Rhyme And Reason - A Literary Series

carpe diem

Fronting two rooms where garbage squats in green bins
Before it's emptied and hauled away,
An Alstonia scholaris stands, sentry-erect,
With Broad-leaved Mahogany, three in all -
Down the right stretch of Car Park CLQ 80,
And a hugging cluster of three Eugenia oleina
For neighbours to the left, Hawker-Centre-side.

It wasn't always one of its kind.
Its companion at the Car Park's other end
Was felled; dead wood hardens and cracks
The ground; only rot will dislodge it.
The survivor's grey-green trunk stands straight
And strong, then forks three ways
As branches spread, a leafy parasol.

Its flowers are faintly browning, their scent
Fading, after sweet-spicing the air.
Drizzling petals will shrivel on the ground,
Then tassels of seed pods dangle.
Three or four times a year, the Pulai is studded
With umbels of cream among green whorls
High above the Bin Compressor Room.

It pushes upwards, tier upon tier,
Shaping its very nature for us to look up to -
Glad the tree's alive, well,
A shadowing presence; deepening roots
Allowed to feed and anchor bole, branch, leaf;
Sometimes pruned and trimmed, for now not doomed,
At least for now, still largely left alone.


Leong Liew Geok was born in Penang, Malaysia. She was educated there and in universities in Australia, England and the United States. She taught in the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore, between 1981 and 2002. She has published two collections of poetry. Her uncollected poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies (Coast; Little Things; A Luxury We Cannot Afford; Union; Eye/Feel/Write). She continues to write for a third collection, Passions.

Love Is Not Enough A collection of 68 poems grouped under three sections: After Rain, Love Is Not Enough and Sometimes I Work In Natural Light. (Out of print, but available at the National Library.)

Women Without Men
A collection of 84 poems grouped under four sections: Kidstuff, Women Without Men, Hardware and Forever Singlish. (Out of print, but available at the National Library)

More Than Half The Sky:
Creative Writings By Thirty Singaporean Women A selection of contributions from drama, poetry and fiction by 30 women - playwrights, poets, novelists and fiction writers - with an introduction by Leong.

Recent uncollected poems have appeared online in Softblow Poetry Journal and Blue Lyra Review. As its first "Special Focus" poet, Leong had 11 of her gardening poems featured on singaporepoetry.com.

•The poem in the Rhyme And Reason series is brought to you in partnership with the National Arts Council.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'carpe diem'. Print Edition | Subscribe