The Seven Friendships

They were friends from the first look
the first day of work and friends
they would remain. Not lovers.
Never, though they thought of things
to whisper about all day.
At night, when they sat at home
hunting for something to say
to their actual lovers,
they longed to be back at work,
where the home life they described
to each other seemed larger,
funnier, more colorful.

They were playful as gods and,
at the same time, serious.
Once, in a car, on the way
to a conference, they worked out
the seven possible forms
of friendship between people
who aren’t related by blood.

First: the fortunate friendship
of two who feel equally
attached but not attracted
to each other. No desire.
Instead, equilibrium,
a reliable membrane,
keeps them wholly separate
while holding them together.

You can always tell these two
in the kitchen: they can share
a cutting board — two different
sharp knives chopping two different
vegetables, and no one gets
in anyone else’s way.

Second: the friendship founded
on suppressed desire. All
the accessorizing takes
the place of real nakedness.
The servant’s invocations
to his master; the master’s
adulation of the slave.
Michael Jackson / Liz Taylor —
yes — Regis and Kathie Lee.

Letter writers are the third,
their correspondence floating
safely above and beyond
their problematic bodies
like a vial of scented oil.
They use each other without
apology — an excuse
to shape the simplest moment
into something memorable
ending with “Write soon, write back,”
that frank plea for affection.

Then there is the electric
communion that’s awakened
between two people vastly
different in age, like the
dowager one of them knew
who’d had to wait ’til she reached
ninety to meet a young child
she recognized as herself,
the adventuress she’d been.
At long last, the right playmate!

Fifth: the fireproof friendship
that has survived desire.
This includes all the ex-wives
and ex-husbands whose shared grief
unites them as love could not.
They drift back to each other,
grateful for a cup of tea,
for someone who remembers
that their first dentist in Troy
collected brass hose nozzles.

Next, a love of argument —
not bickering or nagging,
but the brainy brakes-without-
pads kind of arguing, no
attachment to conclusions,
no transparent right and wrong,
just the delirious pleasure
of competing for airspace
with someone you trust never
to take you personally.

And the seventh form? Friendship
based on the exchange of gifts,
preferably ridiculous.
Someone would get the idea
to buy odd salt and pepper
shakers, and once he’d purchased
the first set, a whole history
of silliness could begin.

That was when they stopped counting
and pulled off the interstate
on the way to the conference.
They found a small antique store,
Junkian Analysis —
really! — and in the windows
pairs of perfectly ugly
salt and pepper shakers shaped
like airplanes and bowling balls,
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
They liked the ceramic clams,
the Taj Mahal in Bakelite;
they loved the milkglass cabbage,
the jaguars, the shooting stars,
the stainless state of Vermont
side by side with New Hampshire.
*****

A lovely poem in an equally lovely collection by Erica Funkhouser I found in a used book store in San Diego.
How nice to think of you and another suspended in equilibrium, at once together and apart by a membrane. Like larvae in an egg sac, snug and with nowhere to go. It reminds me of Katherine Mansfield’s

We might be fifty, we might be five,
So snug, so compact, so wise are we!
Under the kitchen-table leg
My knee is pressing against his knee.

We started packing for our annual trip back today. Z is an excellent packer, loads of plates and bowls were tucked away into spaces I did not know existed. We usually try to concentrate on bringing back ceramics/glass since the rest can be shipped home with negligible damage. The house is a mess, and despite that I have asked Zh to come over on saturday to play gostop with me since I have huge withdrawal symptoms ever since Hr left. It was very nice to pick up where we left off (in 2015!!!) and to think that we might be back in Singapore at the same time for several years. Especially since a certain someone has informed me of tentative plans to move to Sardegna soon after we return to Singapore. What is that about even?! It’s almost as if she can’t bear to exist in the same country as me. How rude.

Z is reluctant to ever move again once we move back :P We will see how that goes. He says if I insist on moving away again he will sell all of my stuff and my painstakingly collected plates. We all know how successful he has been at getting his way in the past, so I’m not exactly worried about that.

Apparently I might make a return trip (alone) later this year to check on the renovations and he just realized that he will a) starve and b) have no one to bug. I haven’t decided if it’s nice to have someone depend on you for stuff. One the one hand it is nice to be needed/appreciated but on the other it’s kind of a pain to have to keep thinking ahead and preparing for meals. When I am left to my own devices and alone I’d usually resort to takeout :P Or reheating some junk in the freezer.

We got a free hunk of raclette on Sunday and that made me really happy. Granted, it’s American raclette but still. Free raclette!

I would love to visit an antique store called Junkian Analysis! So cute. Z has similarly corny names for all kinds of things – his dream Indian restaurant would be called Second to Naan, and his dream shellfish restaurant would be called Pot de Clam.

Is it weird to have a kid just so you’d have a third person to play Go Stop or other board games with? I think the returns are too low, it would take 14-15 years before that kid is old enough to understand the board games that we play (I had to check the age ratings of our board games once) and it would probably take less than a year for me to resent that kid for taking up too much of my time/attention/sleep. H recently posted an article on maternal regret and it seems highly worth a read, especially for all those moronic cloistered christian women in Singapore who keep pestering me about having kids or who claim that I will change my mind.

Everyday affairs

The days that used to burn
shine so brightly now-
lit by innocence and paradoxes
paper lanterns dangling on a string
less than passion but more than dreams

Even waking up to your plaintive
“What’s for lunch?”
I can no longer imagine a universe
in which nobody needs to be fed
and I sleep on undisturbed

When did it happen that
we started annoying each other
just to collect scowls and furrows?
You have a go at disdain
but you still don’t know how to roll your eyes.

You need me; but even more than that
I need you
o you
were the best of all my days

Everyday Eclipses

LZ hid a honeydew in my closet today. It’s a new game we play. The first time was a coupla weeks back. We were out antiquing in Snohomish and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some random things. I could smell the honeydew display 10 feet away – all ripe and saccharine and we went and lightly thumped some (apparently the Asian way to tell if they’re ripe? That’s what my dad did to watermelons anyway, not hard enough to bruise anything, mind you) and decided to take one home. He unloaded the groceries and I didn’t see where he kept the honeydew but I kept smelling this persistent honeydew whiff in the dining room whenever I walked past the bookcase, and when I looked, there it was sitting right on top with his granola and the cake stand and the calendar. (Our apartment is tiny, bookcases are multipurpose and not necessarily in a den or library. Nor do they necessarily hold books. They are in the dining room.) We cut it open and it was fabulously sweet.

So today we picked up another one at Safeway (we checked the ones at QFC, which were old, hard, and not fragrant or ripe at all) and when we got back he hid the honeydew in my closet behind the vases. I almost missed it! But when I closed the closet door after my bath my rather hound-like nose caught the scent of something fruity and I opened the door again and stared – there it was hiding behind all the vases! (Again, the house is tiny, closets do not necessarily hold only clothes. But neither do they hold produce) Now my clothes are all fruity and melony smelling.

NB: We seached on Youtube how to tell if a honeydew was ripe before cutting it open and found a marginally less old wife’s tale-y method by an american guy who said when you rub its skin with a damp thumb it should create this squeaking sound. Which we promptly tried and ours did! But it required some effort before we mastered the right squeaking technique. I’m not sure I totally believe this but it was so incredible I thought I’d write it here in case I forgot.
***
So I finally started reading the thin volume of Roger Mcgough poetry ‘Everyday Eclipses’ we bought from a second hand bookstore in Camden while on our honeymoon. We also bought 3 Beatrix Potters and Quentin Blake’s Snuff from the same shop. (I didn’t know Quentin Blake illustrated his own stories) but I suppose you can tell from his illustrations he is plenty quirky and imaginative enough to come up with enough plots to fill a library.

I do have Mcgough’s Collected Poems (in fact we have two, because I gave one to Ze before we even started dating), and am not quite sure how comprehensive of an anthology that is, so I just bought this one. It wasn’t expensive anyway, something like £6.

Here are four of Mcgough’s…. delusional poems – meetings with famous artistes and his tremendous impact on their lives.

One with Jimi Hendrix:

2016-06-04 01.31.47

The one in which he claims full credit for the lyrics in ‘Hey Jude’

2016-06-04 01.31.32

The one in which he clairvoyantly predicts Bob Dylan’s career path..a posteriori

2016-06-04 01.31.20

And finally, his indispensable influence on Oasis.

2016-06-04 01.30.10

Lost

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

–e.b.
***

So my grandma died today, in the wee hours of the morning just after my plane touched down in Changi. I didn’t get to see her (alive) one last time. Actually, I think her mind may have been gone weeks ago, so we’d lost a part of her then, and we’re losing the whole of her now.

I haven’t nearly had any time to think about it, really. But sometimes I catch myself drifting off at work, and remember that after my time clocked in the office, I have to go to the funeral, and it’s depressing as hell. I did not bargain for this denouement, but life deals, and you get on with it. It’s easier not to talk about it, so I haven’t really told anyone at work. For future reference, if you have to deal with me when I’m sad, you should just let me get on with my moping. It doesn’t last very long, and there’s hardly anything you can say that will mitigate anything, unless you’re Emily Dickinson or something.

I have one grandparent left! About the grandmother that left us this morning:

She was quite a character. She could speak maybe 5 languages (including various chinese dialects), but only a little bit of each one. So most of the time when she spoke to me it was in a hodge podge of languages, trying to get me to understand, and I understood very little. I guess I regret not picking up Hokkien (her primary language) to speak to her.

She made rather good chilli according to everyone else, but since I didn’t eat chilli for most of my life before I was 21, I have no opinion on this. Everyone mentions her chilli in ther wedding speech though. In other things she’s not such a great cook; her signature dish is red bean soup.

The clearest (and probably most unflattering) memory I have of her is at her House Dedication. Now house dedications aren’t all that common in my church – probably only for old people who used to practice idol worship and who wanted to “rid” their house of all those spirits. The main reason she called the pastor to do the house dedication for her new apartment (back in 2009 or something) was because my maternal grandmother had had the pastor over to her house for chinese new year, and since my paternal grandmother didn’t want to lose out, she held a house dedication. All through the time the pastor was giving his mini sermon my paternal grandmother was whispering to my maternal grandmother and getting out of her chair to settle various things and getting generally distracted, like a twitchy little kid. The pastor had to tell her to shush and sit down lol, which is not easy for a man about half her age. My dad had ordered a catered buffet, so when there was a bunch of food left over (old people don’t eat that much), she actually grabbed a styrofoam plate, loaded it up, and went over to her next door neighbours, pressing the button in rapid succession in the manner you would fire a Para/M249 in CS. DING-DONG-DING-DONG-DING-DONG-DING-DONG-DING-DONG it went, and nobody answered. I was appalled and faintly amused. She didn’t think she was disturbing them at all!

Only my dad and my youngest aunt, and youngest uncle was brought up by her. The two older kids were actually sent off to be mothered by her sister in-law, which I think was quite common in those days when you are poor, so they aren’t all that close to her. Their family is one that is rife with feuds and bad behaviour for many generations, but I guess we do pull together when things like this happen.

She used to pop up outside my apartment when I was young to deliver food and things (that my mother didn’t want). None of us particularly liked the food she brought, but it was cute how she kept popping up unannounced. She had a direct bus to my flat so I thought this delivery service was just for us, but it turns out she did it for all the grandchildren, even all the way in Ghim Moh (when she stayed in Ang Mo Kio). Crazy! She liked giving us stuff, and she also liked giving us money, all the way until I started working.

She was fiercely independent, and was self-sufficient for her entire adult life. Once she found out how much money could be made by subletting rooms in her apartment, she basically rented the spare room out I think even when my grandfather was alive. Rent in Singapore is pretty ridiculous, up to $3000 for a full apartment. I think for a room in a flat you pay about $800 or so. So she had this steady source of income which none of her children can even claim to have after they retired. She was so concerned with saving/making money that she even split her own bedroom in half, renting half of it out to a chinese immigrant. I’m not sure how much of this was legal. It’s amazing how little personal space she cares for, and how enterpreneurial she is. But essentially nobody had to pay for any of her hospital/hospice fees or even for the domestic worker (Hubbard refers to them as live-in servants), which were a song anyway, considering all of her children have retired. I wonder what will happen to the maid now. She was really professional wrt geriatrics.

I am especially sad that she will not be there to see me get married.

Advice

Detachment
is a crucial spatial paradigm in poetry.

Things always occur in that season,
that time when you went away,
when the leaves turned to green and then to gold and then to red.

That year,
when Jerry kissed you for the first time;
and you discovered that you didn’t like him anymore.

That day in the veranda
the guppies hopping up and down all around you like baby frogs,
slowly asphyxiating because you didn’t want to put them back into the pond.

One must look back to distill important moments into a poem.
Nothing that happens today can ever have quite the same blow to the gut
as a well-crafted recollection, important enough to be put into words.

It’s like dry-aging beef.

Luzzer

I don’t like losing.

If I close my eyes and concentrate
      very, very hard
The little molecules that you and I are
            line up neatly in a row
Inert, like helium balloons
                  floating solitarily away from the bleachers
at a sticky hot football game in May.

Of course, they say that I am not losing,
             not really;
I am gaining somebody new.
I should float on, enjoy the sunset,
      the touchdowns, the popcorn, the hotdogs, and
all the things that make life so simple, you’d be an idiot not to soak in the moment.

You get a birds’ eye view among the clouds.
The college student wearing a foam finger, cheering hoarsely for the quarterback who will never remember her name in the hall,
The old boys in the stands, mingling in a tight bunch of insecurity, comparing their latest daycations, cars, raises,
The precocious child at a corner, tying a pebble to his balloon to prevent it from flying away.
He hates losing too.

Humble beginnings

The black cat slunk out from the drain, first extending its forelegs, followed by its hindlegs, twanging elastically like a rubber band. It narrowed its yellow eyes, scowling at me for even noticing his less than glamorous arrival on the scene, before commencing its aristocratic saunter down the street. Goodness knows how many rat skeletons are in his closet. There is a certain air that only cats have- one that meshes together their lower-class scabbering-for-food in underground drainage systems and the sheer regalness of their lives’ philosophy. Very human too, to forget how dirty the means by which one gets rich, the path one has walked to opulent, indecent splendour. I’ve seen it all my life, walking down Sunset Boulevard. The nouveau riche marry the nouveau riche, then give birth to the ancien riche – thus reversing the order of age and experience. There’s no way of tapping on their door without being greeted with a glassy eyed stare, a curt dismissal, or an immediate assessment of your credit profile and how much of their time you are worth. Heaven help you if you wore a black tie and carried a bible.

Unlike humans, cats of every generation possess old money. Money so old and so dirty, they dip from the pool without blinking an eye. Like the mafia, they know how much they have and do what they have to do to protect it. My first cat was called Mr Corleone.