Carol Chan is Singaporean. Her writing has been published in Singapore, Edinburgh and Melbourne, including Softblow Poetry Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ceriph, Cordite Poetry Review, WetInk and Meanjin.
Say the state is
what you imagine
it to be. Say what you run
are only the lines
from your dreaming
or the language to speak
out of line.
There can be no reality
without your yes.
Say the answer lies
in our denial of this crate;
the lack of dream thinks.
5pm, and I’m craving popcorn, one of those afternoons
that smell of warm rain that hasn’t yet fallen, the smell
of warm, baked roads and the anticipation of a real good
wash-your-migraine-out storm. I want popcorn.
Popcorn in a bag from the margins of Bangkok, caramel crisp
coffee popcorn from that loved-up train station where
the corn-popper is also a barista who lovingly burns my coffee.
I’m sure she never drinks that filth. But she’s not here
so I make do with cheap popcorn from 7-11. I almost miss her.
The bag says it’s made in Singapore, product of America.
So much of what we eat and do is a product of America
and China. Just last week a Chinese migrant told me he’s never
drunk canned Chinese herbal tea with his meal before. You’re joking,
I said, surely you drink tea with meals. This isn’t tea,
it’s a soft drink, qi shui, he insists, and by the way
in China only white collared workers drink coffee.
His small eyes widen as he adds, and the food here is inedible.
Your people mix different foods together on a plate. It’s all a mess
and tastes nothing like home. He should know; he’s a chef back home.
I don’t tell him that this is home on a plate for me, that in Melbourne
where I lived for four years, I missed this shit everyday.
He spends his days here slicing gourmet cakes, twelve hours a day,
in a factory I have never seen. Those delicate cakes sold in cafes
slicing up his hours, graying those small, surprised eyes.
But now this popcorn will have to do. It’s too soft and plasticky,
tasting of nothing but 7-11 florescent lights
and first-world boredom,
What is it I’m fishing for
if not difference. What is there
but the hope this lack of fire,
these safe words will lead us
to what we cannot yet expect,
but expect to find.
Are we on the same side of the question,
or are you tracing a common state
meant for someone else you hope is watching,
recording this like a home video
for no-one but the future you think is possible,
the one I do not see. The moon tonight is an earring.
Why am I here wondering why I am here
with you in this dead silent country,
fishing, when what I want is to drink all this
air, and what I need is what is left after the fire,
not safe words or careful dreams of light.