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If, iffy.

If you look hard enough, I am writhing out of absence into form.

If introduces a condition, a supposition (eg. “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”)

If can sometimes create ambiguities.

If I were called out of a pool of dark by a larger hunger like birds plucking worms from the earth.

If I were lost in a poem; not killing, not a thief, not hurting anybody I loved.

If I opened my mouth, the sun would roll out to burn a heart into the black.

If there has been an error, and the light was everything before I left — the light was a single colour.

If you look hard enough, I am a capsized ship sliding down the night’s wet tongue.

If I were made to stand on the roof of a sudden universe, open my mouth and suck the light to the pin-pricks of stars.

If all the light leftover balled into a sun, a raging antithesis to the dark that ate into everything.

If you look hard enough, you may learn to love the you in me, the me in you.

If grief is deep blue, melancholy must be the colour of a sky without clouds.

If emptiness is white, staring into that fluorescent light must be falling in love.

If you look hard enough, if you look soft enough, if you are even looking.

If sleepwalking is a disorder.

If I grow tired and turn off every question in my head like lights in a living room.

If spreads like forest fire, paints the sky in deepening shades of smoke.

If fatigue increases the chances of a person sleepwalking because it forces the body to go into deeper sleep, allowing the dysfunctional transition into deep sleep to occur more readily, leading to somnambulism.

If dresses up as a woman when nobody is home.

If staggers up and down these alleyways of the mind like a mad fugitive with a gun in his pocket.

If there is potential for harm to the sleepwalker walking around without having full use of his brain.

If this is not a repetition, there would be a newfound gravity in my step.

If the sleepwalker’s brainwaves show patterns that match waking behaviours like walking and talking while the patient is still asleep, he is not aware of what is happening, and is not forming memories of their actions.

If squatted on the table and peed into our food, while we ate as a family without once looking at each other, tasting something sharp in our mouths.

If doors are not the answer, are windows?

If a poet loses his way on the map of an empty page, treads a path of sunlight out the window to enter a haze like an evaporated language.

If windows are not the answer.

If our mode of transportation became teleportation, a traffic accident could mean leaving behind body parts on our way to somewhere else — a leg, an eyeball, a heart…

If thunder is sewn from the threads of censored emotions ripped free from every bureaucratic heart.

If I win awards, I am a true artist.

If you are ______, you must speak ______.

If I love you this much, you will love me this much.

If desire is the heart’s intransigent verb.

If there is a point to this, and you are afraid to point it out.

If the quiet between words is also a language.

If I leave the radio on after I leave for work, a part of me left over in the living room, tethered to that song’s refrain like a heart on a tightrope.

If we cannot help but match the past unto another past, overlapping seamlessly when we are less than honest, lying in each other’s arms.

If now, if ever, if you, if I, if not, if never.

If we saw ourselves through each other’s eyes, which is not the same as being mirrors.

If language is our breath, then poetry must be the sound of our cracked voices singing.

If we paused in mid thought only to arrive at the same place together.

If I make you feel alone, if I am not sorry, if I did not love you, if I did not know you.

If this gets too bright, I can make a sound so you will not lose me.

If I ate the dark, there would be more dark.

If this, if that, our hearts are riveted with ifs.

If you kiss my eyes, I will close them.

If you are the reason I let optimism in.

If I came back, would you still offer a grin, a joke, an open hand?

If this gets too bright, please, make a sound, any sound.

If I could place the waiter on my tongue, he would melt down my throat and enter the blood, riding through all my arteries, shooting to the trilling tip of each nerve ending like coming home.

If makes babies.

If there is nothing you may eat without consequence.

If I swallow your pride, if you swallow mine.

If I ate whole chunks of time without you in it.

If the men you want only want those who do not want them, or do want them, but not as much, not even close.

If you could string every moment when we found each other — an arm satisfied around a waist, a cheek conforming without resentment along a neck — wear that always like something lucky.

If only, as if.

If opens a bag of everything I could have done but did not, pinning my shadow to the floor like a prison dog.

If takes pictures of events that never took place, lines them up like a circle of dancing mirrors around the heart.

If you choose to forget, it is also a kind of forgiving.

If works for Disney.

If the sky leans into the room and my eyes fly open, the brightness receding a little, as if to make room for my re-entry into the world.

If I popped those pills, my mind would return a repressed schoolteacher, or a politician balancing his smile like an acrobat.

If you can be this sad, you can also be this happy.

If you do not know what lies at the end of hope, count yourself lucky — you have forgotten.

If I can afford to smile, even if just a little.

If I put on something bright, turn up my collar like two wings and go to work.

If stops walking to look at another man across the street, forgetting his wife and two daughters at the restaurant, turning away when he catches his eye.

If realises the man has flung a boomerang smile in his direction, tracing a wild arc of hunger through the air between them, a bright path along which anything can be imagined.

If starts walking again, aware he is being followed, before those footfalls falter behind him, dropping off into that sudden, unbearable quiet.

If what moves you may not redeem you.

If remembers the street in China where she was raised, mouth filling with him before the hour is up.

If hangs a poster in his office of a woman in a bikini who never smiles, and longs for a girlfriend with better skin who won’t say no.

If I forget what sets us apart, strain back to recover what is the same.

If pushes up a window to let some wind slide down the sun’s long arm into this room, so the floor would take a shorter time to dry, and is distracted by dust particles flying and falling into grace all around her, none of which she may hold for more than an instant, her hand floating up to catch them; opening, closing, opening and closing.

If Baudelaire had been allergic to hashish, opium or alcohol.

If I stop talking and you can still tell anyway.

If there is a difference between being proudly humble and humbly proud.

If Callas believed every rip in the soul should be heard in the aria, not unlike how Pina Bausch believed trembling naked in the snow can also be a dance.

If she lived for art, if she lived for love.

If that last note of her aria in La Traviata teetered past its pitch to nothing, her mouth left open — dark, hollowed out, still demanding — with a hand clutching her chest, as if to stop a combustion.

If Callas too dreamed of sharing the same skin as Audrey Hepburn.

If the tapeworms Callas swallowed ate more than she could lose.

If our Lord says, “Lovest thou me?” (John 21:16,17) he uses the Greek word agapas; and when Simon answers, he uses the Greek word philo, i.e., “I love.”

If the distinction between them is thus fitly described by Trench: “Agapan has more of judgment and deliberate choice; phileis has more of attachment and peculiar personal affection.”

If “Lovest thou” (Gr. agapas) on the lips of the Lord seems to Peter at this moment too cold a word, as though his Lord were keeping him at a distance, or at least not inviting him to draw near.

If he substitutes his own stronger “I love” (Gr. philo) in its room.

If now he has conquered; for when the Lord demands a third time whether he loves him, he does it in the word which alone will satisfy Peter (“Lovest thou,” Gr. phileis), claiming from him that personal attachment and affection with which, indeed, he knows his heart is full.

If there is nothing you cannot carve into a poem.

If there is nothing in stars that make them shine.

If Raymond Carver wrote too many poems about fishing, I liked to believe his cancer turned each page into an open sea, sucking at the underside of the poem like a boat it could overturn if it chose.

If I walk past my funeral along the way inside a dream.

If we need new words for states of ambivalence.

If I have looked at love from both sides now and I am afraid I do know love; its calculated insults, its long silences, the bolted door of a lover’s back, the endless ways a heart may be folded it becomes so small we forget how to unravel it.

If peace jumps into the body upon a sudden word dropped like a stone freed from a hand, a look not daggered by suspicion, not a hunted deer’s alerted glare, the heart bannering out for a time.

If sleep returns each of our bodies afterwards to its own gravity upon the usual halves of our bed.

If your song, still as the mind when resignation takes over, takes over — lullaby or autobiography — leaving behind that wistful sadness in the air.

If others retreat to that sense of wonder, but my heart remains homeless.

If the life I chose is the life I chose.

If my self is a shadow, at least I made a dent in the light.



The line “If makes babies” was spoken by Isrizal Mohamed Isa and used here with his permission. The series of lines starting with “If our Lord says…” is adapted from an original definition of “love” in the Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Richard Chenevix Trench (18071886) is an Anglican archbishop, poet and philologist.



Like a Seed With Its Singular Purpose
(Singapore: Firstfruits Publications 2006, pp. 90105)


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