Desmond F. X. Kon ZC-MD

Contributor Biography

Desmond Francis Xavier Kon (Zhicheng-Mingdé) is the author of an epistolary novel, a quasi-memoir, two lyric essay monographs, four hybrid works, nine poetry collections, and a guided creative journal. The former journalist has edited over twenty-five titles. Trained in publishing at Stanford University, Desmond studied sociology and mass communication at the National University of Singapore, and later received his theology masters from Harvard University and creative writing masters from the University of Notre Dame. Recipient of grants from the National Arts Council and Singapore International Foundation, he has enjoyed literary appointments at the Notre Dame Poetry Fellowship, NAC Gardens by the Bay Writing Residency, and NTU-NAC Creative Writing Residency. Among other accolades, Desmond is the recipient of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, Independent Publisher Book Award, National Indie Excellence Book Award,

Poetry World Cup, Singapore Literature Prize, and three Living Now Book Awards. He helms Squircle Line Press, and can be found atdesmondkon.com

Postmeridian Dalí
After Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954

"No one can become and remain a theologian unless 

he is compelled again and again to be astonished at himself."

—Karl Barth

there are only 

so many hours a day

 

i’m starting 

to forget

 

days can be unhurried

and slow-moving

 

measured 

in the meter of minutiae

 

puncture the three quarters 

like wounds

 

two clean slits 

on upfaced palms

 

no gore or gushing blood 

no such stirring 

 

of history’s great tragedy

singular 

 

sacrifice

mirror of one afternoon

 

mirrored across time

and every space

 

conceivable

yours and mine in turn

 

at once

one with the world

After Chiaroscuro

"That poetry survived in its formal agencies finally, 

and that prose survived to get something said."

—Robert Creeley

This is about settling on an image.

 

Imagine the Imagists in the room, filled with their banter.

 

Every confession is an exposition, centred on a single thing.

 

Not what the thing is, but what it looks like, seems like.

 

The drama of tenebrism, that sharpness

of contrast and counterpoint, to make clearer such distinctions

—what’s sunlit, backlit, the hiddenness of shadow.

 

Look at the face of Christ, Christ at the Column.

Look at the face of Christ, The Crowning with Thorns.

Look at the face again, The Flagellation of Christ.

That look of sad knowing, willing sacrifice.

The priest looks on, then away

from the gathered gaze—which of them knows better?
 

What visual metaphor it can become.

 

That sort of power, says Robert Creeley.

 

And absence of power, says Lorine Niedecker.

 

What is power, after all, after all is said and done?

Look at Luke 23:34, the priest tells himself—

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

A flash of staged light; 

a kind of burnt-out, burnished complexion, in retrospect.

A simple figment, not one even of the imagination.

Look only for the holy light, the priest says.

That great flare—at once gleam, glint, glow and glimmer.

God, the immanence, the transcendence. 

For whom, the bare-skinned but love-filled spotlight, 

                                  thinning varnish on hardwood floor?

Fides Quaerens Intellectum

I.

I picked up a cube of rock, dislodged.

It stood on its own, at an angle against the evening light.

It cast a shadow perhaps, so slight a shade of grey.

 

Unmottled like its skin, 

surface like a thick rind sealed in. 

 

Because rock is rock, no unpeeling of things and circumstance.

 

Theology isn’t something loft-high or faraway

 

        —ungettable

 

Theology begets itself, in its own making and unmasking.

 

     “Theology is just faith seeking understanding.”

 

      My divinity professor said it, 

      just as St. Augustine said it.

Carved-out.

Clutch and clasp.

 

      Of sudden snatched-up phrase.

 

I know that now, fides quaerens intellectum, the way of thought.

 

And plumbed depth of every feeling, 

by way of only the Holy Spirit.

 

This and that, 

the way of reimagination of the old days, old ways.

 

This and that, 

St. Anselm of Canterbury unworried in exile, as faraway.

 

     As out of reach, like the logic of yesterday.

 

As remote, the problem of evil something no one wants to contemplate.

 

As undone, the agency of the Pontius Pilates of the day.

 

As monstrous the betrayal foretold; 

but how it was a pivot.

 

To lead to the Cross.

 

       That salvific moment, of history entire.

 

II.

 

That priest’s reminder—old sins cast long shadows, as idiom would have it. 

 

   That the longest way round is the shortest way home, 

   our enviable long way home.

 

   One idiom, followed by another.

 

       In contradistinction.

 

This and that—credo ut intelligam, as St. Anselm of Canterbury said it.

 

“I believe so that I may understand,” I know that now. 

 

         Today, then tomorrow. 

 

         Today and tomorrow

 

     Forevermore, 

     to the end of my ingathered, long-form days.

Tintinnabulation

"There is no competition of sounds between a nightingale and a violin.”

—Dejan Stojanovic

I say have a blessed Sunday
the hope is a recitation of confidence, as with liturgical chant.

Hwang In Kwon’s oboe is like a reed, 
the angel Gabriel standing alone, in an orchestral wind.

Every other instrument and sound wraps around the flutish.

And the responsorial emanates water, also blessed into holiness.

Everything is holy, some poet once wrote.

Holy, too, is this moment of needing definitions.

Holy, too, is looking up a word, like tintinnabulation.

Holy, too, is this practice of iteration, its own litany and rhythm.

Our eternal searching for definition, 

     as with so many other human acts, 
     each one a paraphrase or restatement 

 of something, beyond itself.

Tintinnabulation is a bit of onomatopoeia, 

                                   like the killdeer or poorwill.
Both birds whose common names reflect their call
                                              —and elicit, 
                                                                        in a way
                                              the memory of a memory—
                                              how I remember 
the loud clang of church bells, 
an invisible, anonymous celebrant behind it all.
 

Triptych: Iteration of Only Importance

"Thou art worthy, O Lord,

to receive glory and honour and power: 

for thou hast created all things,

and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

—Revelation 4:11

Reginald Heber hummed his new words. To what tune, he might have wondered? Just as we might wonder, before Nicaea took hold, gave language-form another incline and flection of form? John Bacchus Dykes must have read in the words what he read in the music, as if the music came from somewhere else other than himself. Paul Croft’s piano is simple, every note and musical phrase plainly played, open-and-shut, like the holy bible over morning hour. That motion, too, like this hymn, take me to church. 

 

Finally, I get to use words like glory and majesty and holy and praise, and allow them to mean what they mean—within my lyric, completely comprehensible. 

 

Unadorned, unburnished.

 

What is it like to stand in your father’s own parish, and look down on the pews you rested in as a child? What is the expressed church—and churching, your grandmother asks you—that you remember? The churching must have been both intimate and shared, your grandmother reminds you, a memory of her so long ago, your mind can barely offer a picture. An imago, for Lacan, is the ideal mother perhaps? The face of devotion, now a portrait within the mirror. A stage and station, and as grandmother hopes too, a state of grace. 

 

Mother Mary, as grandmother would have liked to say, as the family moves through each week of Advent. The imago as imagined, beyond the Latin notion of “image”, beyond the entomological insistence of a definition. Of the winged aphid, in its crowning stage, after its endmost ecdysis, that shedding of last skin. The masks come off, along with the veils and shawls and one’s whole raiment of threads and trappings.  

 

Nonesuch, as it were, because only an old word could stay close enough to such intended effect.

 

What is imago beyond ideation, beyond its own shape and appearance? 

 

  Of the reimagined imago?

 

The mother yellowjacket, overwintering—overwintered, with what tired, luminous face will it emerge, show its small, provisional world?

 

Holy, Holy, Holy. As now sung by Audrey Assad, her voice in a soft trill in the high notes, risen to the rafters. In the middle register, there is steady comfort. Blessed reassurance, as it were, as written by Fanny Crosby. 

Crosby was blind, her thin-rimmed glasses like onyx cabochons. Not vacant sockets, nothing frightening like that, of life emptied out. You know obsidian is black—how it names itself, christened for its unmistakable character—but who knew one could find black opal and black spinel? Schorl tourmaline is black night too, its striations barely there. So is your Tahitian pearl, which you will never sell, you say. It is the reminder of kingdom—in the here and now, what’s happily to come—that great price and, indeed, treasure. 

  

The first line of the hymn was Crosby’s sententious answer to her friend Phoebe Knapp’s question: “What do you think the tune says?” The tune, also simply made—in the sitting room, on a castaway piano—came before the words. 

 

What was India like on 3 April, 1826? You ask this, as if anyone could know of things that happened so long ago. Heber died that day, you say, somewhere in Tiruchirappalli, Madras. He was 42, the age of your father when he finally walked in his own shoes. When your father understood parental duty for what it was, less obligation than a real fealty. Not to child, no, not that; rather, a promise to God. Heber was already Bishop of Calcutta. Dykes was a man of the cloth too. He made it to vicar of St Oswald’s, a parish church in Durham. 

 

Dykes is still writing song, knowing the gift of music, beyond the gift of words. Heber is still writing lyric, knowing the gift of words formally chosen and invoked, then strung along, one phrasal turn after a verisimilar other. 

 

Beyond their own natural, effortless, internal 

 

         heard song. 



 

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy       Holy Holy Holy

Ow Yeong Wai Kit

Contributor Biography

Ow Yeong Wai Kit is an educator and writer who has edited poetry anthologies such as From Walden to Woodlands (2015) and Love at the Gallery (2017). He holds a master’s degree in English Literature from University College London. His writings have been featured in QLRSInterreligious Insight, and elsewhere. In 2019, he was a recipient of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award by the Ministry of Education.

Stigmata: A Triptych

—After Lupa Sa Aming Altar (Land in Our Altar) (1987-1988)

    by Imelda Cajipe Endaya

I.

In the beginning were hands. Lean, coarse, sinewy,

fissured hands outstretched to offer blessings of hope

to the land, watered by prayers for gentle harvests

issuing from mud and stone. Palms with callouses 

that recall the discipline of a saviour, whose might

outstrips even the power stirring the shoots to cling

on despite the drought. Arms raised in benediction

before reaching for the earth, consecrating it

with rich seed, while wielding sickles poised to

hallow the unyielding ground. Bent over in fervent

genuflection, these able farm hands etch humble

devotions upon the landscape. But they bleed.

​II.

And it comes to pass. The old paddy fields resume

abstinence and fasting. Nature’s endurance still

extends, curving like gnarled limbs, grasping onto

knotted stumps. Mangled like the hands of the army

that renders unto Caesar that which is God’s, that

comes every season but never hears the rasping 

hymns the mother sings every day while weaving

bamboo mats and gossamer doilies by hand. Nor

can they notice the faint glint from the diaphanous 

wisp of hair on her daughter’s brow; her eyes soothed

by soft orisons whispered beneath the halo 

of a fragmented sun, crimson like pierced hands.

​III.

For salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. 

To be tested with Job’s afflictions as the storm approaches;

answered prayers spilling over as troops of rain mount

fresh attacks on sodden soil, rattling the tawny huts 

with thrusting downpours hastening to form cascading 

rivulets, mingling with blood and tears. This tempest

sows doubt in the fields. Yet it cannot drown the stubble

of young shoots. Peering out of the darkness, 

the mother waits; undaunted, she watches like a 

guerrilla warrior. Hers is a subtle strength, aching

to grow like bamboo, ready to bestow with cupped 

palms the sanctuary of a rough-hewn heaven.

Author's Note:

This poem was inspired by the painting Lupa Sa Aming Altar (Land in Our Altar) by the Filipino artist Imelda Cajipe Endaya (b. 1949). Currently displayed at the National Gallery Singapore, the artwork depicts several female figures in a Filipino village, incorporating materials like bamboo, fabric, and lace, which are commonly found in rural settings in the Philippines. Like the artwork, this poem honours rural Filipino women by depicting their strength and faith in the face of natural disasters, political injustice, militarisation, and violence.

This poem first appeared in Love and Life at the Gallery, co-edited with Genevieve Wong (Singapore: Poetry Festival Singapore, 2020).