Deathless Emotion

Onnen (怨念)* 

by Tania De Rozario

For the dead women in Ju-On, Ringu and Shutter.

* In Japanese, the word “onnen” signifies an emotion so strong that it lingers even past death. It is often the basis of narratives that involve female ghosts coming back for revenge.

 

1. Kayako
She is prolific, this one, keeps it
in the family; works with her son
who screams for her, mouth ebony
black, the sound of a thousand cats
strangled in his throat. Killed

by the man of the house, bludgeoned,
and screaming, hair matted with blood
as they entered into death with rage
so thick it seeped into every crevice
of that house; she will take the world

with her. Suspended from the ceiling,
she will drop her hair like Rapunzel,
lynch you with her locks while the boy
pushes your corpse back-and-forth
like a tire swing. As she descends

from the stairs, you will hear her
voice, moaning in a slow choke
as she crawls on all-fours, thinking
if we have to live here for the rest
of forever, so will you. So will you.

 

2. Sadako
An urban legend, though she lived
by the sea with her parents: Mother,
gifted with second sight, daughter with
an untamed fury that can upturn furniture
with a single glance. That is how she kills

witnesses who chance upon the video
of her life; random static, the dread
of knowing that it is your turn now
to be singled out for a week of waiting
for death. It is arbitrary, who dies,

who doesn’t. Some stumble upon
the tape in old hotels, others get copies
from friends. All their bodies turn up
with faces frozen into primal screams,
eyes wide with knowledge, understanding

everything except for how she too
awaited death, tried to claw
her way out of the dark, wet tomb
her father tossed her into: She
still learns from his lack of mercy.

 

3. Natre
They ganged up on her. All five
at once; the ring-leader pounced,
having his way. Done, he got off,
insisted his friend take her
picture “to make sure that she

doesn’t blab”. She told no one, and
instead, jumping to her death, kept
two secrets: The first – she had
been raped. The second – her lover
had been the one to shoot her

with the camera she’d bought for him
on his birthday. So now she shows up
in developing photos, slinks her way
about his darkroom, fills his friends
with so much fear, they too jump

to their own demise. Except
for him: For him, she will stay,
arms about his neck as she sits
upon his shoulders like the weight
of guilt: This is how she loves him.

 

Reprinted with the permission of the author, this poem appears in Body Boundaries: The EtiquetteSG Anthologies Volume 1, edited by Tania De Rozario, Zarina Muhammad and Krishna Udayasankar, published by The Literary Centre, Singapore (2014). On-line sale at Ethos Books.

The poem was first published in Tania De Rozario’s Tender Delirium (Math Paper Press).

You can find a short introduction to the anthology here.

 

body boundaries_cover

Tania De Rozario is an artist, writer and curator. She is interested in personal stories and how they connect to larger socio-cultural issues of sex and gender. Author of Tender Delirium (Math Paper Press, 2013). She is currently penning her second book, And the Walls Come Crumbling Down. Tania was the 2011 recipient of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award for English Poetry, and is co-founder and artistic director of EtiquetteSG, a multidisciplinary platform focused on developing and platforming work by woman artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians in Singapore. She is also an Associate Artist with The Substation, where she is working on a project about art-activism in Singapore.

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.

2 comments

  1. Donna Smith

    Today’s poems by Tania De Rozario, written from the perspective of Onnen, are intriguing. I think that every culture has such a concept – emotions so strong, whether love or hate, that they continue on after death – often represented as ghosts who come back to haunt the living or who are forced to play out their own eternal punishment.

    I especially liked the revenge painted in the third poem, “Natre”:

    She told no one, and
    instead, jumping to her death, kept
    two secrets: The first – she had
    been raped. The second – her lover
    had been the one to shoot her

    with the camera she’d bought for him
    on his birthday. So now she shows up
    in developing photos, slinks her way
    about his darkroom, fills his friends
    with so much fear, they too jump

    to their own demise.

    Reaping and sowing to the max.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Donna, for the comment. I’m glad that you like the third part so much.

    Like

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