Five Poems

Peter Considine (Flickr/theotherpete)
Peter Considine (Flickr/theotherpete)

The Chair

You have to first
Sit in the temple gloom
In the mahogany chair
& despair.

The only glimmer
In the temple (being the inlaid bits of
The Mother-
Of-Pearl shells
On the tall, more than humanly tall
Chair back, for these

These too
Are the reputed “Tears of Things”
Of this world as seen
By the world.

In that other chair behind
Temple curtains
Sits Mother
Who believed
For a good part of her later life
You were there somewhere
In the temple
A book
About her. She could hear you
In prose
Telling tales.
Mother had an interesting life
Because she was beautiful
& she wrote poetry
& poetry ruins lives.
(Does this sound like a fatwa,
Girls? “May your life be messy,
Your poems tidy.” )
Mother’s life was not tidy.
About mother poems were written
By several poets, including herself
“Non-fiction” (her own)
Some very good.

Now what is sweet as poetic justice
When it is meet?

On that score
No fear, mother
I say
Most merciful
Most just

As if she didn’t know already
The daughter will not in a thousand years write
: But poetry only

As for that she said, she said you must

Remain in that chair
Be a seated woman
& despair.

The World

The world (I overheard
In direct speech
On streets, bird song & infants
Not via Al Jazeera

Nor Sky)

I sometimes like,
I see much to admire.
Withal it seems
To be doing all right.
Our world is this world
There is no other.

But the world, like me
Is also foreign.

An exasperating taxi driver
Much exercised,
We have a special understanding.

How did we get here?
Never mind.
“You don’t understand.”

For the plupart he seems to know
What he’s doing &
Where we are going—

& mostly I said
“Just as well.”

He’s also got prayer beads
Some fiddly bits
A talisman on the rear-view mirror.

& for the plupart
The sun shines.
The vehicle reeks
(of hushed-up vomit)
The radio is carsick
With human speech.

Brother Sun
Just what do you not
Praise be.

The mirror is on fire.
He is delivering you to
Your hotel. Over time,
On time. Ho—Ho

Ho—Hell.He did say.

The Painting Of Hotels

Your hotel is on fire.
(I mean the curtains.)

In the corridor
No prisoners are taken.
They are taking hostages.

Out on your scant
Scant scaffolding
You are painting.
You are painting the hotel.
Your paint bucket sways.
The colour is beige.
Like flesh.

You have
A window-cleaner’s
Telescopic squeegee.

You carry on painting.
The colour goes on
Sheer this side.

In between
The hard-to-reach places
Of all sizes

& persuasions

& Woman
after Woman out
Of pocket
With change

Person to person
The h(air
From the parting

I dare say
Wolf-whistle keen.

Look, none of this
Will go down well,
Not likely.

& you
So full of paint
This side

I suggest you
Go on painting

The Pact

Roses still bent in the basin
Like a pheasant with its neck wrung
Too red, too rare to be a dozen.
You tap & they peel like wall paint.
I do not know about being long-stemmed
So close to the water & the toothbrushes
You think they could live by the proximity.

A week with no face to wash.
Some place. & then she was holding on to
A man’s trousered leg between 2 doors
The bathroom
& the hotel corridor.
The standard swastika junction.

He stands & yields.
(& I think) she yields & stands.
A few things, like peaches, like plums, like knees
Carom into the corner.

How composed now the iconography
of a face
Sketchy as a shirt backed by tissue,
& then gray cardboard,
As nearly cured of all life.

Before that too is packed,
Unpacked back into the drawer
You will have to decide
Who was it who survived the night.
It is that our dead can still change their mind about us,
Very much so,
& living, we are in error.
The horizon goes up & down like a roller blind
This side,
Here where the dead may well change our future
& soon
Any moment
A mouth will open—possibly hers
To say something unforgivable by tomorrow
At breakfast—perhaps after,
What does it matter?
Now it is all the minutes that pass
& news
News from Scheherazade

White Hot
Far as the Gobi desert
From Ossining,
It is July 1988.
N.Y. 10562
Under the reading lamp
The child plays with a moth.
He has one question.
“Does one always read the same paper?”
He is 3 years in this world.
The page flashed before him,
He didn’t ask why.
He knows the book.

Take 2 Before Bed

Waiting for the bus

No one but us
You on board
Every bus gone.

Sleep on then
We go each

No bus will come now
Not even the wrong bus.
Nightly we sleep
The vast night between us.


Going to
I am the difficult person
& you the different,

The hiss of deep tyres
Fast cars speed by—empty
Emptier yet,

All whilst
Nothing keeps coming

For the no-one there—
Wake us.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Wong May, who is a painter as well as a poet, grew up in Singapore, studied and worked in the United States, and now lives in Dublin. She won the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in 2022.


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