Alvin Pang is an award-winning poet, writer, editor, anthologist, and translator. He has been translated into over fifteen languages, and has appeared in festivals and publications worldwide. He is also editor-in-chief of ETHOS, a public policy journal, and directs The Literary Centre, Singapore, a non-profit intercultural platform.
Intro: “Merlign” was written as a meta Merlion poem. There is a joke in Singapore among writers that anyone who is a Singapore poet must have written a poem about the Merlion. It started as a bit of a joke because Edwin Thumboo, one of our leading pioneer poets wrote the “Ulysses by the Merlion” and it became a milestone poem, and Lee Tzu Pheng, another of our pioneer poets wrote a reply “The Merlion to the Ulysses”.
Ever since then, it seems that everyone who is established as a poet here in Singapore has written something about the Merlion and we thought that it was interesting that something that’s meant to be a national symbol but at the same time, a very artificial national symbol has become really infused with all these meanings and anxieties about what it means to be Singaporean. So I wrote a Merlion poem about Merlion poems in that sense and the tradition continues. All poets seem to have a Merlion poem. This is one of mine, it is called “Merlign” and it is a pun between Merlion and Merlign: to ‘merlion’ someone. The word itself is a hybrid, like the Merlion itself.
by Alvin Pang
Even though there are more
websites on you than verses;
Even though you evoke
cameras more than pride,
postcards more than praise;
even though your titan child
is now terrorising history and
small children on Sentosa
Still you seem to have a face poets love
to woo. There was the old gentleman,
windswept, seablown, wandering home
with a suitcase of dreams, who
treated you like a queen, hoping
to press you for secrets.
And then the lady with the thick glasses,
who thought she saw Ezekiel's cherubim,
the sign episteme of higher forces
forever barring the way to paradise.
And that young man, himself half lion,
with barbed tale raised, words coiled
like a fist. Eyes louder than silence.
Still others, perplexed
as much by your blank stare
as their maddening need to know,
burden you with the fret
of lost causes and years of waiting
Become now the need
to apostrophise what is rock
to make it bear weight.
How we wallow in metaphors!
As a child I walked through a garden
to gawk at you, a giant too tall
for a child's mind to wrap around.
Risking the simplest of pleasures:
a closer glance, a furtive stroke,
reaching for scale and contact;
And now, as a man, forever measuring shadows.
No need to go on with this pretence,
these riddles and voices. This is a heap
of fashioned stone, too light to carry souls.
Rough beast, you are neither idol nor ideal.
Your heart is hollow, cold, and open
for admission, but we have nowhere else
to hide our dreams. Take what names
we have to give, and hold our secrets well
Keep what matters and what counts
The rest you can spit as spray.