1st Place Poetry Winner: magnum opus - Qiqing Goh

the families on tv screens will have you all believe

like some gimmicky advertisement from the sixties

that all mothers want their daughters to be something

– except maybe not mine.


maybe she’d hoped that i would turn out to be

good at nothing, or at best, a good-for-nothing,

maybe because she wasn’t anything.


so i grew up wanting to be something. anything.


and here’s what the wise ones proselytized to me

as the one gospel truth they’d all known and seen

in this backwater town of sealed fates and lips:


‘sweetheart,

you’ll be ruined by your own ingenuity

before you even get to thirty-three


and, well, if you’re still around,

then you shouldn’t be found downtown

but in a lovely white-picket-fence house

raising children and chicks for the dumb hens.


you should stay married to a stable man

preferably one with a plot of land

that will soon be part of his grand command.

stay, sweetheart.

stay, and stay – never mind the darn old fart.’


each time i would sigh, mirroring

the silent one in their opal eyes

and with nary a shrug, i would say

nothing much:

just like the trajectory that rushed towards all of

me

like a screeching Chevy truck.


violent. inexorable.


but more insidiously, still, the real danger:

the resplendent cathedral of hope we built

under crumpled linen afghans, easy as a pillow fort

or a child’s magnificent castle-mound, blaring alarm red

as i prayed. i wished


one day, to be celebrated

like the first breath of spring,

like the novel touch of puberty

which lends the lucky ones

a glimmer of beauty, a sliver of discovery

(and for me, a whole lot of acne and nothing)


that maybe i would someday be remembered

like the torrid summer heat:

intolerable, and simply unshakeable

even in the wondrous fall

that comes each time without fail


like a man in love.


well, sweetheart, i didn’t want to leave

without a magnum opus, without a legacy

to last beyond fleeting statistics

and smoky, whited-out obituaries


– but maybe it was you all along:

you, the ultimate culmination

of all my could-have-beens

and cooked-up-dreams,

all my whimsy and wistful-longings, wilting

like the pale wisterias in wintertime;

of all my incurable heartbreaks

that you safe-kept like a baby

in the cradle of your tender arms;

of all the love in me that i’d kept

stashed away like a stolen mint cookie,

or maybe a secret sin i couldn’t tell the priest


to be brought to and buried

in the delicate, forgettable grave.

 

Qiqing Goh is an emerging writer and poet. She was recently published in the first issue of Free the Verse. Her poems aim to cast light on social ills and the inner turmoils of those who live in it -- albeit with a questionable sense of humour and the occasional bad pun. Apart from poetry, she also dabbles in music from time to time and is working towards an EP. She currently works as a lawyer.

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