Leong Liew Geok (b. 1947) is a poet and editor. She authored _Love is Not Enough_ (1991) and _Women without Men_ (2000), and edited _More than Half the Sky: Creative Writings by Thirty Singaporean Women_ (1998) and _Literary Singapore: a directory of contemporary writing in Singapore_ (2011) for the National Arts Council.
"Coffee Shop, Clementi", written in the eighties, is based on an actual coffee shop in Clementi Avenue 3, which still exists, but which has undergone several makeovers. The prata corner mentioned in the poem has moved inside while its original space is now occupied by other stalls. The Pong-Pong trees have made way for pavement.
Coffee Shop, Clementi
by Leong Liew Geok
The pot-bellied expert twirls
With a dancer’s stamina. Beating
Counter with right palm, he traps air
In each fold, then flops roti prata
On black griddle, and dribbles oil.
Hands fly dough, again
To drum aluminium.
Ceiling fans whirr in this self-styled
“Restaurant and Bar” – really nothing more
Than a corner coffee shop, two sides,
Long and short, exposed. Kitchens open
To all, nine stalls mark the cooking of food
From its eating. We breathe oil, steam,
Sweat; the fire and smoke of orders,
Before ours are cooked. Its floor could
Do with a good scrub. At lunch, dinner,
In-betweens, the shop swells, a hot-air
Balloon. On dry days and nights, those
Who like the open air with which to guzzle
Down a good time, spill out. Plastic furniture
Pushes the shop’s sides into the redbrick
Walk where pedestrians pass; beyond
Pong-Pong and Yellow Flame, motorists
Drive on. Where chilly-hot nasi goreng
Sends iced-coffee racing up straws;
Fish porridge and beefball noodles scald
Tongues out for quick thrills; where chicken rice
Bubbles, as pure kueh tutu steams,
It’s not only fast food on the cheap
I come for. Plundering appetites, voices
Riding high, eyes which eat, while waiting.
An ambience without the fuss of trying;
Timely crowds; the business of hunger, thirst
Or rest, handled with matters of fact.