Breaking Lines From MalaysiaWung Phui Nam: A Fascinating English Poet [Archives:2004/728/Education]

April 12 2004

Introduced by Dr. Murari Prasad
Sana'a University

Wong Phui Nam is a first generation Malaysian poet in the English language. Most of his poems written in the 1960's appeared in Bunga Emas, an anthology of Malaysian writing published in the UK in 1964. He has since published several volumes of poetry, the latest, Against the wilderness , in 2001.
Phui Nam's poems have been anthologised in Seven Poets, The Second Tongue, the Flowering Tree, Young Commonwealth Poets '65, Traveller's Literary Companion: S outh East Asia, Westerly Looks to Asia and Petals of Hibiscus: A Representative Anthology of Malaysian Literature in English.
His works have also appeared in literary journals, such as Tumasek, Westerly, Manoa and World Literature Written in English.

A Poet Beyond the Far South
For Mohammad Abdul Quayum

'I am now proceeding to my place of exile in a barbarian country
in my old age. There is no hope of my returning alive.'

i Huizhou
Day cools quickly here into driving cataracts of rain
that roars in on a swelling tide of incoming night,
dousing the last incandescence of the Huizhou hills.
Over our fields, the makeshift barns and shelters
for our feeble lives, it builds into high collapsing walls
of crushing waves – the wrack of cane and banyan
blows in as a fiend's disturbance of the air outside.
The world has contracted in here into the fitful radiance
of my single candle sputtering on the odour of wood rot
and the smoke of incense snaking into damp bedclothes.
I fail into its small flame's eye in closing oblivion –
till morning probes me with its icy knives of fire
into the rowdy wakefulness of crickets and field frogs
and spirit touching faintly the shattered wind chimes.

ii The Crossing
The sea comes in sullen and black, brimming over
in a rising flood from the far end of the sky
as I make my fearful crossing into a dawn
still-birthed in faint smears of its own spilt light.
Through a lightless noon, I drift into a distressed quiescence,
wary of pain's ambush in a flaring up of dream,
of memory that now I carry as banked down fires
beyond this wilderness of waters across the world's edge.
Nothing that I was will catch new life: the high
exhilaration that was spirit lost to itself, brooding
on the commonweal all night, making bright day
in the chancellery of subdued candles till the dawn levee.
Now a spill of lights out of the darkness grows across the water
into jostling lanterns – the bearers claim us for their night.

iii – Chaoyun
After bouts daylong of massive rains, the earth
opens its clogged recesses to night in fumes
of midges and winged termites which, subsiding,
leave the garden a moonless quietude,
an other-darkness haunted by the unearthly scent
of jasmine. Your presence, fugitive in the vanished
grass and trees, secretes itself into waking dream
misting over into the visible as blessed spirit – or ghost.
I see you now luminescent as fallen snow
under our remembered northern moon, white
from dead winter, but delicate still as jade,
and your lips that should be brighter than berries in the sun.
The closing earth reclaims you even as I speak,
leaves in the after-vacancy a spectral fragrance, a scent.

iv – Happiness
In the heat of the morning's light that burns
through crevices of my hovel crumbling into earth
by a baking summer field, I wake from the past
to present ruin. All of the living signs I set down
to catch my wine-lit and other passing ecstasies
have bled into the grain of rain-touched pages
that I saved; seeped into fibres of fused reams
to join enclosed Du Fu and others in an ink cloud
of common oblivion. Mould fattens where thoughts were,
that roused the vipers in contentious men at court.
Yet, as from embers of the stove I fan to brew weak tea
for neighbours calling, I catch from the debris, a flame
of happiness rising as we talk into a late noon rain.
By the evening bamboo weeping after-rain, it burns bright still.

v – Days into Dream
Where summer never ends, the sky that you would gaze at
blinds with the veiled expiring sun bursting into a blaze
of mauves, pinks and reds against impending total night.
Vanished day-brightness of men hot in chase through fern
and vine for boar; of snowfall of egrets across the marsh;
and, out of broad noon, word of Chang and Zhou's fall from grace –
friends from the yamen from my first days in this wilderness –
these stay luminous awhile. For day fades days into dream.
I smell the spring in dream imperial gardens
where high terraces look down on vague banks of flowers
floating in muted splendour in light pools of mist.
In the high brocaded hall where we crook our knees,
I dream before that presence as great lords and ministers
plead – their words break down into twitter of birds at dawn.

vi – So Long in this Wilderness
So long in this wilderness, I am now wholly
constituted of its earth, its habitable air,
and its waters raised by an unabated, tropic sun.
My spirit has taken on the colour of its days,
content it is not consumed in the hungers
of unsatisfied flesh, diminished in pain or its sickness.
No ruffians here break in to roust me from my hovel
of small dreams, or cut me down into the mud
where crows and egrets cry across a daylight marsh.
At the time of year when hamlets rot in the air
pregnant with impending early rains, or when dry winds
crash like an incoming sea over ripening fields,
I track with the folk through fields, where familiars snag our feet,
bearing meat and wine for the far temple, its listening shrine.