Boey Kim Cheng (born 1965) emigrated from Singapore in 1997 and is now an Australian citizen living in Berowra, a suburb north of Sydney – teaching Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. He received the NAC’s Young Artist Award in 1996 and is regarded as one of the best poetic voices to have emerged from the post-independence republic. His four poetry collections — three of which have won national awards — address his own disquiet about Singapore’s rapid change, and the sense of displacement and dislocation that have arisen from that. He has published five collections of poetry - _Somewhere-Bound_ (1989), _Another Place_ (1992), _Days of No Name_ (1996), _After the Fire_ (2006), _Clear Brightness_ (2012) - and a travel memoir entitled _Between Stations_ (2009).
Intro: So this is another Change Alley poem. Again, you know, it’s an effort to sound out what that place means to me, in memory, and it’s also the passing of time and looking back at the place differently. And in the sense this poem looks back at that Change Alley poem that I read earlier and perhaps tries to make some connections there.
Ahead My Father Moves
by Boey Kim Cheng
Ahead my father moves, his limp gait
cantered to the left, an iambic beat I trail
after, urging him on, tagged to his shadow’s wake,
willing his legs on so that this city stays alive, keeps
us alive, so its streets and arcades will not disappear.
Through Cecil Street he walks, his pace
pained but unflagging, and a whole precinct
rises from ash, the five-foot-way stirring to life,
the bilingual shop-signs unspooling as if lit
by my dad’s passage, their auspicious Chinese
names scrolled in red or gold, the medical hall
with jars of herbal cures, the goldsmith with its armed
guard, the dried goods store retailing salted fish,
the chettiars auditing their ledgers, all restored,
alive with the old-world chat of customer and proprietor.
Past Malacca Street to Raffles Place we walk,
a film reel I keep running; as long as I keep
it going, keep my father moving, he will be safe.
I know the moment when he will fish out
his Swallow matches and Consulate pack
and pause to light the cigarette that will keep
him going but also kill him, and I passive-smoke
the smell of memory and place, the Arcade and Robinsons
resurrected from the giddy smoke, each puff
a genie’s breath materialising the civic heart
of the city. It is 1970 and we have not lost
each other or the city; we drift along the length
of the Alley, the stalls signalling us on, the souvenir
shops, the sundry goods, the moneychangers
egging us on, giving us back the lost years.
We walk past the loan sharks, past his bankruptcy, past
the accident and the limp, past the clot in the brain,
and past the mistakes, to his prime, and he is carrying
me on his shoulders, as I will my son a life
and death ahead, and I am above the bazaar,
an eyrie from above his brilliantined hair.
I ride him like a camel through the bustling souk,
catching whiffs of worlds out there, prodding
my father on with my silent pleas, the two
of us travelling above the currents of time.
Then I am carrying him, as I will carry the full-pack
and mines in the army, as I will carry his absence
around the world. He urges me on with gentle
kicks, a tired rider who knows we must not stop
or the desert will close in, and night
will take him from his son. He walks me
to the end of the Alley, past the place
where my poetry has come from, past
the end to the beginning, the beginning
to end, then back again, to the close of time.