A few days ago, we shared a poem on food and making love by Gary J Whitehead that earlier appeared in The New Yorker. Following that, this week, we have three poets from Singapore who serve us some well done poems that you’ll relish to the core.
Bak Kut Teh by Hao Guang talks about the popularity of the southern Chinese dish of pork ribs in peppery broth eaten with friends. If you eat it alone, you might get morbid thoughts—which is partially what this poem is about.
BAK KUT TEH
Heart of a dish is a catalyst, uncovered
inside-out and left. The work of many
pairs of hands clots to the cream of coin.
Someone grew the spices, someone bled
the pig. Differing views were sought. Spoil,
all the careful mouths agree, already.
Which critic will praise it, official formally
endorse it, shopping centre coupon redeem?
Trust of a dish holds sickness, sorrowful,
often bought. Remember fingers softly
starting up, clacking sums. A pool
of spit soon dries. Tea spills past the rim.
One day perhaps the sun might slip aside,
free itself from the limits of laundry,
and undaunted by earnest, measured utilities,
reveal the marrow. You, sun, once-derided,
who first discovered the dish through similes
and newsprint, are now loosed, are hungry.
Upsizing by Daryl Lim Wei Jie, riffs off another one that parodies the pathological Singaporean desire for property and real estate. This poem is about a desire possibly more pathological and far darker, a Singaporean neurosis with an extra large serving of fries.
after Alvin Pang
Give me a bowl of bak chor mee, with extra noodles, extra lard, extra ter kwa, extra chili, extra vinegar but please don’t charge me extra.
I want a steak big enough to sleep on, a gravy boat you can drown a child in, fries you might mistake for new lanes of the PIE.
Give me wall-to-wall salami tiles, bacon blinds, more cans than I’ll ever open, cheeses that I’ll melt to use as concrete.
I want an eclair so capacious I can park a Jaguar in it.
Two Jaguars. I want all the other pastries to feel threatened, to quiver out their cream.
So huge, the mountaineers will scale it for a challenge, taking celebratory licks when they reach the chocolate-coated peak, this Kilimanjaro of choux.
I want it because I’m so goddamned hungry.
I want a youtiao so massive I can go spelunking in it, explore the caves of dough, sail on the lakes of grease and find a soft, fluffy place to snooze.
Of course some sup kambing. Make it Olympic-sized, ocean-sized, a body of uncertain green visible from space, huge islands of mutton bobbing in the oily waves.
Give me a prata so huge it’ll be its own country. I’ll keep it warm with volcanoes, I’ll feed all of Asia, there won’t be enough curry in the whole wide world.
While we’re at it, how about a milo dinosaur as well, with a heap of milo powder the height of Everest. I want the sugar to keep me awake till the second coming of Christ.
Then calamansi juice with sour plums, the volume of Lower Seletar Reservoir, to get my appetite up again.
Annabel Tan’s Planet VII: Cracked-Up Crock-Pot takes on the problem of feeding the soul and the hopelessness felt in getting the most fool-proof device in the kitchen to work. It is part of a series of poems exploring the shaky sets of habits and impulses developed to cope with day to day stresses.
PLANET VII: CRACKED-UP CROCK-POT
it was the funniest thing to see her cackling
over the stove and breathing in the fumes
of a thousand cigarettes smoking at once
hanging from her mouth and arranged
as offerings at the shrine to the kitchen god
who had failed to fix her curdled stew
the denatured complex compounds wreck
meals composed to support the five long
hungry days stretched thin over family
dinners over diners with flashing neon
so now that the goose is raw and frozen
with the leaks from the crock-pot staining
even the invincible linoleum flooring
even the easy cleaning white grouting
and that’s what keeps her laughing loud
this messed up recipe for humorous truth
ingesting poison to create hearty meals
her life stuck in kitchens and one dollar deals
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