Anne Lee Tzu Pheng

Contributor Biography

Anne Lee Tzu Pheng has eight personal collections of poetry and won numerous awards including the Singapore Cultural Medallion, the S.E.A. WRITE Award, the Gabriela Mistral Award (Chile), the Montblanc-CFA Literary Award, and the Singapore National Book Development Council Award (Poetry) three times. Known for her understated humour, she is studied internationally, and has mentored many young writers. Lee trains lectors in the liturgical ministry, and is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. 

GOD

God is our rejected lover, whose presence we ignore,
whose visits we overlook, whose gifts we squander,
whose promises we fail to cherish;

 

GOD is our garbage collector, on whom we dump
our failings, our stupidities, our weaknesses, 
our wickedness, all the dross of our lives;

 

GOD is our slave, whom we order to do the impossible, 
call on day and night, reward with lip service, 
vent our bad temper on; whose name we reverse in our 
vocabulary to DOG;

 

GOD is only apparent, the Father whose word 
we largely disobey, whom we nag for favours, whom we
assume will tolerate our repeated delinquencies; whose
works we desecrate; but from whom we expect 
to inherit everything;

 

GOD feeds our greed, our wastefulness, our perverse
behaviours, our destructiveness, our childishness.

 

Is it any wonder that we are what we are because of Him?

THE MENDER WONDERS

The mender of holy figurines,
practising the virtue of recycling,
has a workshop with a sign that reads: FOR FREE
BRING YOUR BROKEN AND YOUR LAME TO ME:

 

Our Lady of Fatima looking very down
because some hack used Blue Tac 
to stick back her crown.

Saint Anthony missing the Divine Child
who fell from his arm into great harm;
no wonder the saint looks lost and wild.

The resplendent Holy Infant of Prague—  
Alas, less than grand without his hands!
Blessing withheld, the world is dark.

Our Lady of Lourdes looks sick and pale,
bleached by the sun her paint is faint;
a transfusion of colour may help her heal.

Jesus stands with scotch-taped head,
a sight so sorry is far from his glory:
again he needs to rise from the dead.

Saint Francis’ birds have flown away….
Not even his sermon could make them stay!
And poor Brother Wolf, minus his paw 
may be hunted again in Gubbio 
since his gesture of friendship is no more.

Funny things, humans; the mender wonders—   
watching in the theatre of war each day, 
in the flesh and bone, blood, bodies and minds
broken, battered, hacked, torn and discarded—   
do they see their Lady crownless, Jesus headless, 
holy infants legless and armless, bird and beast
shocked into hiding and mourning?

The Mender wonders.

MAN FROM GETHSEMANI

(Thomas Merton 19151968)

God knows, he could be trusted
with words, since he
had vowed the better part of life
to silence.
Was this why he heard,
in his quiet
contemplation of the Word,
flocks of them released
to beat upon the windows
of his hermitage
with uncanny messages?

 

Their deliverance was his also.

 

ii

 

Having accepted the habit
of submission,
he took his orders seriously.
He gave in
as demanded, 
confessing a true poverty:
he had but half
himself to give.

 

The other he shared with
the waiting multitude,
praying as he was taught:
we do not live by bread,
alone.

iii

 

‘Each one shall sit at table
with his own cup and spoon,
and with his own repentance.’
In the antechamber to heaven
a communion of beggars,
sup together.

 

Sufficient unto each one
is the blessing thereof.

 

And he, having tasted
his own salt tears,
sips a new meaning from the line
‘my cup runneth over’.

Author's Note:

"GOD" was first published in Catching Connections (Landmark Books, 2012).

"MAN FROM GETHSEMANI" was first published in The Brink Of An Amen (Times Books International, 1991), and subsequently republished in Soul’s Festival 

(Landmark Books, 2014).

Anna Onni

Contributor Biography

Anna Onni’s life goals include becoming a work-from-home educator, making her room "aesthetic-enough" for weekends in virtual lockdown, and learning how to dance. She illustrates for the Singapore War Crimes Trials Project. Her commissioned book for the SEA Queer Cultural Festival 2021, The Book of Sainted Aunts: The Illustrated Portraits of Mildly Martyred Sinners-Turned-Saints Since Queerdom Come, was distributed for free by the organisers in the SEA region. Instagram: @annaonni  

stable relationship

the moment i first disbelieved was when 
my mother hung up a nativity scene tablecloth 
instead of putting presents under a plastic tree


the secular means more than the sacred
because jesus the jewish man 
is not blond
is not blue-eyed 
is not a baby diaper commercial model
and what i really wanted was a god who could
tell his followers with less equivocation:

’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh
OR: I am who I am / I am what I am / I will be what I will be / I will become what I choose to become / you will give up knowing who I am because I am unknowable

 

but in a millennia long game of broken telephone
they told me god was born in a stable
where the cattle were lowing 
(and child me thought this meant that they were the first to lower themselves to the ground in supplication to the creator of heaven and earth and all that is betwixt and between—and adult me realised it meant they were making a whole lot of animal noises)
and in this version of the story a minor villain is the capitalist 
inn keeper who had no more room for poor pregnant visitors
who dared to keep sacred guests with the stinky animals


but if
{κατάλυμα} = {caravansary: inn or guest house}∪{private room: the upper room}

 

for google tells me so
then mary and joseph would have stayed
in the homes of their equally humble relatives
and with everyone scattered for the census 
the upper room was filled but the family home
would be open 
would be hospitable
would be a hospital of women—aunts, cousins, sisters
to the baby who was, who is, and is now coming
birthed into the arms of competent midwives
instead of leaving a teenager and her calefare husband
to cut the umbilical cord that created the creator of the universe


they told me god was conceived of a virgin birth
in a time of persecution from a despotic king 
(but this king himself was a king who served another—

collaborator/co-conspirator/colonised/captive to the roman rulers so do unto others

what god had permitted others to do unto you)


all this i can no longer claim to know because
now the church is an empire
not an oppressed cult hiding in upper rooms
not a welcome to the lost and weary
and what i want is a stable relationship
with a god who shows some basic consistency
about who is and who was and who is to come

Author's Note:

I guess I’m feeling stuck in place on this island right now—and also strangely blessed when it comes to church-hopping via livestreams and recordings during this pandemic. I am particularly fond of forsaking a sermon in favour of videos of cats in Anglican churches in England, where I first felt really able to comfortably sit in a church. Trying to get that feeling back here has led me into about five years of being a wandering stranger to Singaporean churches (and a decade of feeling out of place in a conservative Christian culture that is highly suspicious of liberal views, debate, activism and—gasp, the rabbit hole of philosophy). The first time I truly believed that everyone has their own connection with the divine was writing a university assignment when I was nineteen about willing crucifixions in the Philippines. I’m still trying to find the evidence for this belief.