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POETRY

Paul Jerusalem

River Children

Tagalog means river dwellers.
I cannot speak my father’s mother
tongue. My mother picked it up 
when her family moved to Manila.

Manila means there are flowers
on the mangroves that linger
along the swamp, waiting to erupt
into flat cement planks that will crack

as all who age must. When we moved 
back to Singapore I found it weird
that the sun set so late. At six 
it would have been pitch dark 

in Pasig. We lived near the river,
where I once fished out a child
who was done wailing. In Tampines,
we lived in neat but gaudy blocks

covered in pastel shapes that, on hindsight,
spoke of a toddler’s unwise decision to 
bestow the walls with his talent
which I wish they didn’t 

peel off and leave reeking
of fresh paint every five years
along with new angsana trees
that spring up on what were 

concrete grass patches.
I have a picture with my mother
at Marina City Park before 
it was closed off and became

Gardens by the Bay. Marina Reservoir
was conceived by pouring sand into
the depths of the delta, shaving
the mangroves off the river mouth

into the shape of the female
reproductive system for good luck. 
When we visited my father’s hometown
one Christmas, he brought me 

to the cemetery. Pointing 
to an empty patch filled with
dried angsana seeds,

Bury me here when I die, 
underneath the narra tree.

When I die, I want my ashes 
swept carelessly
like eraser rubbings

by a child looking over
his shoulder.

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