Zhuang Yisa

In Issue 2 on November 1, 2008 at 11:43 am

A Gradual Acceptance

In Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy
of a little girl with extraordinary imagination
she could draw the way out of her prison
with chalk (first the outline of door, then
a slight teasing of stones
to push back the barrier
between here and the preferred
elsewhere) the world as she knew it
before she was shot dead
by her stepfather
was a world, given a chance
to continue
(in the way all things continue
living nonetheless, even under the judgment
that constitutes war), could bring
something of a glimpse
of what lies behind the perceived
meaninglessness of the living
and the dying, or the perceived meaningfulness
of this steady, indifferent motion
pulling or pushing us
towards what we can only hope to be
a gradual acceptance
of our own helplessness against
and the pain that gives it form:
one slow breath after another,
each making its way out
of the expiring body
that has long since been emptied of regrets.
But the little girl knew what it meant
to love, and what love asked
of her: pain, then
no pain; only the peace now, returning
the dream
to complete her sleep. The dream
is not the nightmare, but of the living.


Penniless and facing eviction,
Billie Holiday slipped into a jazz joint
with Travellin’ All Alone
and reduced the audience to tears.

Did I love as much
as you thought you did?

The stud next to me
belted out a Faye Wong’s number
in the original key.
Then an Anita Mui’s
about grief and the letting go.

The doctor said you could
die in five years.
Would I still think of you, then,
as much
and with such regrets
of not knowing
how to return whatever that was
you gave, and made bliss
seem something that was
even possible for me – as I do whenever I am
this lonely?

Even now, nothing
would bring you back.

That night, I started
to speak to an invisible being
I hoped was watching over you.

Is this what we are
reduced to, in the end,
by love? If love it was
and is,

these prayers for forgiveness
we cannot bear to receive.

Zhuang Yisa lives in Singapore. His poetry has been published or forthcoming in Yuan Yang (Hong Kong), Eight Octaves, Houston Literary Review, Red River Review, The Smoking Poet, Lily Literary Review and SubtleTea, amongst others. He also reviews for The Substation Magazine, an online arts journal based in Singapore.

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