Ahead my father moves


Singapore Memory
Boey, Kim Cheng

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.