Theophilus Kwek

Contributor Biography

Theophilus Kwek is a writer, translator, editor and independent researcher based in Singapore. He has published four full-length collections of poetry, They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), Giving Ground (2016) and Moving House (2020). Both Circle Line and Giving Ground were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His pamphlet, The First Five Storms (2017), was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Award and won the inaugural New Poets’ Prize. His poems, essays, reviews and translations have appeared in The Guardian, The Straits Times, The Irish Examiner, Times Literary Supplement, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Mekong Review, Hong Kong Review of Books, and elsewhere. Today, he is Poetry Editor of the Asian Books Blog, and a member of the editorial team behind PR&TA.   

Seniors’ Activity Corner

Christmas Eve, Singapore

 

Late-night TV mimes on-screen, while rain

pools unnoticed in the lumpy grass. I’m

out again, sleepless, when I see them

on a long thin bench holding court, minding  

 

their own business. Nothing’s changed, says

Melchior, slapping the stone table

so as to get the last word, though Caspar

isn’t letting him have it. Naw, it’s always

 

the same with you, gloomy git! (And

here Balthazar chimes in,) world hasn’t

quite ended yet, has it? Round and round

they go, these three—kings of all there is—

 

as doors shut, the children climb to their beds,

and further yet, a lone star rises, sets.

Psalm for a Pandemic

Left to themselves, the shapes of all green things

begin to describe their own flourishing.

 

A field rouses itself into a mist,

a shimmer of birds among its tallest

 

grasses. From bridges, the bougainvillea

let their long hair down. Kerbside, the verges

 

surge without remorse. Even the trees

are no longer wood but water—like the sea

 

unshored they spill out over the pavement,

catch our feet in their slow accoutrements.

 

Iron gives way to ivy. Where are the

hard words now, of our roadsigns and hazards?

 

As hair gone uncut, the whole earth thickens.

We can be kind too, if they let us.

Author's Note:

"Seniors’ Activity Corner" was first published in Christmas Spirit: Ten Poems to Warm the Heart (Candlestick Press, 2019).

"Psalm for a Pandemic" was first published in Write Where We Are Now (Manchester Metropolitan University, 6 June 2020).

Leslie Williams

Contributor Biography

Leslie Williams is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Even the Dark, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition. Her poems have appeared in Image, Poetry, The Christian Century, America, and elsewhere. She lives near Boston.

Shown Here in Clay

—after John the Baptist, sculpture by Thomas Marsh

Exquisite humble supplicant

asking (arms to sky)

do everything in joy and sadness 

have a beginner’s mind

 

start by making the way 

straight for someone else

accept decreasing 

and taste of locust-beans 

 

good drops of honey

listen these lustrations 

need no repeating but once 

and for all the cleansing 

 

that would have been pure fire 

in other rivers the face so humanly 

naked the offered throat 

to answer his own question

 

come to a bank of clay

with tax collectors women

out of wilderness and through it 

burned baptismal in the river

Wayside

Purple, pink, blue—all on the same hydrangea.

It’s no mystery, how varieties of soil 

will change the bloom. I was like that: rooted, 

gleaning, susceptible to slight changes in pH.

 

These are the colors of my belief. 

See, at three a.m. the thermometer 

flashed 104 104 then crashed to the floor, 

slapped away by a mighty blow. 

 

My hands shook as I brought them close 

to his forehead again. And then the most 

beautiful digits appeared—98.6

Weeks later it was my turn, lying in 

a CT tube with only half my vision, 

trying to push my mind out of prepared 

prayer grooves (help me, help me, lord) to see 

what lay on either side of the deep narrow 

 

track—but I wouldn’t be let go, nudged back 

and back as if by a great beast of the field, 

restraining all his power to stay beside 

me, eyes trained on the surrounding plain.

Hellebores

"But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer."

—Mark 14:61

Something before the high priest ripens

opens 

 

the pomegranate hour 

spilling hundreds of punchy globes

seeded winter (take, eat) he asked them

not to fall asleep

 

a bitten snow the surface broken 

by injurious Lenten roses

 

landscape he would know

the pit to plow the sorrow into

 

a faultless

hushing there—

Our Work is Done When God Arrives

—after John the Baptist, sculpture by Thomas Marsh

Lord I’ve taken off my leather

raise my clay arms 

until now my life 

increasing wild with honey 

and the rock the water 

rushes I know him my heart 

burns within I bless

my throat open 

the dove comes down

moves me aside 

I stand in the light 

so you can carve me