Skip to content



from Eyewitness

Heinamann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd.,
Singapore, 1976



Beginning another vigil
he regards the tentative sun
through a fragmented sky;
otherwise there is only greenness.
In the still quiet dawn
he downs a mug of tea,
leans his rifle against a tree
and now and then recalls his home
unearths another day.
He is far from his hamlet.

It was an unquestioning life,
tilling the stubborn land that defies
the controlling hand of man.
There was consolation, now he knows
the laughter of his child,
the softness of his wife
who yields to him at night.
So what if kingdoms topple?

His dream shakes the silent air.

He sees his home gutted in the sun,
he sees his wife, head blown off,
the body of his child strewn
among young stubble of padi.

For days he prowled that waste
unable to quell his hate.
How to mobilize that precise pain?

Time passes.
Now and then a recall of home:
she chants at night to their child
who smiles, remembering small mischiefs.
After losing them,
their absence remains.

He makes his fists into a power
fierce as one whose sinews
could manage the sun.

In the glare of the sun
the planes beautiful
like silver spears
come in an eddy of air.

Amongst battered tree trunks
his blood splatters
into uncanny flowers.

Over the gentle contour of hills
and the sea,
the happy young crew from afar
returns to the air.


Strolling out into the evening after work
before the dew settles on the grass,
the sky without a cloud is as wide
and is the colour of the sea;
so much so, the little dark boats in the distance
seem to be moving up to it;
I think of you, old grey-haired Tu Fu,
how this kind of setting
and this time of day
would move you to sing one of your poems.

Towards the west the same sun is setting
making dark the trees in my garden,
throwing large shadows on the grass
while Kasan, my young son
runs about, noisily playing
soldiers with his friend.
I wonder whether you approve
who have written so much against wars?

Alas, my friend, we too have our
endless wars, one thousand
two hundred and fifty odd years
after you have lamented,
“Wars still not ended” . . .
in Vietnam
the Middle East
now Czechoslovakia
and Biafra!
When Kasan is older, I shall tell him.

Now my good wife is cooking
our evening meal in the kitchen;
I wish we could have you to dinner
and though I have no jugs of millet wine,
I’ll get a few beers from the ‘fridge.
How we would talk and talk,
my friend.

In the fading light
little swallows are having their last fly;
a lone sea hawk surveys overhead
then dives for its prey . . .
my place at Lim Chu Kang
overlooks the Johore Straits.
The small sampans are returning,
each boat has a tiny, uncertain lamp.
Already the distant hills
are melting into the night.

Once the sun has dipped
it is so far away,
farther than the stars.
Our life has become a small matter
though our anxieties loom large.
Thinking of you,
it is so easy
to span the years.
These twelve centuries or more
have really wrought little change;
the condition of man remains
much the same, much the same.

My wife calls;
dinner is ready.
Dear girl, she has read
all my poetry and asked
when I would write
one for her.
She should know
she matters more to me
than all my poetry.
I think you would
understand that,
my old grey-haired Tu Fu.

Singapore, 1968


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: