Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Portrait of a Sentenced Library by Alfian Sa'at

So these bricks will be torn down
And books will still not have learnt
To spread their feathers and fly
Like pigeons from a shaken tree

So this balustrade will be dismantled
Perhaps reassembled somewhere else -
A conch paperweight by my head is a beach.
Each hour from a postcard Big Ben chimes.

This is the logic of nostalgia -
This is what I mean when I say
That my memory is selfish.
Who can guarantee that roaming

Through a tunnel I will find again
The Children's Section, where a boy walked
With 'the Little Prince' in his hands,
His smile the first line of a novel

Neither of us had read before?
One cymbal left in Chinatown.
Blueprints and forums and rhetoric ensure
That a firecracker makes no sound.

So the shattered glass of Van Kleef Aquarium
Still magnifies the eyelashes of students.
So the ragged screen of Capitol Cinema
Still shudders as a Pontianak drips black blood.

Only in dreams. Under separate stars.
I had one last night; of sitting at S-11
With the usual bunch of affectionate liars,
Skinny artists, red-eyed dreamers,

When suddenly a book appeared in the sky
Like a carrier pigeon that had escaped
From the ruins of the library.
It landed, without a murmur,

On my shoulder. I opened that book,
Expecting a cry for help, a refugee's plea.
What I found instead was this poem
That did not know how to end. Only when.

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