Monday, December 05, 2005


Construction Site
image from

When I was very much younger, while waiting to enter military service, I followed my father around in his work for a short while. He was a sub contractor in the construction business. His job was to build the wooden moulds where concrete are poured in to make pillars, beams, and floors.

It was during those two weeks in Punggol with him that i realised how difficult life can be. Blood, sweat and tears took on a real meaning. I became as sun-burned as him, sand and sawdust clung to the body and refused to be dusted off. I squatted at a filthy canteen and ate the same rough food as he and his workers.

That 2 weeks taught me something. A father really loves his children.

I wrote this poem after passing a construction site one day, and the memories came flooding back. I have submitted this poem to QLRS, after a few revisions. Thank you, DeadPoet and Bluesky_Liz from the Poet's Tavern for your comments and suggestions on the drafts.

Some things are hard to forget : the toolshed, the daily wage register for the workers, the abacus my father used to do calculations. And the guard dog, the most faithful animal I have ever seen.

construction site, Punggol fields, 1972

It is my job
to fill that soot-blackened kettle
with water,
throw in a handful of tea leaves,
put it over a fire of disused wood
and watch it boil
in the early light blues of Punggol.

My father is in that toolshed
poring over blueprints
of a farm
briefing his foreman,
as dust and insects floated
in the harsh light
of fluorescent lamps.

Soon my father will amble over
pour himself a drink from that kettle
into a grimy metal cup.
I will offer him a cigarette
and we will squat there by the wayside
smoking, the sweet wisps of Camels
swirling in the cool morning air.

Then we will go over to the toolshed,
collect our claw hammers, plumb lines,
nails, tape measures,
light up some joss to the earth god,
as Blackie, the mongrel guarding the shed,
darker than Cerebus from Hell,
comes over sniffing our heels.

We haul planks, measure, hammer,
in the uncompromising sun,
sometimes seeking solace
in the shadows of the wooden moulds
jutting out of mud and rock like pruned tree trunks.
The smell of sawn wood clings to us
like a stigma.

When the day is done,
the sun painting streaks of gold and crimson
on the clouds, we dust
ourselves of sawdust and wood shavings,
feed the dog,
and gather at the toolshed,
lingering, for a final smoke in the fading sun,

as did my forebears before me
in America in Hong Kong
building railroads, harbours
hunched over camp fires,
drinking tea from grimy cups
swopping stories about home
in Canton half a life away.

Then we pile into
our cars and bikes
for the weary journey home.
the stars are coming out
in that vast bowl of sky,
the cirrus clouds rolling
dark angry strips of floss

in the darkening light
over a plain of wild grass

the exact centre of our universe..



Blogger GK said...

Very nice, Dsnake. Personally, I'd end the poem with the Canton stanza (maybe flesh that stanza out a bit more - mention a few more countries where this kind of scene might have occurred). The ending is nice, it's just that the Canton stanza makes an even better ending.

I'd drop the Cerebus, and possibly add another one or two distinctively Asian details (earth god was nice). I didn't like the word "solace" - your poem depicted a tough environment but it also depicted tough, resilient people; not sure why they need solace.

But then all these comments are just my two cents' worth.

07 December, 2005 12:03  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Thanks for your comments, they are always so helpful.

Yes, I have toy with the idea of using the "Canton" stanza (we are Cantonese!) as the ending, but decided on the present one, because the toolshed is the centre of all our activities.

Funny, Alson also mentioned about dropping the Cerebus part, not Asian enough! Should have heed his advice!

I used "solace" because I couldn't find a better word! They are tough people, but sometimes things got so tiring they just need to find a quiet break in the shade for a breather.

07 December, 2005 22:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad I can help. :)

10 December, 2005 02:28  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Thanks again, DP! :)

10 December, 2005 21:05  
Blogger TwistedNoggin said...

Ah yes... no wonder it's being published.
Nice work! :)

19 January, 2006 05:26  

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