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Friday, June 5, 2009

1959 + Fifty

1959 + Fifty

Poet Edwin Thumboo, 75, grew up with the nation and, inevitably, his themes have been nationalistic. He penned this poem exclusively for The Straits Times.


Our City that

They half-returned, Raffles founded with precision.

He commandeered slick arrangements to oversee his

Island's cross-straits growth, firmly staving off spicy

Interlopers, then tapped migrant energies to build.

Let's credit the old colonial foresight, grip, tenacity.

They made a notable place, a link in their global grid.

No lonely outpost this. In truth, a posh equator-haven

That never questioned fun so long its form was pakka.

Scan old maps, prints, club traditions, pleasance,

For pulsating tropic therapy. List names now slightly

Tanned: Mt Sophia, Mt Faber, Mt Echo. Little, high

Exclusive places to catch airy melur and cempaka

Undulations, while below, variously, were daily lives

Of sweaty heave-and-ho of multi-racial labourings.

They branded Imperial Comfort, kept up ritual till

Worn down, without remit, by a great Depression,

WW2, to a limping victory. Then Batang Kali, Hidup

Negara, and Merdeka, began to stalk the aging itsy-

Bitsy Lion shedding her colonies, reluctantly turning



This our City-State,

Rose above withdrawal-symptoms creeping home from

East of Suez, black-white bungalows, Nee Soon bars.

We make again, but now according to our leaders who

Muster and assess; chew, cogitate; rotate dreams, inspect

Possibilities including base conversion; calculate the way

Ahead; split racist infinitives; re-dress, re-vive decaying

Precincts; re-place Old Lobb and farm; learn to re-learn;

Keep tradition, yet change, move, do. Lick trade unions

Into shape. Lance the Barisan boil, as ten million sing

Malaysia forever, a brief sojourn, a painful parting for

This our island in the sun.

Assemble KPIs:

Labour, Capital, Government; Meritocracy, Equality;

Integrity, Commitment, Skills Development Fund;

And more, to mix and match into a Pledge, a Unity.

Singapore agak agak sudah jadi

Walk down the years between ever taller buildings, cross

Cleaner streets following a small green man who never tires.

Past Copthorne, to that notorious bend which slows our river.

No sulfide air. There are fish. Then backtrack past bridges

Whose names sound our history. See the Merlion, Durian,

Floating Platform, and emerging Double Helix bridge:

Art and design enhance function as in the newer HDBs.

Stroll Marina Barrage. Stop. Hear the waters on either side:

One composed, one rough, two signifiers for our boundaries.

Guard one; watch the other, so sanctify life within our skyline,

As twilight starts to hum, stretch its limbs, as colours move.

This new lake will gradually re-fresh, sweeten, fill sails, sms,

Accost the rising sun, pleasure lovers who hug its shores then

See the evening set in a pair of eyes, gently foreclosing.

Soon moonlight will start to heap.

Guardian hours that pass will come again,

As I remember what fifty years of vision

Un-did and did,

As what was and is, and may have been,

I place in the fifty years to come.

May 2009


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