Lately, I have had the luxury of having time to write. I have not written as much as I could have done these three weeks (one can never write or read enough) but it is a peculiarly destructive (mentally speaking) and draining process at times to extract one’s memories and commit them to a document on your screen. Most afternoons my thoughts remain clunky paragraphs with ill-formed sentences, or simply make themselves scarce the moment I begin typing. Very occasionally do words spill out so quickly my fingers can barely keep up, and afterwards I am found wailing at friends online about how overwhelming one’s own childhood traumas can be. It is a slow and cathartic struggle.
Reading for pleasure, which for the past four years took a back seat to learning Japanese and churning out undergraduate essays, has also been on the agenda this month. One of the books I’ve been dipping into is Choice Cuts, an anthology of food writing in which I found a delightful love poem by Haitian poet Émile Roumer consisting entirely of culinary metaphors. You can read it in its entirety here, though this translation uses ‘bum’ rather than the more – to my mind – charming and old-fashioned ‘bottom’ which appears in the anthology. In any case, I wondered upon reading: what would a Malaysian culinary love poem sound like?
I wrote this today as a comedic respite of sorts after yesterday’s brief brainstorming session with Joe, who when we chat always ends up talking about all the Malaysian food he wants to eat. It is mainly metaphor and hardly Serious Writing, but I hope you enjoy it. Here it is, with thanks to Joe for the second line:
A Malaysian Declares Her Love (with apologies to Émile Roumer)
O lady of the popiah stall, with hoisin-stained hands –
you are the kaya to my toast, the char siu to my pau,
the cockles in my char kuey teow.
Your skin is sesame-speckled, smoother
than chee cheong fun. You are the gula melaka in my kuih,
the Carnation in my kopi, the slippery cendol sliding
down my throat. My love for you is deep-fried.
I will flood your banana leaf with curry, peel
your mantou-soft lips apart to find
kisses like sambal. We belong together
like chicken and rice. I fold beneath you as
shredded turnips in the paper-thin pancake of my love.