Friday, July 29, 2011


When I was younger, while waiting for military service, I followed my father around in his work in the construction industry. This poem is about the few weeks I was working with him.

This poem has appeared in the Jan 2006 issue of QLRS, an on-line literary journal of Singapore. I am re-posting it here for Poets' Rally Week 49.

photo by DuBoix
image from

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 our forebears before us
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..


六 月 初 三

© cheong lee san ( dsnake1 ) 2011

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Anonymous Marbles in My Pocket said...

Awesome writing. So vivid and flowing. You are very talented.

29 July, 2011 19:20  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Thanks, Charles! you are so kind. :)

29 July, 2011 20:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That time shared with your father is recorded for all to see and remember. It is a good memory and well written. Thanks for sharing.

29 July, 2011 22:42  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

yes, those were good memories.

Thanks, booguloo, for visiting and leaving your comments. :)

29 July, 2011 23:54  
Blogger Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

dynamic and cool entry.
Thanks for sharing.
Happy Rally.

30 July, 2011 00:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed reading about this time of your life with your father. I was captivated by your words and the images evoked. I sensed a real comaraderie and respect there with your Dad--kind of unspoken...


30 July, 2011 03:50  
Anonymous Fountains said...

Feel like I was part of your life for a brief while. Well written.

30 July, 2011 06:49  
Blogger Ravenblack said...

This is one of my favorites from you. A beautiful snapshot of a past, a simpler way though physically harder way of life that no longer exists for any of us islanders. There's a kind of satisfaction of a job done at the end there that I like too. :)

30 July, 2011 07:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice descriptive journaling of time with your father ... I am sure he enjoyed the time with you near! Time I worked with my dad was special for both of us!

30 July, 2011 07:53  
Blogger Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

deep, well fine tuned words.

beautiful entry,
Happy Rally.

30 July, 2011 10:01  
Anonymous jennifaye said...

a fitting tribute to fathers. i love the vivid imagery.

30 July, 2011 12:36  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


thanks for the Rally! :)


you are right there about the camaraderie and respect. this was a tightly-knit group, probably because we speak the same dialect. in those few weeks, i learned a lot about life. :)


i am glad you can feel that for a while. :)


thanks! i really spent a lot of time on this poem, that's why it got into QLRS. :D

yes, that was a simpler past. At the end of the day, we sat down for a smoke and a drink, and we are proud of the work we have done. nowadays, it's just...watching the clock. :D


i am glad the poem can evoke memories of the time you worked with your father. :)
yes, those were special times.


thanks for visiting! in a way, this is a tribute for fathers. :)

30 July, 2011 22:18  
Anonymous Manicddaily said...

So simply evocative. Really lovely.

31 July, 2011 11:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is incredibly vivid I could totally picture it, fantastic and engaging writing

31 July, 2011 17:13  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


Thank you, thanks for visiting! :)


Aww, you're so kind. :)

31 July, 2011 21:18  
Blogger Cassiopeia Rises said...

Beautiful words and images. I loved it.


11 August, 2011 01:10  
Blogger magiceye said...

very beautiful imagery!
loved it!

11 August, 2011 01:35  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


thanks for visiting and leaving your comments. :)


glad you like the poem, my friend. :)

11 August, 2011 23:22  

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