Featured Poem

Sleeping with Tomatoes
by Wong May

I who won’t look at tomatoes
Now can’t look past tomatoes.

Tomatoes that taste of nothing much.
Now I say beware of tomatoes,

Those that taste
Of anything
At all.

58 Chinese ‘nationals’ breathed
Their last with packed tomatoes
In a sealed van from Zeebrugge
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto Dover.

You think in the dark the tomatoes
xxxxxxxwould administer
Oxygen—nothing much
To ask, in the dark.

x58 in a van on a ferry
Travelled for better living conditions

“Dying to come abroad”,
xxxxxWith tomatoes for company—

xxxxxUntil the driver, amps up the radio—

Like a closet-smoker
Tunesxxoutxxthe air-vent.

It’s still 6 hours to Dover.
He needs sit back in the lounge, kill time.

When the sealed van opened
The living piled put
The living were tomatoes,
& the dead too.

700 crates, rank
by serried rank,
The awful lot of Man.

58 thought they arrived
xxxxxxxin the United Kingdom.
They don’t travel well,
The Chinese,
Without refrigeration.

They were deported
(The bodies,
With refrigeration)
In a fish van.

xxxxxxxxxxxxTo be fair
It isn’t so long ago
They were burning people.
Now they deport bodies,
& burn furniture.
xxxxxxxxxxxxIt took

Just a few dead Latvians
xxxxxbehind bed-boards
On another P&O;
In Dover they burnt the Ikea flat-packs
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxfor two days.

Burn furniture by all means!
Spare the van.
The van has a future.

xxxNow your tomatoes may
xxxxxxtaste Zambian, Romanian
xxxxxxxxxxxor of the Kurds
With a hint of coriander

xxxxxxxxxxxx& star-anise
:Chinese, as the case may be,
Grill them

They know where the rest are heading
Or hiding.

Trust them
After this Extra/Extra-ordinary Rendition
Trust them
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxto give just what you want

You who won’t look at tomatoes twice

See how they come, these

Moulded like chairs
xxxxxxxxRed/’wiped clean’ factory plastic,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAs near odourless
xxxxxxxxxxxxxIn closed vans

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe long haul, by sea

xxxxxxxx& land,xxxxself replicating

xxxxxxxxThese shall inherit your kitchen,

xxxxxxxxGrill them as they come
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxTrust me
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThey are no different

xxxxxxxxSwipe them
xxxxxxxxFor the same difference

xxxxxxxx& you who couldn’t even begin to hear/to see
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxStand by tomatoes you couldn’t now hide
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxor abide.






I don’t pretend it’s either human
&/or common.


Just add flames,
(no added sugar)
These know your coming hither
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxEven as your going hence.

Trust them
Trust us
xxxin time to taste of nothing again.


Reprinted with the publisher’s permission, “Sleeping with Tomatoes” is first published in Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978 – 2013 by Wong May (Octopus Books, 2014).




Wong May was born in 1944 in Chungking, China. She was brought up in Singapore by her mother Wang Mei Chuang, a classical Chinese poet, who taught school & wrote short stories. After graduating from the University of Singapore, she joined The Writers Workshop, at University of Iowa in 1966. Harcourt Brace & World brought out her first book of poetry in 1969, followed by two other books in 1972 & 1978. In 1972 she was a visiting writer at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. She is married to an Irish physicist & has lived mainly in France & Ireland. They have two sons. Dublin has been her home since 1978.

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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