Sunday, October 27, 2019

the stories are a bit grim

It's tough when you have almost nothing. No water. No electricity. Just a hut. And your wits.

colour pencil sketch by dsnake1
(a copy of Mondrian's Composition C)

the stories are a bit grim

In the morning the sun brushes our squatter huts
           with loving fingers of gold.

The politicians thump chests and assure us
      that our squatter village is safe.

An old man lives in an abandoned pill box
      and sells candy by day.

Aunt goes early to the market to pick
           discarded vegetables to make achar.

Little Brother is playing with the mothballs again,
           oh please not the mouth!

Some out-of-towners lost their way
           but we do not speak English well.

Me and cousins raid the pill box for candy,
           find only old books and blades.

The kind fisherman gives me and sister
           a big catch of wrasses, all for 30 cents.

Dad comes back from work and says
           someone is shipping missiles to Cuba.

Some nights, the groans and noises from
           the neighbours' thin walls are too loud

We get very paranoid when the police comes visiting,
           it has to be something big.

Surely, we are not having pigeon soup
           with wolfberries again, it's awful!

Mother says go back to sleep but the neighbours
           are fighting like wild cats.

Little Sister is out in the yard playing
           with the chicks, squeezing them.

Some shore-leave sailors lost their way
           and pretend to take pictures of us.

Uncle asks how does a man flies three times
           around the world, folding his paper.

For a week the cops come, plain-clothes,
           shoving mugshots into our faces.

We are expecting something better
           for dinner tonight other than missiles.

Government officials come and tell us
           that our huts have to make way for a port.

Dad says we are moving to the city core
           but the stories there are a bit grim.


A variant of a ghazal. Doesn't look like one? I think this is a better option for that damn poetry competition.

Procol Harum - A Salty Dog

© cheong lee san ( dsnake1 ) 2019

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Blogger Sherry Blue Sky said...

Life stripped bare to sheer survival, as it is for so many millions of people everywhere. When governments want space, they always take it from those who have least. The thought of the move to the city is daunting, for this family.

28 October, 2019 00:10  
Blogger Mary said...

So much detail, but then again not enough! I really would like to read the story of your life, I think. You have so many tales to tell, so many observations. Another wonderful write!

28 October, 2019 00:57  
Blogger brudberg said...

i love love the couplets, each one giving a separate image to be tied into a narrative. The missiles to Cuba gave it a timing for me which I cannot remember being only a few years old back then.

28 October, 2019 01:04  
Blogger Carrie Van Horn said...

A vivid glimpse into this person's life! (Little brother and the mothballs made me smile!) A great write Dsnake!

28 October, 2019 02:43  
Blogger C. Sandlin said...

The sense of family hums within this poem, the living community surrounding those within. And the echoes of missiles in Cuba...this left me breathless. One of the first poems I ever encountered by someone still alive was my grandmother's verses on her fears during the Cuban Missile Crisis (as it's termed in the US).

28 October, 2019 04:26  
Blogger Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I like to play with variations of the ghazal myself (and there are some quite distinguished precedents). I think this one is nothing short of wonderful. It's a brilliant way to tell this grim story. The shocking irony of the ending is masterful.

28 October, 2019 04:29  
Blogger R's Rue said...


28 October, 2019 06:28  
Anonymous H. Hennenburg said...

You've done it again. I can see, taste and feel the scenes you paint with your words. They open my eyes and heart wider.

28 October, 2019 08:14  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


yes, sheer survival. can you imagine no running water in the house? water has to be collected from communal taps. :)


i would love to write my memoirs. a few years back, i started on a novel drawing on my experiences, and after a couple of chapters, it stalled and is now somewhere in one of my journals. work and other matters took over. the trouble is, i am not a very disciplined writer, easily distracted.
i think it is easier for me to publish a book of poetry first than a novel or memoir. :)


thank you! i like to play with forms and structure, despite what i said about structured poetry.
yes, the "timestamp"! :)

28 October, 2019 08:48  
Blogger Old Egg said...

I didn't realize our family was poor until I was about ten and though our meals were pretty bad at times we assumed that was what Mother liked rather than that was all we could afford and being hungry we ate what was dished up on the plate. I was proud of my dad growing vegetables from seed as it was cheaper than buying them at the greengrocer. Such is poverty you can survive it.

28 October, 2019 13:26  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


it was a tough time looking after Little Brother. :D


The missile crisis, little did the world realize how close it came to armageddon.
that was my poem's "date stamp". :)


it started out as 4-line verses, and the imagery was a little muddled, so i pulled them out to a ghazal like form and yes, it was certainly much better. how i appreciate that form now, but i am not sticking to it in a true traditional sense.

actually we were moving to a part of town that was pretty notorious. but the rent there was much cheaper..

28 October, 2019 16:55  
Blogger Kim M. Russell said...

I like the way you’ve wrapped up this poem with title and last line, and grim stories. I also like the way your opening couplet shines with hopeful sun, and you intersperse the grim bits with a few more hopeful bits: the promise of achar, and the kind fisherman. The couplets made it feel like a slideshow of events. But such a foreboding ending.
The little brother and the mothballs brought back memories of my cousin, a couple of years older than me, who was born in Singapore; when they came to visit, everything smelled of mothballs!

28 October, 2019 17:06  
Blogger Thotpurge said...

Intriguing - I want to read more of every line. Achar - as in pickle I thought, and then read the Singapore tag... very interesting presentation.

28 October, 2019 19:46  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

R's Rue,

thank you! :)


thank you!
some scenes from my childhood days. :)


when we are poor, we made do with what we have. my dad and grandfather were construction workers and carpenters, and they built the shack themselves.
my aunt and mother would go to the market to pick discarded vegetables and collect unwanted pig skins. We kept some chickens and these were for special occasions only. my sister and me would put on our most woeful faces and waited at the market in the evenings for the fishermen to return, and they would usually give us a big catch. such are the (creative) ways we learned to survive. :)

28 October, 2019 23:18  
Blogger dsnake1 said...


thank you. i love to have little hopeful bits scattered around in such a poem. :)
wow, your cousin was born in Singapore? We use mothballs in these tropics not just to keep the insects out but also to keep the closets dry.


thank you! achar, you should be familiar with these pickles? :)

29 October, 2019 21:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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06 November, 2019 18:17  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

thank you, Anonymous, for your kind words. :)

06 November, 2019 21:35  
Blogger A Cuban In London said...

This is such a precious moment, carved masterfully. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

14 November, 2019 06:22  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Thank you, Cuban!
apologies for this late reply. I was away in Japan for a holiday. :)

26 November, 2019 13:23  
Blogger ashok said...

Visiting ur blog after a long are u doing?

07 December, 2019 20:13  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Glad to hear from you, Ashok!
i am retired now, planning to take things easy. :)

08 December, 2019 21:07  

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