Singapore’s Favorite Poem

The next favorite poem has been nominated by not one but two readers! The poem is Alfian Sa’at’s “Autobiography,” published in his book A History of Amnesia. Theophi Kwek, poet and college student, writes, “I first read this poem when I was leaving childhood (and ‘catching’, and spiders, and Lego) behind, and it stuck with me through that long process of moving through adolescence as a reminder of what I should fill my life with.” Zhang Ruihe, a teacher, remembers, “This sepia-toned poem is so steeped in nostalgia, brims with ‘the love of absent things’. There’s no other poem on childhood that speaks to me so strongly. i fell in love with this the first time i read it — the last two lines had me at ‘hello’.”


Like most of us, I can’t remember how
I was separated from my first love.
(Did it die, did I break it, was it stolen
Or did it fly out through the open window?)
I didn’t have radio-tuning parents
Who filled the house with music
Or instilled in me “a love of the cinema”.
I never recalled my mother coming home
From the hairdressers’ with a new hairdo
Or father teaching me fishing, or
Staying up to watch football on TV.
He did once bring a kite home but hung it
On my bedroom wall (he turned it into
A portrait, it wasn’t his fault the wall
Never became more of a sky). Meanwhile
Cousins came for visits wearing braces

And chattering about comics, bicycle scars,
And camping out, ghost stories (don’t tell
That one, tell the one where Daddy used
The torchlight and Mummy screamed and dropped
Her things and laughed like a hyena). We drank
Boiled water in the house, and sometimes
Waking up from a nap I would wander the rooms
To find mother copying cross-stitch designs
From a book or father watching a subtitled
Chinese re-run. So I slept again, dreaming
Of playing toys away from the sunlight
That leaked in between hawk-eyed curtains
Gold-plating afternoon dust to shining pollen.
When I awoke I was twenty, being asked
If I had a happy childhood. Yes, the one
We all have: filled to the brim
With the love of absent things.

by Alfian Sa’at, from A History of Amnesia, Ethos Books

Reprinted with the author’s permission.


Alfian Sa’at is the Resident Playwright of W!LD RICE. His plays have been translated into German, Swedish and Danish, and they have been read and performed in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London, Berlin, Hamburg, Zurich, Munich, Melbourne, Copenhagen and Stockholm. He has been nominated for the Life! Theatre Awards for Best Original Script seven times, and has received the award twice. Alfian was the winner of the Golden Point Award for Poetry and the National Arts Council Singapore Young Artist Award for Literature in 2001. His other publications include Collected Plays One and Two, the poetry collections One Fierce Hour and A History of Amnesia, and the short story collection Corridor. His most recent short fiction collection, Malay Sketches, was published in March 2012.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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