Grandmother Thng

Toh Hsien Min

You died when I was six. My peashoot mind
Broke into an empty flat. I had
To force the tears, so great was my disbelief.

So great my disbelief, so sternly firm
The ghastly coffin in the void-deck where
I dropped a magic pen into the drain
And the waters carried it away. I spurned
Your instructing comfort, soaking in my pain.
Your block’s lifts always were in disrepair,

Dim, slow, a stink of stale urine in it.
You soothed me with a Milo and Marie
Biscuits. Your lips were full, too large, I thought,
For you to have been beautiful. You hit
Me lightly for my impudence, and brought
Red chillies from the kitchen. You loved me.

Most days we would wade through Chinatown.
I nibbled on a salted cabbage leaf
Fresh from the brine, moving from stall to stall,
Sometimes losing you; you were so round,
Your arm was like a leg of lamb, and all
Your samfoos were unsleeved. It was a relief

To sit down in a dim sum restaurant
And roll the tea-cups in the scalding water.
Or else we stopped beside the bamboo hag
With her pots of soup, I ready to dissent
If you asked me to drink a soup of gag
Of herbs or baby chick knob-winged at slaughter.

Some days we turned the corner to Temple Street,
The asphalt squeaking with dirty water, the crowd
Less hoar-haired. There you bought at sundries shops
Your favourite sng buay, which I couldn’t eat
Because it was too sour. A few more stops
For medicine-hall powder or a loud

Exchange of words with a friend, in which you would lay
Your hand on me and utter, “Ngoh ge shuin”;
“Waah, lairng jai,” would your friend rejoin; and back
Up Neil Road we would trot. You used to say
First what a good boy I was, then switch tack
Bluntly, and though I made a face like a prune,

I would tread on your back to give you your firm massage.
Then as you slept I crawled beneath your bed,
Trawling spiderwebs or playing at tents,
And rolled on it when you got up, or barraged
It with my weight, picking up the scent
Of Tiger Balm. Some days I quietly read

An Enid Blyton, or admired my aunt’s
Books, a Lady Chatterley's Lover chief of them.
The woman on the Emma cover had
Your face: a plumpish one, with brows that danced,
And lines I would love to write, which greyly bred.
In the evening from work my parents came.

And after all these greening years I find
That I am no less salted by my grief,
Incapable of love still, heartworn, dead.

Published in The May Anthologies (1998)

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Toh Hsien Min