Rhyme And Reason- A Literary Series

Wayang Kulit

Watch the monstrous shape on gauzy drapes
throw a fist at a peach full moon at the start of spring.
Doesn't it look like the scarred face of a 15-year-old terror suspect

cast at a TV audience gorging on truffle chips like children,
ill at ease with the teen's empty glare? With the tap of a remote,
they try to forget his plan to fly to Syria - off their tour itinerary.

The young warrior's fingers juddered while poring over papers during questioning,
his dungeon voice confessed a plan for a passport stamp trail.
He and his friends were bundled off, amid sputtering flashes, to a bare East Java jail.

The four are cotton cut-outs blown up by the imagination
into mass murderers and their blind bets
amplified by whispers behind a sun-like gas lamp.

A cut on the terrorist's skin, tough like a buffalo's hide
and teak-dark, is warmed by a fire within
tended by a puppet master with gold coins and a missing leg.

The flinty jihadist sweats in the crosshairs of the spotlight.
He cannot play the gamelan or read the Bard.
He fills the dead silence by roaring at wimps in the school yard.


    Eric Tinsay Valles draws inspiration from all the places that he has called home. He has been featured in Southeast Asian Review of English, Routledge's New Writing and other journals. He has won a Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing prize. He has been invited to read poetry or commentaries at Baylor, Melbourne and Oxford Universities. He has taken up residencies at Vermont Studio Centre, Centrum (Washington) and Wellspring House (Massachusetts). He is a director of the National Poetry Festival.


    A World In Transit (Ethos Books, 2011)

    A poetry collection featuring snatches of home in exile and a reconstruction of home through verse narratives.

    After The Fall (dirges among ruins) (Ethos Books, 2014)

    A poetry collection that takes stock of possible motivations for violence as well as of the means by which victims can pick up the pieces from the resulting brutality and destruction. Envisioned as a dialogue with the thinkers St Augustine and Walter Benjamin, the core poems won a Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing prize. The collection has been nominated for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize.

    Get Lucky: An Anthology Of Singapore And Philippine Writings (co-edited with Manuelita Contreras-Cabrera and Migs Bravo-Dutt, Ethos Books, 2015)

    A glimpse into the lives of Filipinos in Singapore, this anthology presents a spread of concerns written in essays, stories and poems. It was a top three bestseller at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival.

    •For more on the books and others, see http://ericvalles.tripod.com/ and https://kitaab.org/2015/05/14/ the-lounge-chair-interview-10- questions-with-eric-tinsay-valles/.

    •All books are on loan at the National Library, or available at Kinokuniya or on order from https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/

    MORE STORIES ONLINE For more stories, go to: http://str.sg/rhyme- and-reason •The poem in the Rhyme And Reason series is brought to you in partnership with the National Arts Council.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Wayang Kulit'. Print Edition | Subscribe