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  • Yeow Kai Chai, poet-in-residence

Fleeting Things



“A bit like our lives, it’s transient.” – David Sinclair, Australian photographer and tour guide on the Disappearing Tarn


20 observations, 50 words each, on pandemic times


1. … a hue only an Old French word like “emerald” can approximate: there, nestled in kunanyi/Mount Wellington in Hobart, a temporary lake appears overnight after a heavy downpour. Panacea or Petri dish of collective ASMR, it lures bushwalkers, emerging from months of lockdown, braced for an Insta-moment, and an icy



2. dip into Zoom meetings: a Rolodex / Bingo / Panopticon of pop-ups, disembodied and stranger, aligned across time-zones, then hijacked / connection lag / face freeze / a delay of 1.2 seconds resulting in responders being perceived as less affable or focused; meanwhile, attention strays to credibility bookcases behind



3. Yuval Noah Harari and Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, in conversation. Behind Harari, two calligraphy scrolls – one shows佛, the character for Buddha/Buddhism; the other a horse. For Tang, it’s 日增风采, which riffs on her Chinese name Phoenix 凤, and means, “More charisma”



4. every day, like clockwork, David Lynch, complete with snow-white quiff and a cuppa, plays LA weatherman at his desk. “We should be having those beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine”, he announces brightly in a voice described by David Foster Wallace as “Jimmy Stewart on acid”, on a day



5. a 30-year-old Texan will not experience, felled after attending a “Covid party” held by someone diagnosed with Covid. Before taking his last breath, he tells his nurse, “I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” The Grim Reaper says: Death is permanent



6. too in the case of the mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Toxins? Anthrax poisoning? Another pathogen unleashed? Whatever it is, it decimates their nervous system; drone photographs showing huge, hapless pachyderms dying fast, collapsing on their front, or wandering in circles, dazed,



7. in a fog of our own doing, one thing is clear: left alone, Nature reclaims where invasive species (us) retreat from. Along Bedok South Avenue 2, next to my alma mater, tendrils of bougainvillea radiate, rudely erectile, from road divider, among prickly mimosa and billygoat weed, like celebratory fireworks



8. in the evening, fewer planes are landing at Changi Airport, as one peers out the window, pondering the future of air travel, what passengers and flight staff, shell-contained for hours, are thinking … a ceaseless loop of inhale, exhale fog-horned by contact with suffocating masks, tethered to this mortal coil



9. as eulogised by Nick Cave in a new austere dirge ‘Euthanasia’: “I look for you underneath the damp earth/I look for you in the night sky.” Alone at a piano, beamed from London’s empty Alexandra Palace. The website warns: You will not be able to pause, rewind or forward



10. the stream, or any other semblance of “lyfe”, redefined by NASA as “life not as we know it”, when the Perseverance rover takes off from Florida for Mars to locate biosignatures of past existence. What is “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”? Are we the only sentient



11. gods who matter? With calls for bans on wildlife animal trade, as a result of the pandemic, simulacra may just be humanity’s saviour. Created by New Zealand tech-preneurs and former Walt Disney Imagineers for the Chinese market, lifelike animatronic dolphins respond to commands and swim in shopping mall tanks,



12. keeping everyone safe and happy. That’s also the job of Spot, a headless robot briskly patrolling the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Developed by Boston Dynamics, the cheery-yellow canine doesn’t miss a beat. It scans the number of people in its vicinity, and tells passers-by to not stay too close



13. to one another, what are we but memories? In She Remembers, a lockdown piece by Sol León as a farewell letter to Nederlands Dans Theater, six dancers re-enact vignettes to the music of Handel and Max Richter, fast/slo-mo, an arabesque penchée sliding into a grimace between mirth and melancholy,



14. never forgetting justice and equality in an alternative nation united in Singapore’s LGBT+ rally, Pink Dot, this year live-streamed from a distance. No, the true virus of prejudice won’t stop us from lighting up our homes with pink lights and pinning our location on a virtual map in support



15. of people on the outside, such as Russian-American author Masha Gassen, who, asked whether they feel more Russian or American, answer: “When you have emigrated as often as I have, you learn the benefits of being an outsider. I am very comfortable not belonging.” Ceaselessly moving between here and



16. the ocean is Eel McPherson, a docile shortfin eel from Whangārei in North Island, New Zealand, who vanishes from a backyard pool in a one-in-500-year storm. Is it by error, or is it opportune by following its calling to spawn in the Pacific before dying, in its last trip



17. home – nowhere is further from the mind of a covid-19 survivor afflicted by hallucinations when heavily sedated. An empty office stares back. Korean script, which he does not comprehend, flashes at him, like notes from the underground. And who are those alien beings sharing the same room? Time present



18. and time past, “unheard music” or “other echoes”, this biomorphic shrubbery of sculptor Marguerite Humeau. We are species reconfigured for an age of uncertainty. “It’s not a speculation that things will change … Now we are in it”, she says. Time for “good trouble”, and for one agent of change,



19. The Final Crossing: the body of civil rights activist John Lewis in an American flag-draped casket on a horse-drawn carriage, as it crosses a rose-petalled Edmund Pettus Bridge … where, in 1965, his head was cracked open by a baton wielded by a white state trooper on Bloody Sunday, seared



20. into memory, this floating world of ours, singer Evelyne Zou rowing serenely in a lake of water lilies, against a backdrop of lazily grazing cows and the 18th-century Ricquebourg Castle; accompanied by pianist Cecile Wouters’ light-as-air renditions of Chopin, Ravel and Debussy classics, to spectators masked and discreetly apart …


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© University of Canberra | Poetry on the Move 2020
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