from One Thousand and One Nights by Gwee Li Sui
When love ends, what do you keep? Some autumns ago, I met a remarkable woman and we fell in love. She is a Korean novelist, I a Singaporean poet. Across oceans of differences and the habits of age, we forged a way to love and to keep faith. Then, as mysteriously as it all started, it ended about a thousand and one nights later.
Modern storytellers beguile us. They bring such freshness to the endings of tales that we willingly hold our breaths in a promise of them. But the best bits are in the middle where often it feels like the adventure can never die. Every day is vast with possibilities as the heart marvels at the new way it beats. These are what I keep.
G. L. S.
by Gwee li Sui
She needed to write about rain
and I was in her weather’s way.
The grim deadline came and went,
came and went a second time.
All my daily raindancing was
not helping her to break the drought;
instead, she was giving me more
than she would to her own seeding.
So this was why they warned us of
living on the mere bread of love.
We were a desperate couple
under the blind wrath of two suns.
The survival of all we knew
had required us to square time,
but we needed to cheat it to
store up love for the long parting.
Where we schemed to be frugal
a strong law maintained its tax.
Where we felt able to squander
the skies gave back to us nothing.
Caught between two catastrophes,
we twisted like snakes on concrete.
We were distraught desert lovers,
gadflies for Apollo’s sport.
Outside our mud hut, we
folded into each other’s thirst;
the long giddiness brought down
a hallucination of rain.
Reprinted with the author’s and publisher’s permission, the preface and poem appear in Gwee Li Sui’s One Thousand and One Nights (Landmark Books 2014).
Cyril Wong, a poet and novelist, comments:
“My favourite poems are those that take huge risks. The risk could be the threat of hysteria or schmaltz closing in around the edges of an image or a final revelation, or the risk could manifest at the level of style or image-making; a daring to say the impossible while bordering on near-incoherence, yet the poem pulls itself back just in time to resonate with an ineffable sense of authenticity. Gwee’s poetry rides quietly to the cliff-edge of both kinds of risk at once; unafraid to tackle even the themes of spirituality and mortality; while simultaneously framed by what we know is waiting beyond the last poem – the painful aftermath of a shimmering love-bond. My favourite poem in Gwee’s book is “Raindancing”, where the cliché of rain is subverted and utilised to communicate surprisingly about impermanence, the abjection of love and desire, and the maya of life-enriching attachments.”
Gwee Li Sui is a poet, a graphic artist, and a literary critic. His works of verse include Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998) and One Thousand and One Nights (2014). He also wrote Singapore’s first full-length graphic novel in English, Myth of the Stone (1993), which appeared in aspecial twentieth-anniversary edition last year. A familiar name in Singapore’s literary scene, Gwee has written on a range of cultural subjects too. He edited Sharing Borders: Studies in Contemporary Singaporean-Malaysian Literature II (2009), Telltale: Eleven Stories (2010), and Man/Born/Free: Writings on the Human Spirit from Singapore (2011) and wrote FEAR NO POETRY!: An Essential Guide to Close Reading (2014).