Love in Hexasyllables LVI: metrical as heartbreak

your heart is a black spoon
but not a coffee-spoon

i need not measure in
anything other than

metrical as heartbreak
as poets come and go

to bring forth magical
madrigals and magpies

like the shiniest things
mudpies were your desserts

when stressed by the desert
and my riding mopeds

through it with no helmet
no salvation-helmet

to keep you safe from harm
as i stand there with you

in the dank taxi rank
i turn to you and say

all of us are waiting
for someone to rescue

someone to pick us up
and tuck us deep away

inside the magazine
of their un/happy lives

never cover story
always the centrefold

your table of contents
does it have room for me

your heart is a table
and i will feast on it

Love in Hexasyllables LV: Merlion Elegy

We grow this piece of rock,
but our dreams still remain
circumscribed and enthralled
by what lies beyond us
and our shifting coastline.
A city divided
against itself shall not
stand, no matter how much
concrete we pour into
foundations. Yours are free
of fault lines, and even
a bolt from the heavens
could not hope to fell you,
so unassailable
your brand of self-belief.
God-like, you still goad us,
while brief interlopers
worship you through lenses.
Even we are guilty,
sometimes, of falling for
your pagan pageantry:
the spectacle of lights
as you endlessly spew,
the way you can accent
a wedding photograph.
You are now janiform
shorthand, but exactly
what for still evades us.
Perhaps it is enough
we know we do not know?
Stunted security.
So bless with your fierce gaze
unmoored generations,
endlessly rehearsing
our possibilities.

Love in Hexasyllables LIV: Sav(i)o(u)r

A burnt pancake will not
make me abandon you.
Repairing such mistakes
helps you to carry on.

Make me abandon you
if that is what you need,
helps you to carry on
believing in yourself.

If that is what you need
in order to survive –
believing in yourself –
who am I to protest?

In order to survive,
pancakes will not suffice.
Who am I to protest
though? This is your kitchen.

Pancakes will not suffice.
Even you must see that,
though this is your kitchen.
Our life depends on it.

Even you must see that
we were not who we are.
Our life depends on it:
choosing to make changes.

We were not who we are,
and that is our problem.
Choosing to make changes
can cost a lot to fix,

and that is our problem.
Repairing such mistakes
can cost a lot. To fix
a burnt pancake will not.


The hiss of the ventilator, the rise and fall of the patriarch's chest. His one good eye struggling to open, his right hand clawing at the pen. 'It's okay, papa. Take your time.' A single sheet of paper before him, waiting. All of them, whichever side they are on, waiting for fortunes to shift.

The Faithful Leap

It's 10:30 am on February 29, and even though her chance only comes along every four years and she's already missed it twice, Ella still isn't ready to be married. It's not that she doesn't want to though. She loves Greg, at least as much as—if not more than—she loved the others before him. He's done everything right, from proposing at the top of the Eiffel Tower (they'd had to queue for ages to get into the lift, and she'd kept asking him why he was fidgeting in line), to doing most of the wedding planning (Ella has always hated planning events and Greg has connections), to making everyone in her immediate and extended family laugh when he met them at Christmas dinner, even her spinster Aunt Cecilia, whom Ella is not-so-secretly terrified of turning into if she doesn't get married soon.

That's the problem though. In fact, it's always been the problem all along. Like the men before him, Greg is, well, too perfect. He can't not be, the Registrar has made sure of that. To make a match for you, the Registrar combs through its databases and spits a name out, embossed on a card. You can make your selection criteria as broad or narrow as you want to suit your individual preferences. There's someone out there for you who's your type, and the Registrar will find him/her because everyone who's a legal citizen of the EuroAmerican Conglomeration will have been tracked by the System from birth. This third time, Ella opted for the bare minimum of 'male', 'single' and 'straight', and then added 'attractive' as a minor indulgence. She'd only been given a third because someone in the Office of Marital Compacts owed her mother a favour, having used up the favour owed to her father to find Oscar, who'd also been, like Greg feels to her now, perfect and sweet and wrong.

Ella thinks the fault really must lie with her. The System knows her intimately, has known her from the moment she was born, tagged her with the appropriate search terms, which she isn't exactly privy to but she hopes includes adjectives like 'attractive' and 'intelligent' and 'humorous' and all the other things that she thinks and wants herself to be. So she's as much the perfect woman for Greg as he's her perfect man, right? The Registrar is never wrong and Ella knows she's incredibly lucky to have found a third match. You're guaranteed a partner on your first try, that's how good the Registrar is, but she's never heard of anyone ever having any luck on a second go, whatever crazy reason they have for not making it work the first time. Yet surely there must be more than one match for everyone in the System, unless you're one of the crazy people who believe in 'the one and only'.

Aunt Cecilia is one of those people, which is why she's never married. She thinks it's wrong to pluck the person you marry from a database. Just two names on two cards that you have to exchange and authenticate on your first date, pricking yourself to draw blood so the card's biochip will recognise your unique DNA sequence. The Registrar even picks out your wedding date in advance, so you know how slowly or quickly your dating process needs to be, whether you have sex on the first date or the fifth. Unless the System has marked you down as the type of people who wait. Where's the romance in any of that, Aunt Cecilia complains, whenever anyone cares to ask her for an opinion. Ella used to think Aunt Cecilia was missing the point, that the Registrar existed to eliminate the chance of getting it wrong and having your heart broken, maybe more than once. Now she isn't so sure and it frightens her, this loss of faith in electronic voodoo.

The wedding ceremony's happening at noon, and Ella knows she has to go through with it, no matter how she feels, because she doesn't want to disappoint her family again and there just aren't any more favours to call in so there isn't going to be another chance. Not to mention that she's one of those unlucky people the Registrar dictates have to be married on the leap day, so even if she could find a fourth man, she'd be too old to get married by then, according to the rules governing all citizens of the EuroAmerican Conglomeration. She could, she supposes, move to the PanAsian Polity or the Union of Africa where the rules are different, but she doubts she'll have much luck finding a partner without the Registrar's assistance. She doesn't know how. In the Conglomeration, even your friends are indirectly picked out for you by your parents, using the System and the Registrar, of course.

Ella wishes she knew who created the System and the Registrar. Who decided that nothing should ever be left to chance and why? There are official answers to this, which everyone in the Conglomeration can parrot because they have been trained to since the age that they begin to speak. The Registrar is a blessing. Without the Registrar, our lives would not be as happy. Together, the System and the Registrar protect us from our bad decisions. On some level, this is all true. For example, it's hardly surprising that since the System eliminated unhealthy food choices throughout the Conglomeration, people don't die of the old diseases anymore. Not as frequently anyway. Your genetic heritage can still betray you, but with each generation, the Registrar gets better at weeding those people out, denying them the right to marital and reproductive compacts. Ella knows this is a good thing. Her own extended family had a history of Huntington's, but the gene was successfully purged by her generation.

She's not going to run away this time, she knows that much now. Whatever her misgivings, she will marry Greg at noon. The reception after that will be perfect. After all the practice they've had, their first time having sex as a married couple will also be perfect. Ella is going to live out her perfect little life, even if it kills her trying, as the alternative of joining Aunt Cecilia in perpetual spinsterhood is unthinkable. One sour-faced relative at holiday dinners is more than enough for everybody. Ella hopes that thought will fortify her enough to at least get through the ceremony proper. She's sure Greg won't mind whisking her away early from the reception. He's perfect that way.

Mitch On The Moon

The first thing I notice about the room is that there aren't any windows. The second thing is that I don't remember anything about how I got here or even who I am. There's a pair of pale blue curtains with a kind of glow coming through the folds, but when I pull them back, I can't see anything apart from a huge shining panel. Not too bright for my eyes though, quite soothing in fact. Who would make something like that and why? There's no furniture in here apart from the bed that I've just got out of, with sheets the same shade of blue as the curtains. I look down at myself and realise I'm dressed in what look like hospital scrubs, also pale blue. They're actually really comfortable, but it still feels weird that they're blue, as though I'm only another part of the room. Doesn't sound like there's anyone around, which makes me wonder just how bad this hospital actually is. The door sticks when I try to open it, and when it pops free at last, the noise is so loud that I expect a nurse to come running, to yell at me to get back in bed, even though I feel perfectly fine. It's that sort of place, you know? Except I make it to the end of the corridor and still nobody comes. Now I need to decide. Left or right. At first I think this is one of those road-not-taken moments and it won't actually make any difference which way I turn. After squinting a bit in both directions though (so maybe what's wrong with me is that I'm short-sighted?), I can make out that the green glow on the right actually spells EXIT. Might as well leave if no one's going to stop me, right? I make it as far as this second door and turning the knob, and then I finally notice what it says on my medical wristband. Patient: Mitch Mason, Status: Deceased. There's no time to think about being dead though because the door's swung open and now what I'm seeing makes no sense at all. I think I'm on the moon. Or a very good mockup of what the lunar surface looks like anyway. As soon as I think that, it feels like I get kicked in the head and I black out. When I wake up, I'm still wearing the same pale blue scrubs and it's still the hospital room with the pale blue curtains. The wristband is still there and it's ridiculous and I'm about to rip it off because obviously I'm not dead. That's when I hear a click and a hiss, and after a few seconds more, a voice says, Mitch buddy, we're going to have to put you under and run the simulation again, until you stop figuring out it's not real. That's when I remember. I'm Mitch Mason. I'm the guy who signed up to stop the moon from crashing into the Earth, and this is my training.

Love in Hexasyllables LII: Fermentation

Weeds are just plants no one
thinks to appreciate,
I say, plucking away
in your mother's garden.
You arch an eyebrow then,
risking the argument.
Except force of habit
lets me call your bluff now,
pretend not to notice,
let alone even care.
I toss dandelions
into a growing pile
at my feet, daring you
to ask what they are for,
but you have already
turned back to your accounts,
pecking furiously
away at the keyboard.
In a week from today,
I will place the bottles
of wine beside your bed,
each freshly decanted
and smarting of the earth.
You drain them when you think
I am not watching you.

Achilles On Holiday

The airport was but the first of several rude shocks during his holiday. Purportedly reliable consumer surveys had repeatedly assured him that the gateway to this island paradise was 'the best airport in the world', but when airport security made him strip off his armour before they would let him through immigration, he began to have his doubts. The people in Athens had not had any objections to the gleaming suit, even when it set off the alarms and the anti-terrorist squad had to be called in. Once he got out of the airport, however, he had to admit that walking about in the tropical heat was actually a lot more comfortable in t-shirt and shorts than it could ever have been while lugging about armour, sword and shield, divinely blessed or not.

Trying to get to his hotel was an adventure in itself. Forced to navigate the metro lines (taking a taxi would have been too soft an option for a Greek warrior), Achilles found himself crushed in the train compartment, hemmed in by strange-complexioned people who seemed unfazed by the armour he was lugging about, instead whipping out these odd tablet-like contraptions and pointing them at him, before frantically mashing away at them again. He was less bothered by the repetitious flashing than the naked curiosity. All he wanted was to be on holiday, not the spectacle du jour. It took several calls before he finally made it to the St. Regis, Greek interpreter in tow, although even that poor man was having trouble understanding some of his archaisms.

All the excitement and fuss was beginning to prove too much for his constitution, still adjusting to the tropical climate. Achilles thought a soak in the baths and then some time in bed were what he needed before venturing out into the city. So it was to his great consternation that his appearance at the baths was greeted by screams from the women, angry (and occasionally, envious) glares from the men. A uniformed guard of some sort came forward and began speaking agitatedly, only to be stonewalled by the Greek warrior's incomprehension. The longsuffering interpreter having been summoned back from his dinner break, gave Achilles to understand that 'nudity is not allowed at the indoor swimming pool', much to his bemusement. What a peculiar place this was turning out to be!

Unimpressed, he wandered (fully-clothed) out of the hotel in search of something to do. The throng that greeted him as he made his way along the streets felt familiar at least, although to his growing dismay, they did not seem to have turned up to celebrate his appearance. Maybe no one recognised him because he was not wearing his armour? Too late to go back for it now, as a young girl was pulling him insistently into a building called 'Orchard Towers'. She was not unattractive, though the dim lighting made it difficult to say for certain. However, the expression on her face and where her hands had headed made it quite plain to Achilles what her intentions were. Who could blame her, really? At least someone around here appreciated the fact that he was Achilles, even if he did find his thoughts turning unbidden to Patroclus at the most inopportune of moments.

So imagine his surprise when he tried to have another go, only to have her open her palm and gesture at him. Not having his interpreter handy, Achilles had no way of knowing that she was demanding payment first before letting him anywhere near her body again. She certainly would not let his chiselled body deter her from the business of profit! She had a pimp to repay after all. Soon enough, Achilles had the unpleasant experience of being offered cold coffee, being interrogated in a language he barely understood, being locked up in a cell like a common criminal, having to repel the unwanted sexual advances of his boorish cellmate. Lying on the hard pallet, unaware that his interpreter was at this moment frantically combing the streets of Orchard for his person, he wondered if he should have stayed at home and thought of here instead. The brochures had been so persuasive in the travel agent's office.

Love in Hexasyllables LI: Mechanics

I claim this quantum state
of not-quite-being-sure,
desire and hesitance.
of the heart's wave-function,
waiting to be collapsed
by shared observation.

When you could break my heart
any day of the week,
it is best to remain
in a resting state, stay
caught precisely between
something found, nothing lost:
hapless Schrödinger's cat,
awaiting your regard.

Until we have travelled
through Copenhagen's streets,
let the uncertainty
bind us like gravity,
keep closed the box of us.
We will build theories
of everything, only
accommodate ourselves.