Poem on the street for lost city souls

A piece of street art that I randomly chanced upon when I walked past a construction site. The beautiful words, “For we relish in fire” first caught my eyes before I savored the whole paragraph in its whole and found it thought provoking in its location and context.

Having lived my entire life in the ever-changing landscape of a modern, cosmopolitan city, where new buildings and icons pop up every few years and people come and go every few years, can be absolutely crazy. The sense of fleetingness in this sort of lifestyle can at times make be comforting, knowing that you will not have to meet THAT person ever again, but at other times make you feel lost and out of sorts.

This paragraph is just one stanza from a poem titled, “Bird With One Wing” by Singaporean poet Goh Poh Seng and the whole piece is found below:


The black winds of evening
rustle along the quayside,
tongueing the bones of the houses,
lapping the leas upon the hills
until whole hills are lost
to the darkness,
and we can claim at last
some kinship with the stars,

Who scrawl their age-old script
a million light-years away,
ignored by a faithless world:
the power of man increases
with the decline of the times;
under the lamp-light,
dust from a hundred nuclear
fallouts shower the air.

For we relish only fire;
our souls,
not knowing what to believe,
continue to hunger,
planning factories and governments
to reach into our bones:
everywhere the gendarmes patrol us,
armed with walkie-talkies and truncheon sticks.

Now darkness is upon the world,
and all things are possible;
other echoes inhabit the present,
borne upon the waters of the past,
those silver-filled seas of antiquity;
we become involved with shadows,
congruent with nameless dreams,
with the moment’s pure movement.

Sense and place dissolve,
present, past and future
run into new shapes
like driven clouds
in squalls across the mind:
we can no longer grasp
verities, nor know
the lie of the land.

And possessions do not suffice,
nor the company of friends,
nor yesterday’s love:
they are as a floating cloud
and will become nothing
undone by the faint moonlight,
the reek of magnolia and wine,
drunk with the world’s revolving.

I am the bird with one wing,
never knowing when to return
from the night
shaped with malevolence,
catching the paranoia of the times
when tribes and nations
contend for their vaults
filled with skeletons.

The human heart hoards many stones,
spurn the due seasons,
the simple truths
within our grasp;
our heads over-stuffed
with useless knowledge
only empirically derived,
denervated by the wrong riches.

What can comfort these old bones?
Shall I plunge into the unknown,
abandon thought,
the burden of money,
the choice of staying aloof from life,
and be like Gauguin at Punaauia,
prosperous stockbroker
turned penurious painter?

Far better to go dancing after
the damsels with the gazelle eyes,
frolic with wahines on the beach,
be light of heart.
If I can return to my own people,
do nothing more serious than sing,
perhaps I may live up to my new name,
Te Manu Tini.

The fleeting world is but a stream,
so let the heart shed its care;
blood and sinews untied
will ride over the rocks in gay cascades;
let us surrender youth and grief
to time, that sacred river;
the passing years will slip away
and flesh returns to ashes and to earth.

June 1980


3 thoughts on “Poem on the street for lost city souls

  1. One of my dad’s best poems…thank you for posting this! Where did you see this? (I’m guessing somewhere in S’pore?)

    All the best – Goh Kajin

    1. Hello Kajin, I saw this in somewhere in the central part of Singapore and thought it was a beautiful verse juxtaposed at the most impossible of places – a construction site.

      In any case, this poem is also a favorite of mine giving an ethereal sense of the world created through your dad’s poetic imagination. It’s amazing (:

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