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Island Fever

  • By Azwan Ismail
  • February 25, 2004
  • 56 Views

By Jerome Kugan

You know what? I’m sick of reviewing. So, instead of a review, I’ve decided to write eight poems, each inspired by watching the eight short plays that made up Alfian Sa’at’s latest offering, Landmarks: Asian Boys Vol.2 (directed by Ivan Heng for W!ld Rice) which recently ended its sold out premiere run at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore (4-15 February 2004). Wait, here, first of all, are the synopses of the plays provided by WildRice.

****

  1. Katong Fugue: Secrets and ties: a son with a hidden life, a mother desperately trying to reach out. Will they break through the walls they have erected, or will they forever languish in a fugue of denial and disguise?
  2. Supper at Maxwell: What takes place after an evening of ogling and cruising at the clubs? More of the same, of course. Two buddies compare love notes in this affectionate and affecting comedy of bad table manners.
  3. Raffles City Rendezvous: Where does sex end and love begin, and how does one negotiate the treacherous territory in between? A couple finds out… when they celebrate their third anniversary with a threesome.
  4. California Dreaming: It’s 8 August, the day of the scene’s loudest, proudest party, but not every circuit boy is raring to brandish the rainbow flag. A wickedly funny, brutally pointed inquiry into the true meaning of freedom.
  5. The Kings of Ann Siang Hill: Classic bathhouse scenario: fiftysomething uncle approaches haughty young stud. Will it all end in humiliation, as we expect and dread, or are things perhaps not as obvious as they seem?
  6. Downstream Delta: Barely submerged hopes and heartbreak rise to the surface, as two men – one straight, one gay – reminisce about a friendship that develops from a failed pick-up attempt at the pool…
  7. My Own Private Toa Payoh: A two-room flat becomes home, sanctuary, world- in this deeply felt and moving story about two rent boys with not much to get by except their love, their dreams, and all their tomorrows.
  8. The Widow of Fort Road: A woman is visited by an ex-colleague, whom she used to have a crush on – in the days before the life he’d kept hidden was wrenched from him, publicly laid bare, and shattered.

****

1.

And after the island set sail for South, like an immigrant’s eyes

post tearful farewells, everything

unfogged itself.

A piano-rigged vessel with fake lions aboard,

tanning themselves,

rearranging their lives,

shopping at Orchard Road. Hip clever deconstructors would

propose: Was it not

an experiment in separation?

The mother

plays her apron strings but they’re trapped in the piano.

Her son

caresses the keys to the box.

They steer close to the point of remembering

but all they hear is goddamn Bach.

You have to remember: It’s

a goddamn experiment.

Once you’ve stowed away, sailors say, you’ll feel fonder

for home. Ports of call as distant as that time

a stranger’s touch reminded you

of your mum’s. That same fondness for empty shells

and deserted beaches

and

lifeless bodies in your bunk.

The experiment consumes all.

2.

I will miss you even before you go.

Your words knock on my ears but nobody’s home.

I see you but you’re a mirage.

Hungry as a lion but I can’t eat you.

Only here with you does absence mean anything to me.

Only here, islanded, your body as blind as a turned off TV, do I feel as

though

I possess nothing.

3.

What unholy alliances must be accounted for

when you’ve been in love with one god too long?

You go online to solicit visitations of cock.

“Is your user ID the Holy Ghost?

I’m the Son and my Father wants a Trinity.”

There is no Satan, only the Satan within

ourselves. There is no blasphemy, only

the obscenity of monogamy.

“We’re all gods here. What’s there

to be ashamed of?”

You know nothing about me and

you don’t care because that’s exactly

what you’re looking for. Vice versa. Perfection.

“We’ll live for the moment.

We’ll leave immortality to the mortals.”

4.

I used to be cute before I got clever.

I’m not jaded.

I just stay at home and listen to CDs all day.

It’s better than going out and having to endure my own idiocy

mirrored by the idiocy of others.

Sometimes I wish reality was more conscientious of policing

its tolerance levels for foolishness.

Yet, being the clever bunny that I am, I know I must confront stupidity.

I must question its existence.

Why does stupidity exist despite our efforts to understand it?

(Is it just me or do I sound moronic just now?

I should be more vigilant.)

God, if you really exist, why must you burden me with such inanity?

Why must I suffer accepting

being only what I am with no shot

at elucidating enlightenment to those bigger questions?

Constantly looking in mirrors, checking out the size of my brain.

Why is it that all the really cute people have no idea

that they’re cute?

Why are they so stupid?

5.

The actors sit on an upright piano, white towels around their waist.

The older actor recounts his youth

to the younger actor.

In character, the latter dismisses the former’s attempts to converse with him.

The audience is quiet and attentive, focused on the sexual tension between the two of them. The older man, humbled by time.

The younger, muscular and arrogant.

How will this bathhouse encounter end?

Suddenly I think of an older actor

who once recounted his past to me

in a moment of indiscretion.

There was a piano in the room

but we didn’t sit on it.

He spoke of how he was once

an angry young man.

I looked into his eyes, which were

beautiful if only to me,

and thought of how one could only offer the past

which was when I arrived at the conclusion there was no future in a moment.

6.

Every fantasy, like Singapore, exists in a bubble

and every boy who has ever had a fantasy

runs around with a needle.

7.

What if River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves

fell in love and left

Hollywood far, far behind?

It would’ve made for a nice sequel

but a hard sell.

Nobody likes a naïve gay romance

that doesn’t end in buttered tragedy,

especially those queens brought up on

a diet of Judy and Liza.

What if they hid in Singapore,

eating overpriced noodles

looking at the Merlion,

posing for passing tourists?

Two drifters looking for rainbows.

Along the way, they would sell their bodies

and enunciate like valley girls.

Would they know what’s real anymore?

8.

Why do I feel so sad watching this play

when I should be feeling happy?

Is it because the gay character killed himself

after years tormenting himself with the shame

of having his sexuality discovered

so publicly?

Or is it because the “widow’, his ex-colleague,

who once had a crush on him,

could not bring herself to

read him the letter

she wrote to him

on the night he killed himself?

Or, maybe, is it because,

in a deeply dissatisfying way,

I felt utterly helped-less watching how every

one of these boys

(and girls) had weights attached to their

ankles and pushed into the harbour,

with the spectres of intelligence and wisdom

looking on so self-satisfied?

Or, or, maybe because it is all so true,

every single word and gesture

mirrored and repeating

the only happiness in being gay

is the deliverance?

(This little island exhausts me.

I must get away.)

First Published: 25.02.2004 on Kakiseni