Tanah Merah : a poem


Singapore Memory
Seet, Oliver

Dr Oliver Seet (1937) who was an Associate Professor of English at the National Institute of Education before his retirement has been writing poems since his undergraduate days at the University of Malaya (1956-1960) and his poems have appeared in many anthologies, newsletters and magazines.

"Tanah Merah" (3rd August 2009) in my growing years was for me a place of magic and romance; I was fascinated by the history of the place - of the time especially when it was a pirate cove and when there were so many battles between rival gangs of pirates that the sand ran red with blood (hence the name). It was also a place one took one's lady love to. I was greatly perturbed by the developmental plans for Tanah Merah put up by young town planners who had no appreciation of the importance of heritage and the sanctity of certain places and buildings.

Tanah Merah
by Oliver Seet

At Tanah Merah where the trees begin
by the serrated margin of the sea,
how sweet it is to walk
with downcast eyes
on yielding sand
feet licked incessantly
by the salt tongues of tides
towards faint promises of light.

How different was the blush
upon the temples of the sand
once in a coconut-fringed dawn
when loud bandannas
sat jauntily on brows
furrowed with the urgency of greed
in a clamorous barter
for acquired lives.

Last remnant of my celery years
how my greenhouses in the rooflands
burst into carnation and leaf
under the dreamspell of your waters
as I pranced with my ladylove
on yielding sand.

Oh Tanah Merah, will now steel fingers
probe the bowels of your life?
Will mirthless predators of things past
armed with deadly blueprints
smother the life-force of your being
dismembering the fine fabric
of your enchanted beach?