born, Sydney-based writer and photographer. An essay of hers was published in Hecate in 2008. Her poetry has appeared in the first issue of Meanjin this year. Her Polaroid photography has been featured in D2, a Norwegian arts magazine. She lives with her husband and two moggy cats.
What a poem is
A poem is a heavy thing. It weighs
as you scrub the potatoes,
rub them with salt, then decide
to boil them instead. A poem
is a heavy thing. You carry its strain
as you lay plates on the table, as you set
out cutlery. A poem is
a heavy thing. Even the brownness
of the chicken’s skin reminds you
of your grandfather’s hands
in the dirt. Of his feet on the deck
when he caught the fish. A poem is a heavy
thing. You’d wanted greens
but instead bought beansprouts, pale
with their arching necks, tails intact
because you couldn’t bear the smell
of your grandmother’s hours
at the sink: plucking, washing, plucking.
A poem is a heavy thing.
When your husband comes
home from work, you think
man, labour, dust, evensong
as he kisses you and asks
how your day was. Heavy,
you tell him. Heavy.
I bought her those shoes. I was the only one
who ever bought her shoes. I knew her
size. I knew what she liked. She’d always
picked on me, but I was the only one
who ever bought her shoes
in her size that she liked.
She had told her oldest son
that when death called
for her, she wanted to be wearing
those shoes. He said
they were house slippers, too flimsy
for her walk in the other world.
Yet in the end, afraid, he gave me
the shoes – hand-embroidered
with phoenixes decked out
in sequins, gold thread, green
beads for eyes – I sheathed
the old lady’s cold, rigid feet.
Thank god I had bought them
in blue, not red. She would not
have been allowed to been buried
in anything red. Not unless we wanted her
to come back from the dead, shuffling
in those slippers, going to the courtyard
to beat the night’s blankets
in the dawning sun.
Summer in London
Summer in London is not
to be experienced without
a raincoat and an umbrella.
London cabs are big and black
but their drivers are not. The British Museum
is a collection of loot. The pubs
are the same as English pubs everywhere. The food
is awful. The train stations are beautiful
with their skeletons of efficiency
and clockwork hearts. Trains coming
and leaving like lovers, disgorging passengers
like bile. The Underground is exciting, but only
in name. The warrens smell
of pee. The streets have the same names
as the streets in Singapore, in Australia.
We’ve all dreamt
of Piccadilly Circus. Mine is complete
with horse-cabs, bobbies and whips. It turns out to be
just a rather large roundabout. The hotel
is not grandiose. The bed
has broken springs. At night I turn to you
but, your back hurting, you face
away. I close my eyes
but London calls. My London
with its clocks and castles and
the will-o-the-wisp shimmering
over the moonlit moors.