Singapore’s Favorite Poem

Janet Liew, poet and educator, nominates Arthur Yap’s “2 mothers in a h d b playground” as her favorite Singapore poem. Lim writes, “It’s amusing for the obvious and keen competition between the two women, and the way Arthur Yap uses non-standard English to bring out the familiar Singaporean context. If it were performed, it would definitely delight the audience.”


2 mothers in a h d b playground
by Arthur Yap

ah beng is so smart,
already he can watch tv & know the whole story.
your kim cheong is also quite smart,
what boy is he in the exam?
this playground is not too bad, but i’m always
so worried, car here, car there.

xxxxxxxxat exam time, it’s worse.

because you know why?

xxxxxxxxkim cheong eats so little.

give him some complan, my ah beng was like that,
now he’s different. if you give him anything
he’s sure to finish it all up.

xxxxxxxxsure, sure. cheong’s father buys him
xxxxxxxxvitamins but he keeps it inside his mouth
xxxxxxxx& later gives it to the cat.
xxxxxxxxi scold like mad but what for?
xxxxxxxxif i don’t see it, how can i scold?

on saturday, tv showed a new type,
special for children, why don’t you call
his father buy some? maybe they are better.

xxxxxxxxmoney’s no problem. it’s not that
xxxxxxxxwe want to save. if we buy it
xxxxxxxx& he doesn’t eat it, throwing money
xxxxxxxxinto the jamban is the same.
xxxxxxxxah beng’s father spends so much,
xxxxxxxxtakes out the mosaic floor & wants
xxxxxxxxto make terazzo or what.

we also got new furniture, bought from diethelm,
the sofa is so soft. i dare not sit. they all
sit like they don’t want to get up, so expensive.
nearly two thousand dollars, sure must be good.

xxxxxxxxthat you can’t say. my toa-soh
xxxxxxxxbought an expensive sewing machine,
xxxxxxxxafter 6 months, it is already spoilt.
xxxxxxxxshe took it back but……….beng,
xxxxxxxxcome here, come, don’t play the fool.
xxxxxxxxyour tuition teacher is coming.
xxxxxxxxwah! kim cheong, now you’re quite big.

come, cheong, quick go home & bathe.
ah pah wants to take you chya-hong in new motor-car.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher, “2 mothers in a h d b playground” is anthologized in The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap (NUS Press, 2013).



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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