mother’s mourning clothes
float lightly at night on hangers
like a flag, waving
words like ‘widow’, appear out of nowhere
’till death do us part’
and ‘our father in heaven”
such phrases, such gravity
unexpectedly, I think of my brother, still born
who may now be closer to father
and I think of grandfather,
who may now be closer to son
oh…and here comes the father’s day ads….
I had given my dad one of my blank sketchbooks because i knew he enjoyed sketching. After his death, I was looking around for it. I found it stacked together with another notepad and saw he had mysteriously drawn three planes and three birds and architecture. All other traces of his art are gone but i’m thankful i have these to remember him as an artist.( He had worked as a draftsman for SPH.) My blood for art comes from him and his ‘transformation’ would most likely alter the way I move forward in life as an artist. What exactly this means, I don’t know yet, but all choices made with regards to my own output or concept as an artist has obviously changed because one half of the beings who made me is now in some other state of being. death reinvents everything, always. Thank you dad, for this gift.
“”Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,”
the body of my father is delivered
like mama shop stock from a van
the body of my father is stored in the parlour after hours
with the trolley of unopened yeo’s cartons
blow out the candles, turn off the lights, roll the shutter down
shop / life / closed
we sit at home at night in my mother’s room
wondering what is happening.
we sit in the dark before sleep, talking.
talking about it helps us believe.
talking about the absence makes it real.
in my downtime
i refer to my memory of his body
his youth, remade with make up
his lips, waxy and slightly curled into a subtle smile
his eyes, restful
hair sleek and tucked in
hands gripping black rosary
resting on the tattered, worn out prayer books he read from every night
In the morning I pack peanuts and red strings and mentos sweets in neat containers on each table
there are polar water cups, packets of lychee and green tea and chrysanthemum.
cheese crackers for a weeping mother.
I remember to go buy his 4D one day after his death
He’s busy in the western lands
He’s busy acclimatising to spirit
there’s this butch from my neighbourhood
loud mouth and drowsy at the front row of nightly prayers
she wears slippers that look like fish
mouth gaping, struggling for air
“he did not struggle for breath.” the doctor had said.
“he just stopped breathing.”
”I’m sorry for your loss.”
my heart breaks a little during every hug
I cannot remember when I last hugged him
my eyes grow wet
my tears roll down, warm and slow
I will not sob until the day I carry his coffin on my shoulders
we all don’t really break down
we are not loud or hysterical
we grieve in silence because that is his nature
our pain rests in quietude
the sound of this loss is a pin drop
there’s vindaloo curry , home made, one day before the funeral
dry mee siam and curry chicken
classic funeral food
I’m making sure the wardens have drinks
I’m making sure my mother has sugar
because normal dinner time is over
normal anything is over, at least until the new norm without father
i buy the bak paus for breakfast on Friday
“oh shit,” i thought, “we should abstain from meat on Friday.”
but it’s ok
what is abstinence at a time like this?
today is our private little good Friday
there will be a hill of skulls
there will be a finishing
I thought the skies might open up but it did not rain
I had to do a eulogy.
I finally sob when I carry his coffin on my shoulders
“If silence is the language of God, then my father knows this language well.”
I talk about the comfortable silence of his presence
I talk about his visions of Saint Joseph and Mother Mary
I talk about him ushering us into paradise
I talk but can’t quite hear myself
I talk but can’t quite get what i’m saying
I sob a little less carrying his coffin out of the church
I’m running around handing out ang pows to choirmasters and altar boys
I scramble into the front seat of the funeral directors car
because we have to make it on time to send my father to the flames
it’s a strange machine
the robot that carries the coffin at mandai
It looks like an arcade gaming console
that doesn’t quite console
it looks like that remote claw game that picks up stuffed toys for two dollars.
minutes before that
I finally see the full length of his suited body
when the coffin cover comes off
we place roses and symbolic flowers inside his wooden bed
Lillies for Saint Joseph, his warden sash and prayer cards from his wallet
I think i forgot to say, “bye dad.”
no one really utters anything
grief has a garbled tongue
I’m not really focussed on anything at this point
One of my sisters goes weak in her legs
as the arcade gaming machine slowly pushes his coffin to the mouth of the oven
we recite the Hail Mary many many times
the machine is slow as fuck
dragging the scene out as long as it can
“..and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
My mother asks, “What is happening?”
I point to his coffin seconds before the machine loads him into the fire
the door slowly closes.
There is nothing left to look at.
time for cold polar water
lychee and green tea
the bus is on a schedule. We should get moving.
i hand over the framed photo of my father to my mother
a photo taken at their wedding anniversary.
I’m thinking of sambal kang kong and prawn paste chicken
fried rice and yam dessert for lunch.
The same meal we had for my father’s birthday lunch.
I spend the bus ride back talking about headphones
I don’t even think of his body burning somewhere back there near the zoo, near the bird park
he used to draw birds
i don’t think he ever brought me to the zoo,
I spend the quieter moments looking at the passing scenery
and how i had imagined myself on such and such a bus at such and such a funeral
how quickly these imaginings become reality
how quickly the day of admission had turned into time of death
9.26am. 08 may 2018.
Three minutes after the doctor had called me to say,
“Your fathers breathing is slowing down. You should come down. I’m sorry, but I think your father will pass today.”
We didn’t feel an urgency.
Wasn’t annoyed at all the red lights we were caught at on the way down.
I used to fear not being there at the moment of his death.
then it didn’t matter
I didn’t even feel him pass.
But I knew that he would
that day, hours before ICU
when he said to his nurse, “This is my Son.”
and when he had said to me, “It’s O.K. It’s O.K.”
He took his time
to give us time.
He slipped slowly and easily into the great night,
un-rushed, just like he was in life.
His was an easy death to me.
No fuss. No noise. No real struggle.
“Are you ok?” i would ask.
“Okaaaay.” He would emphasise.
“Are you happy?”
“Are you comfortable?”
“We will see you tomorrow OK?”