Way back in July 1987, The Straits Times organised a poetry competition to commemorate our National Day. I penned one, sent it in, and completely forgotten about it until I received a call from some journalist arranging for an interview. He told me it clinched the first prize.
I went for an interview by the river's banks, and they asked me why I wrote about a river, of all things. People were writing about patriotism, flags, racial harmony. I told them I passed by the Singapore River everyday to work, and I just have to write about it.
It was duly published in the national paper a day before National Day.
Sometimes, I cringe when I read the poem again. I wonder how it was selected as the winning poem, there were others which I feel were better. I was debating whether to put it on this blog. But this is an evolution of my craft, and I guess there's no harm doing it.
image by dsnake1
On a quiet night,
as you leaned on the railings at Merlion Park
you see this river, its surface greenish dark,
jostling with strength
the scales of a dragon, shimmering.
This river, this murky river meandering,
let not its appearance deceive you,
for this river, brimful of history,
is a tapestry of a nation's progress,
a silent witness to much toil, much industry.
Raffles saw a future in these shores
and in his wake came a delegation of others,
the rubber barons,
tongkangs bobbing on its waters, like prehistoric fishes
disgorging their contents to the warehouses
on the quays
the goods to feed a city.
its waters darkly polluted, like a lady gone tardy
tossed up damaged bows
and assorted flotsam of a growing city
walk her shores, explore her, the shops, the shrines,
the skyscrapers, all,
steps of weathered granite & stone walls
and drink with buddies
on a riverside sarabat stall.
Now, on a quiet night,
as you lean on the railings at Merlion Park,
you see this river, its surface greenish dark
on skin ever undulating
you feel you are not alone.
It breathes, it moves with a pulse of our own ...
Merlion Park : a small park at the mouth of the Singapore River.
tongkangs : small to medium sized motorised boats which used to ply the river bringing goods to and from freighters parked in deep water anchorages.
sarabats : roadside stalls selling food and drinks, usually operated by ethnic Indians. Their famous beverage is a ginger-flavoured tea. Now you hardly find them, they are banished to hawker centres, and most are copy-cat versions of the originals.