Amrita (my shirt smells like your car)

i.
She was a student, only eleven
who was fidgety in a way that made it
much more obvious
that she was intelligent
She spoke very little but I communicated with her
through her worksheets, in the little comments
I left her, I wanted to guide her
and tell her she didn’t need to be perfect,
that she was perfect the way she was

ii.
It’s the name of a song
that I used to sing on playback
in a TV anime from my childhood
that asks for you to listen to
the nostalgic sounds
like imaginary shooting stars,
dadadada, my swallowed tears
that punctured holes in my stomach
like my mother used to tell me about

iv.
You, you, that’s what I am getting at
Minus the A, you, and I swear it hasn’t always been you
I don’t want to delude myself into thinking
it has always been you
But I want to curl myself into you
I want to lean over and put my lips to yours
and I play this in my head over and over
and tell myself I should have done it,
I’m right to have not
I want to catch your hand on that sidewalk
and tell you all the things I haven’t been able
to talk about since you’ve been gone
And UK has treated you right,
and I laughed every time you said “posh”
but what I really wanted to tell you was,
repeat was my apology:
I’m sorry I was a bitch to you
But all we did was talk around each other
and you have never, ever, never been so polite to me
even during the beginning
And you think I still have that crush on your best friend
but it’s just one of those things I am beyond now
And I want to tell you all the things I am beyond
and all the things that are still the same
But you asked me, two years ago,
if I ever thought of us together and the truth was yes
and I shouldn’t have said yes then pulled the rug out from under your feet
I shouldn’t have knit myself into a cocoon
like I promised myself I would never
I would never
But I was sixteen, seventeen
And now I’m nineteen and you’re twenty
and I wish I could give myself to you in the most complete way possible
because you make me feel careful and I want to be reckless
And you kept laughing at how nervous I was
and I told you I was always this way but maybe it was you
And you told me to discount all the things
anybody, anybody else ever says about me
because they don’t matter
but that has always been a problem that I never got over
Fuck the problem out of my head if you can
talk it out of my head
crush it out of my head
burn it out of my head
walk it out of my head, out of my life
Out of my life, just go if you can’t stay

Oases.

I wish you wouldn’t jump off the tracks
at the first sight of an oasis
You roll and you tumble, get scratched and troubled
and when your lips touch the water
it is barely a cup
But you drink like it’s your savior
and maybe it is, I know nothing of that sort of
passion and fervor

I count the boys you have loved
in two hands, and maybe it is half of your age,
four times the years we have known each other
And the love they gave you is half of the pain
but perhaps that love is morphine
and the water to your thirst
so if you drink, you go on until you reach
the actual oasis

I don’t even remember all of their names
There was Thad and now there’s Matthew
and maybe two or three in between
The longest one cut you out of me and
you swear he cheated on your dreams
I revert to silly crushes and grow into a woman
while you give yourself to these boys and still think like a little girl
But perhaps I know not the risks and sacrifices
it takes to construct love
and I will never find it
but I swear I’m alright
I will wet my own lips and comb my own hair
I will soothe my own worries
and sing these love songs to
nobody

My Patterns.

The year I realized
I didn’t want to cheapen anything
about myself anymore than I have
talking about things nobody understands
Nobody really wants to hear about
how desperate you are to leave this town
and how it has sucked the life out of you
And that was the year I stopped posting statuses on Facebook
and stopped asking for attention
even though I never stopped craving it
I never talked about my sickness
or how unhappy I am
how much I love my mother
how much I try to break my patterns
how much my scars have started to define me
even if you cannot see them
And people started forgetting me
forgetting me like I begged them to
like I was asking for it
and I suppose I am
So I bury my honesty like bodies in the ground
and lie through my teeth
just because I didn’t want to cheapen anything
but this is how it all began
I can’t seem to break my patterns

Orange and Grey.

Things that make you question life as you know it

i.
Your grandmother with a tube down her nose
in which you pour milk and water and medication
down to her stomach
Her mouth dry and talking in a language you scarcely understand
telling you she wantd water but you saying you can’t give it to her
or her husband, because it’s three in the morning and this is your duty
And she asks why, why don’t you listen to her, “granddaughter,” she says

ii.
The feeling that you are possibly worthless
and you have to call your mother because you’re about to cry
And your grandmother tells her daughter-in-law you’ve been treating her like she’s an idiot
and stories that didn’t happen because she is unwell and unhappy
and so very upset with you

iii.
You listen to the rain outside and you try to remember all the other things it reminds you of
but all you are left with this feeling
This big big big feeling that encompasses everything that it must
it must encompass the world

iv.
How old am I anyway?
They treat as though I am almost forty
and sometimes merely ten
but I feel a thousand and a thousand
like the depth of her skin
and the length of all the hair I have cut off my head

v.
I don’t want these shoes they have tailored for me
and I don’t want this paint I have mixed in these shoes
I am coloured orange and grey, orange and grey
like an impossible sunset
I think I am nearing
an end

vi.
Orange and grey, like their ugly words
when it bleeds to fade me
Orange and grey, like my hair if it matched my start
and my skin if it matched my ventures
into a place with names and names that make no sense
Orange and grey, like I used to be yellow and blue, happy and sad
now I am burned and bleak
Now I am passion and losing

People We Know.

A penny for your little toe
sliding down my foot
Stormy weather for your sighs
and the ceiling’s weighing in
It will smell like herbs and rain
and sometimes sunshine but these old tiles
once been new tiles
We’ve once been new people
born the day we met and the born every day since

The white of your eyes
are an exact measurement to your expressions
When they line red, mine follow
and we breathe like we are the wind
Air rushing and forceful
we are the weight
of the world

And I don’t think they understand
when they say things like
“You mean the world to me”
You mean the world to me like
you are big enough and small enough
to fill the sea and the land
the small figures who live and breathe
who sleep and eat and sit in chairs
stand in stalls, who sweats and yells
cries and suffers, laughs and dies
Like the trees that sway, quiet and falling
things that stay a thousand years
and you are the food in my mouth
the song in my ears
the thoughts in my head
the love in my heart

The people we know fade into the big, wide galaxy
we know nothing about
we conjecture about
we make up facts and tell stories about
But if we have loved them, we love them
we love them, sent of in spaceships, thousands of light years away
to see dying stars
but we love them

Poppy Seeds.

There is a child narrator telling my story
and she begins it with a snake picking at its skin
that swallowed darkness whole,
venom dripping in its mouth.

It says to a little girl, hisses,
“What are you so afraid of?”
and it slithers between rooms,
creating fears and devouring them.

In this house, demons grew and vanquished
in the joints of time with baking cakes, the smell of butter,
the sound of the piano, bang bang banging away,
the books thrown against walls and echoes of old arguments,
and the snake swallowing itself
until I am stuck with the same fears
and no warrior.

I found a packet of poppy seeds in the bakery store
and my friend asked me, “Aren’t they made into drugs?”
I tell her it is different and that I love them in my mouth
so she laughs and says I am addicted,
and I think of red and orange, fire and explosions in my mouth,
and think, yes, that is my drug.

There is no meritocracy.

When I was fourteen, my teacher told me
when I write letters in exams to sign it with a Malay name
and he told the class not to ask why
but we don’t need to ask why, we’ve been told since since we were children

It started when my great-grandfather came to this country
Can you imagine 80 years ago, to leave your country
How do you not band together
You do band together
You band together when you leave this country

And my grandfather who worked hard everyday of his life
And at the age of 74, he still supports himself
Dirt poor with eight people living in a room
he and my grandmother brought them up to be wonderful people
contributors to the society

They fought to leave that home where my grandpa stayed with
the rest of his six brothers and one sister and his parents
they saved up the money day by day and ringgit by ringgit
And before they could even leave the house
the others were already trying to claim their spot
so my grandmother went out there with a butcher’s knife
and told them to leave, leave and for God’s sake just wait till we leave

Out of the nine children they have
one died at the age of 17
because of a doctor’s false injection
but they refused to sue him and they soldiered on
and brought up eight children, and of eight, seven went to university
Even then, my grandfather understood the importance of education
and all his daughters but the first have degrees and two of those, masters
They are chemists and geneticists, bankers, administrators, engineers
good mothers, good fathers and good children

And he always told me I should fight
Fight for what should be yours even if they don’t give it to you
because they don’t give it to you
And that is the attitude I have always adopted in the face of your discrimination

Tell me, is it my skin color
No, these days yours and ours all vary from white to yellow to brown
and they do not make a difference, they should not make a difference
Tell me then, am I not good enough
or am I too good, you say
This unfairness is justified with your promise for equal opportunity
So is this how you even the odds
The odds are not even, I have been thrown off from even consideration
because you say we can afford it so we work to afford it

Or is it my religion
Should I not believe in what I believe
Am I wrong and am I an abomination if I do not believe at all
Didn’t we stand for diversity
I think now we stand for repression and false hope
This is not the right century to live in
for such ideas and such misconceptions
Your skin privileges you
Your religion privileges you
I am not waiting on an impossible revolution
I am waiting on all you individual parts to see
that this is a privilege to be shared

My brother laughed when I told him about how
Malaysia opposed the Apartheid
because he says, then how does it continue to run this way
We are segregated, continue to be segregated
We accept that we are outcast in certain arenas
and we speak about it in whispers and in shouts
shot down in violence by those who rule us
They rule us like it is dictatorship
And our papers hide behind smaller issues
because they can be disbanded just like that
if they who rule us so wish so

There was once a time, my aunts and uncles days
when if you worked hard, you would have a place to go
but now I present you with my hard work
and you tell me that is great
but you will not carry me
But my father can’t afford shit
and my mother is working her tears dry
and my eyes are growing dry too
while I scramble through the next two years like I have a clue
There is no guarantee and there is no fucking insurance
This is not what the constitution promised
corrupt and angry people, coddled people, clueless people

When I was twelve, I had to go to secondary school
and there was so much foreign there
and they laughed at me, students and teachers alike
so I grit my teeth and I cried but I kept trying and trying
And it took me two years before I spoke fluent Malay
and bila saya cakap memenag macam Melayu
but one look at me, and one look at my name
and I suppose the respect you have for me is not enough

So I grew up knowing
my country will not carry me
it will not carry me

24/04.

ten hours and i still smell like chai
the rain pours and kills the seeds i planted
two days ago
my mother says she saw him
almost run over a cat this morning
so i text him and ask him over but
we intersect and go our separate ways
we are not parallel or right angled
we are just curves, graphs of functions
up and down, meeting, leaving
never staying

what is family? Mr. Paul asks
and what makes a family?
my mouth tastes of sugar and my hands
carry the scent of vanilla
but my tears are bitter churnings in my chest
and my eager ears are learning
i just hope my heart is too
because father doesn’t love me like he should
and mother never held me like she could
but Mr. Paul says this is us
it is you
it is me
i will do it right

an article i read says
frozen’s most cynical twist
is the one that shot an arrow right through me
when Prince Hans says
oh, Anna, if only there were someone who loved you
and even though the boys in my life
are not rotten to the care
who is to say that they do not change their minds

i am brave
i tell myself again
i am brave
because i have been calling myself a coward
for months and months on end
but i am brave, yes, i am

Dry.

I try to hide behind loud music
playing about happy things
and I bang on my piano keys
after four years of a hiatus
And I read book after book
and watch comedies
and I am again trying to talk about things to people
but it’s not working
And the harder I try
the worse it gets
So I play louder music
and hit the piano keys with more speed
spiraling out of control
and I go through five books a week
an finish so many TV series
and I talk and I talk and my mouth is dry
My mouth is dry and my heart is dry

The Sidewalk Carpenter #2.

I find solace in
pretending I could die
But guns are hard to come by
in this place and
I want to go out
with a bang
and no space to backtrack
I don’t want to leave a letter
I just want to go
And you won’t want my explanations
You’ll wish I had stayed
But I’m sorry I cannot
I’m sorry but I just want to go

She just wants a bottle mosquito repellent
and it takes me half an hour
to tell her she should use what I do
But she turns me down sideways
and it’s a failure
And a failure is a failure
in my book
and it sends me crying for an hour
because this is what I want
and I have conquered many fears in my life
The dark, the pain,
love and the stage
but I cannot still do this
the same I cannot let go of
my need for approval and my need for
acceptance and my need to become
what you think I am
And this is my inability
to become the sidewalk carpenter
swamping me with fear
crippling me again and again

My mother will tell me it’s okay
but first she will laugh when I cry instead
She has slain half her demons at nearly fifty-one
and she is testament but I am useless
I promised her I am useless, in my head
and she promised me I would be fine
and that she would be kind
But though she loves me, she is callous
as all people are in this world
and I am left to crawl on my belly
because if I do not love myself
who will love me

And this, if I do not accept myself
if I do not think I can
how can I