by Janet Liew
Like a greedy child, the sun has sucked all
the colour out of these flags. Strung up in
repeated chromatic sequence—blue, white,
red, green, then yellow—from the low places
to the high, these amulet cloths are like
pages torn carefully from a holy text,
prayers for the Wind Horse to carry off
to all parts of the world in his gallop.
Symbols structure the deep chaos for us,
make things signify beyond themselves. Cloth
needs to be more than fabric for the body,
and colours need to be more than pigments
bound chemically to woven fibres:
the aching blue of a remembered sky,
the pure whiteness of the air, of the wind,
red the scorching heat of fire on the hills,
cool green of water in jadeite rivers,
yellow in earth, the golden shine of soil,
all five elements in corporeal form.
Each fugitive dye is recaptured, reborn
as fresh flags hung next to the old, proclaiming
renewal of hope, circular harmony,
the vast sky a temple with no boundaries.
Reprinted by permissions from the author, editors, and publisher, “Prayer flags” is first published in From Walden to Woodlands: An Anthology of Nature Poems (Ethos Books, 2015), edited by Ow Yeong Wai Kit and Muzakkir Samat, as a Singapore Interfaith Initiative.
In her years as a teacher, Janet Liew taught General Paper, English Language and Literature. Currently a senior curriculum specialist in the Ministry of Education, she is involved in syllabus-related work, and conducts professional development workshops for teachers. Janet won four Golden Point Award prizes for her poetry, and was a participant in the Mentor Access Project (MAP) 2007/2008. Reading–especially poetry and non-fiction–and creative writing are two of her passions. Spending inordinate amount of time in bookshops and building up her home library are two more.