Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Woman outside the Painting

for Frida Kahlo

is wearing a dress much like the dress
the woman in the painting
is wearing.

She looks as intense, equals her gaze.
Unflinching, the both of them,
like sisters who truly know
what the other admitted
in secret.

“You’re not the one who paints me,”
one of them cries out at night.
“You can’t make me
pick up the brush
just because it’s what you want.”
And on and on it goes, the paintings multiply,
day by day, the tally uneven.

Until in truce one day they both stand
in a gallery retrospective, side by side.
One smiling but fragile
as crystal. The other unflinching,
having already won
her battle.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Election Day

There’s electric in the air.
They’re throwing tractors in the air.
They’re giving everyone twenty ringgit
just to hand them back their mandate.

Little towns all over the country
are strung through with banners and posters
of candidates pondering for the people
“What will be your fate?”

The streets quiver with emotion.
It’s like the whole country married money.
“Who’s going to win?” the people roll their eyes.
“Who’s going to bankroll the rural seats?”

Look. Look.
Here comes another entourage.
Candidates in billowing batik silks
raise linked hands, rehearsing the victory.

The whole village is dressed up
like a boy for his circumcision.
Call your uncles and your aunties.
They’re going to slaughter a cow today.

“Thank you” the candidates say,
and they sit down to prayers
and dinners in front of big TV screens,
waiting for their faces to appear.

All of a sudden, smiles are creasing
across the country.
Tractors are being thrown in the air.
Whoever needs a tractor, a tractor he will get.

People stop to watch the tractors.
Or put on a face to show that they care.
Children in schools are stupidly comparing
“Who will your parents vote for?”

Uncles and aunties host impromptu meetings.
Saying “Ai-yah! It doesn’t matter one!”
Pointing fingers at the broken scales of justice.
“Why you always vote for the losers?”

But who’s the real loser here?
Why should it matter why you’re running?
As long as you’re running,
you’re running, right?

Because everyone wants power.
You want power. I want power.
They want power. We want power.
Everyone wants a piece of that tractor.

Because it’s one day every five years
that power rests in everyone’s hands.
And that kind of power is like an all-you-can-eat.
But that kind of power, mister, doesn’t come cheap.

“You think you own this town?”
They say “You think just because
it’s a democracy, you can hand it over
to the communists?”

“You’re a fool! A traitor!
A traitor to your people! A traitor to your race!
Like a pea that’s forgotten its nut!
Traitor! Traitor! That’s what you are!”

They wipe the glorious sweat off their faces.
They think “What now?” while marking little Xs.
In moist polling stations where their choices are already made.
In little towns where things will (most) probably stay the same.

Will the phantoms ride the buses again?
Will the daggers come out to play again?
It’s election day, everyone!
Isn’t it fun? Isn’t it fun?

Saturday, February 2, 2008


like memories
of a fireworks display.

The moon a half-pried
in a half-lit room.