The Girl from Ermita

By Goh Poh Seng

The Girl from Ermita
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This collection by the award-winning writer Goh Poh Seng is the first volume of his poetry published in North America. It spans more than thirty-five years of his work and traverses cultures as well as continents.

Goh's settings range from the wharfs at Singapore's harbour to ... Read more


Overview

This collection by the award-winning writer Goh Poh Seng is the first volume of his poetry published in North America. It spans more than thirty-five years of his work and traverses cultures as well as continents.

Goh's settings range from the wharfs at Singapore's harbour to a backwater bar in Papeete, Tahiti, from a park in Halifax to the streets of Vancouver. His characters are unforgettable: Fely, a young woman from Ermita who sells her body to support her eight-year-old daughter; an old sailor who has solo-circumnavigated the globe; a Vietcong soldier who loses his family and finally his own life to the horror of the Vietnam war.

Even more wide-ranging is the perceptual and emotional depth of the poems. Goh brings a lifetime of love, despair, passion and honesty to his work; with the skill of a master craftsman, he uses the most graceful and lyrical language to understand his world and to bring us closer to ourselves and each other.

Goh Poh Seng

Goh Poh Seng was born in Malaya in 1936. He received his medical degree from University College in Dublin, and practised medicine in Singapore for twenty-five years. Goh's first novel, If We Dream Too Long, won the National Book Development Council of Singapore's Fiction Book Award and has been translated into Russian and Tagalog. His other books include The Immolation, Dance of Moths, Eyewitness, Lines from Batu Ferringhi and Bird with One Wing. His work has also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies around the world. Dance of Moths and his poetry collections As Though the Gods Love Us and The Girl from Ermita: Selected Poems are available through Nightwood Editions. He passed away in 2010.

Excerpt

Hornby Island
for Billy Little, who shared loved spots
and fond friends

Here on the headland by Downe's Point
we case dreams to rise
synchronous with eagles and gulls,
all make-believe, egocentric,
near to fanatical,
else aim true to roam deep
with Leviathan in the ocean's mind,
free from perplexities and profundities
such as bind the scheduled self

Here is the arbutus grove
whose trunks and branches tighten
like nerves, twisted witnesses,
victims of shapely winds
which blow in always unseen,
sweet from the south
or coming cold from the north,
from every direction
the prevailing force of nature

Wish I could emulate the arbutus
slough off my thin skin as easily
as these natives trees their bark
from abrasion, disdain or design,
unveiling the bare beauty
of strong, hard wood beneath

Over on Fossil Bay
the rot of herring roe
strewn amongst broken clam shells, dead crabs
on dirty grey sand, exposed bedrock,
thickened the morning air,
but gave no cause for bereavement:
these millions of botched birthings!

And none also for the Salish,
no open lamentation for a race
almost obliterated without trace
from their native habitat
save a few totems, some evidences of middens,
a score of petroglyphs of their guardian spirits
carved a thousand years ago
on smooth flat rock by the shore,
of killer whales, Leviathans again,
to guide their hunts,
the destiny of their tribe.
Having retraced them
gently with finger tips,
they now guide mine.

Exile in a Cold Land

In a winter air when bare trees
inlay calligraphics in the sky,
snow flutters perhaps
from a grey distance,
and trailed by his own voice,
a lone man walks,
afraid of being smothered,
immured in a white universe.

Night by night he threatens
to jettison the stars,
evict them in tumbles
as snow from a frozen sky,
else dreams the thin-sheeted ice
cracks beneath his feet,
fragile as a brief handshake.

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