Three poems by Jerrold Yam
I saw the easing, heaving,
before breaking the
surface like swimmers,
hairs on my hand, on each
driven by their own
arterial clocks. It was
too long since they
discovered your lips,
your irreverent tongue
riding between the valleys
of my fingers
without destination. Today
the air would not agree.
It refused to dwell
in twin sanctums of
my palms, my hairs
like a garden
you raked for months,
faithful as sunrise,
then left for good.
So I was back in my room, heaters
tingling with responsibility, and I
could hear someone fighting with
somebody she loved, over the phone,
perhaps that boy who mailed me
greetings of sheepish glances each
time I caught him leaving her room.
Two months ago I would never have
recognized her voice, how adamantly
it rebelled against the walls to dump
stories on me at three in the morning.
If I knocked, there was a chance I’d
see her naked and in tears. So I didn’t.
But there was enough suspicion that
we had too much in common, the way
siblings would hate to acknowledge;
maybe she too had closets plugged
with cardigans and colourful socks,
or two pillows embroidered with
syrup from fertile strangers. One day
I realized I couldn’t read the footsteps
of my neighbours, each burdened by
their own private histories, the carpet
sometimes thumping hysterically at
wee hours. Surely they left kettles
to singlehandedly battle the cold.
Surely our lives were accelerating
with purpose, encased in sacs of
concrete rind, heaters pumping
contrapuntal secrets, the winter air
not bothered by anything in sight.
These are maps I would interrogate
on late Friday nights, someone else’s weakness
eddying in the quiet valley of my navel
before hardening to stains. Sometimes
we trace tongues over them, as if
charting an impossible future
between us, coating each other’s lips
with warm varnish, the hard-earned
brine of the male body. We know
we are doing this for ourselves.
Guilt assumes the perfect excuse
for greed, both endlessly balancing
pleasure in different directions.
I tell the next one not to expect
anything else, especially that I will love him,
but cannot help the disappointment
of each succeeding obedience. Then
we do it again. Then your chest is
drawn over mine like a mountain’s shadow,
so convinced that intimacy
has room for habit, while I remember the taste
cloying to my tongue
is not a journey I can indulge in forever.
Jerrold Yam is a Singaporean law undergraduate at University College London and the author of two poetry collections by Math Paper Press: Scattered Vertebrae (2013) and Chasing Curtained Suns (2012). Recent poems have appeared in Antiphon, Poetry Quarterly, The New Poet, Third Coast and Washington Square Review. He is the winner of the National University of Singapore’s Creative Writing Competition 2011, and has been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. You can visit him at his website.