Private Poet

I never had a penchant for poems. I like reading them, especially ones written by Usman Awang (he’s my absolute idol) and I follow A. Samad Said like a bloodhound because I know where he lives. I am admitting to stalking an innocent, talented old man but I am not creepy, I swear. I just surprise him once in a while, just pretending to be interested in small chats. You should listen to how each word rolled out of his tongue – just unaltered old keroncong melody that most did not recollect. He pronounces it as the people in the 1950s, naturally and ever so carefully like gift wrapping the most precious of gifts.

Words. Now, thrown so carelessly like they didn’t matter shit.

I actually won second place in a poem writing competition when I was in university. It was a Malay poem, written in August which is the month celebrating the independence day. I had the cheesiest title and the most sarcastic of rhymes. It was called ‘Mereka Kata Hari Ini Kita Cuti’ or ‘They Say Today Is a (Public) Holiday’. I was playing around youth’s perception of celebrating the National Day as a public holiday instead of grasping the meaning behind it. It was meant as a joke, really but I won 2 paperback novels for it. I secretly hated the winner. I figured he probably had more books but I never saw him. The ceremony took place during the weekend and I was at home watching Spongebob Squarepants. The prize was delivered on my study desk and I feel a surge of proud, gold medal winning moment in like 2 seconds. And then I laughed at my pathetic poem.

My father is quite an accomplish poet. I saw some of his poems printed in old newspapers which he kept in a clear album. I saw about 3-4 of them, including an 80% completed manuscript about conflicts in teenagers. I remember one poem about ‘Biskut Kering Dari Eropah’ or “Dry Snack from Europe” which talked about drugs and another poem called ‘Kubasuh Mereka’ (I Washed Them) about purity and innocence in children. Those were not bad at all. He didn’t pursue this career, probably because any career that involves embellishments of pretty words is not paid quite enough to earn a decent living.

And here I am, embellishing like crazy.

I am poor, but not defeated. I hope one day to be able to command my words like a general commanded his army.

And you will surrender and stalk me probably.

I told everyone that I moved on

that I don’t remember you at all

but the forgotten twilight came every night

when my restless fingers would wake up

and search for a tiny secret place –

the pillowcase, the right side of the cold duvet, the dusty wooden head of my creaky bed

and dance to a tune I want to forget

circling and tracing the little crooked alphabets

that used to be my home

like a needle piercing a breathing canvas

it carved my fear

into my brittle bones.