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Love Letters
Feature by: Tiffany Limsico

Letter to Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook
From Cyril Wong

Dear Araya, I sing to the dead too;
my past self, ex-loves, the truly departed

to whom I offer this poem
like a song, acknowledging
my past in not as pure, perhaps,

a manner as how you smile
and nod, clear-eyed, at those bodies

draped lovingly in floral cloths, sudden
stars of milky frangipani and
some flies

inside their clear aquariums,
angled like sharp, undeniable facts
across the bare floor

of a brilliantly white room.

Once I was an optimist, Araya.
I could tell you about how a plane

sliced across the window-framed sky and
came so close it slowed to a languorous

arc over our flat. I was seven.
How I longed for each new day to behold

again that rush and triumphant roar,
ranging from that first, anticipatory

silence to that barely containable
crescendo, even as most days then

tarried at the initial end of that continuum -
nothingness happening over and over.

This was before my father stopped talking
to me, Araya, before I realised that love

meant I would always be the one
giving more. And I learnt how disappointment
too could swell to something as deafening
as a plane outside my window, that blizzard

of sound rocking the insides of my ears
and chest so hard and often that how

could I not help but begin to love that too.

I dream about my boy-self, Araya.
I watch him lay on the floor in my sleep,
lost in a book held up by his hand,
or simply staring at the window
like a cinema screen,

wondering if he is watching the same
old film of sky and clouds
replaying itself, as he was absent
at the movie's beginning. Or whether
the same scene is being played

backwards. Having seen this so
many times, he can close his eyes
and the images would occupy all
of inside him: start, middle or end,
backwards or forwards.

I have tried to say goodbye to my father
too many times, Araya. He might as well

be dead, the years I have spent
mourning his absence. He is watching

the news again, Araya. If I had been
born a girl and my sister a boy

it would have made more sense, as
then he would have no problem

loving us, Araya. Look at how
similar we are, observing our dead -

my father expired on the couch,
your bodies in their glass tanks.

Is it not true that a body without life
is like an empty page upon which

we may compose our own stories?
If I could sing I would too, Araya.

I would sing bittersweet love songs
from a throat already raw from rage

and crying to his sealed eyes
and mouth, not fearing if he would

awaken to scorn my womanly voice.
But for this, I would require him

to be really dead, Araya, as only then
could I truly begin to forgive him.

My grandmother is inside me, Araya.
I don't need to gaze upon her dead body

to remember her love, although
the sight again of ah-ma's split, bald

spot when they dug out the tumour
would re-invite that overriding sense

of horror and grief. In the stillness
of this early morning, I have entered

my grandma's deafness, and the very
nature of the love that must have

possessed her, when she saw me
staring at soundless images on television

in the living room, framed perfectly
by such a hush the same way

an empty room holds up your voice,
Araya, upon its open palm of silence,

or the way I love her now.

And then there are other losses.

Bad poems I did not try to save.
The same with certain friendships.
Long moments of lovemaking with those who would leave as my love would prove too demanding; such nights when a hand on my body would shift the contours of a heart's topography.

Rare few minutes after waking when I had no ideology, no name or any shadow of desire.
Old books I sold off or gave away believing I would never want them back.
That evening I came back after my first kiss, believing I would always remain this lucky, this impossibly light.

What I cannot return to or retrieve, I tell myself, mock me from behind time's two-way mirror.
You tell me otherwise, Araya.
You tell me death is nothing abstract.
You tell me, Smell the air, study the flies veiling their eyes, their shrunken lips colouring to a bruise.
You tell me we only remember what we want to, instead of what we should.
You tell me you agree - it is not enough that the dead thrive within us.
You tell me there is nobody alive who is not recovering from loss.
You tell me to sing into the face of the dead is to give loss back its home within our ever-waking present.
You tell me it is important to keep trying to see, not with double vision, but with two separate pairs of eyes; one for what we have left behind and the other for where we are going; one for loss, the other, gain; death, as well as life.

somebody who loves me
told me this story about a king
who asked some Sufis
to create something
that would make a man
sad whenever he was happy,
happy whenever he was sad.
Later they presented him
with a ring
that bore this inscription: This too
shall pass.

Note 'Letter to Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook' is based on such works by the artist as Thai Medley I, II and III, as well as Lament of Desire, showing looped video footage in which she reads and sings to corpses. She started using corpses in her works in 1998. By reading and singing to them, she felt that there was "communication between her and her memories of loss."
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