in the garden two children
set fire to their sparklers
and it wasn’t a festival.
the little boy drew a coloured circle
showing the amah in the dark
perched on a little stool
and she was here a long time ago.
jubilant, the little girl’s brand
trailed over a bush
with a shatter of light
as they walked to the house:
“you’re a big boy now, too heavy to carry.”
she stooped over the puny child, barely five,
lifting him from under the arms
and trotted, fat with the neglected girl
clinging to her samfoo.
her smile was like that, thirty years back,
of a slim woman vacant over a dead child;
while fully each gently by the ear
to their bedtime, she has forgotten
that a few more years would make her
think of the night with little stars
as she grows punitive over two children
not weary from sums and rounders
scattering her thoughts freely as they come.
in the garden two children
† 19.06.2006, Singapore
Arthur Yap Chioh Hiong was a Singaporean poet, writer and painter. Born in Singapore in 1943, Yap was the sixth child of a carpenter and a housewife. Yap attended St Andrew's School and the University of Singapore, after which he won a British Council scholarship to study at the University of Leeds in England. At Leeds Arthur earned a master's degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching, later obtaining his PhD from the National University of Singapore in the years after he returned from Leeds. He stayed on in the University's Department of English Language and Literature as a lecturer between the years 1979 and 1998. Between 1992 and 1996, Yap served as a mentor with the Creative Arts Programme run by the Ministry of Education to help inspire students and nurture young writers at local secondary schools and junior colleges. Yap was then diagnosed with lung cancer, and received radiotherapy treatment.
His first collection of poems Only Lines was published in 1971, when he was 28. It had a first print run of 2,000 to 3,000 copies. Its whimsical, wordplay-based humour captured the hearts of poetry lovers, and it won the first poetry award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1976. Yap's third collection, Down The Line (1980) was nationally acclaimed and won Yap his second Book Council Award. In 1983, Yap was honored with Singapore's Cultural Medallion for Literature and the South-East Asian Write Award in Bangkok. Yap described this as one of the high points in his literary career. Translations of his books were published in many Asian countries, mainly in the Japanese, Mandarin and Malay languages. In 1988, Yap won his third Book Council Award for Man Snake Apple & Other Poems (1986).
After a two-and-half year battle with throat cancer, Yap died in his sleep at home on 19 June 2006. He was 63.
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