Saffron from Singapore

How does Singapore appear in the imaginings of contemporary writers not from Singapore? What do writers find poetic about Singapore? How does the country resist the imagination? Reference Singapore is a thread on SP that collects such writings and raises such questions. The poem below, by the American poet Cynthia Arrieu-King, finds Singapore in a meditation on love and adultery.


In Praise of Hawthorne over a Plate of Gai Tom Kha
by Cynthia Arrieu-King


This saffron comes from a field near Singapore, these noodles from New Jersey.
I love my country. Today, I read about Dimmesdale over lunch–

his gorilla-like meltdown on the scaffold – baring to everyone the A
gnawed into his chest by a tooth of remorse. A man across the restaurant

was shouting, Do you believe in fornication? to his lunch date.
Getting acquainted. He said, head back, If it’s one of the ten

commandments, it must go against human nature. Like God thought
it up to see how bad we could fail. Hawthorne used to personify

sin— Letters in the shape of figures of men &c. proceeding along.
Ten thoughts we should shave down to what they really mean.

I peered over at the diners. Were they going to love each other? She looked
trapped in this purple waistcoat, gold buttons for distance, the words

composed by the letters … alone distinguishable. Dismay, I read.
You never bothered to say what the A stood for. Rather,

you said that close at hand, the figures alone are seen, and not
distinguished as letters. I couldn’t hear most of what they said

but pieces boomed out over the orchids and gold threads
of Thai tablecloth: a mind’s light overhead and frayed,

or a light, gleaming snake hanging overhead in
wine dark, promise glowing from its mouth. An honest red

slipping through. The waitress leaned by herself,
no help, one arm out, and the hair long like something lent

you want back. To a painter looking in, glare shifting on glass,
the menagerie of us must have posed mundane, no tableau

like a flushed girl screaming vermillion, a thrown-off letter afloat.



Cynthia Arrieu-King teaches at Stockton University and is a former Kundiman fellow. Her books include People are Tiny in Paintings of China (Octopus) and Manifest (Switchback) and in 2016, her collaborative book of poems with the late Hillary Gravendyk will come out from 1913 press.


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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