A Selection from "Work"

Alvin Pang


All morning the rattle of
newspapers, the thick smell
of cheap coffee that shakes
you awake slowly. Small
petty units of time slip by
uncounted, and are lost
forever. What passes for work,
passes, until the time comes

to pretend to give it all up
and make a break for it. Five
minutes after five p.m. you're out
in the car park, waiting for the bus
that will take you away from
all this, the same chair and table
you'll have to come back to
tomorrow. But not yet.

If you haven't dozed off you see
through smudged glass and tired
eyes, the road unwinding behind
you at fifty kilometres per hour,
if you can pull away from the rush
hour traffic that threatens to eat you
up, to pull you into itself, and never let go.

Heave past the light factories, sour
and black with grease, the heavy vehicle
park, where construction vehicles, their
tires and tracks caked with dried mud
are lined up row by row in a way
that makes the tall grass think of earth �
crushed, opened, bared, discarded �
and fear the worst.

At the traffic lights, time rumbles to a stand-
still, pausing for breath, before it shovels
all the waiting cars forward to wherever
they were headed. The air buzzes
with secret clockwork, the years left
to the contract you signed with yourself,
until you'll let yourself live. So many minutes
left until the wheels stop,

and you call yourself home. The ground
beneath you, which you've never stooped
to smell or feel, since childhood, swells
with new growth, even as you pass over it.
Leaves of grass
survive the monthly trimming of the field;
their gaunt fingers point cleanly to sky,
counting down the hours of daylight.

Published in Testing the Silence (1997)

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Alvin Pang