‘Where are you from? What’s your accent?’ ask these poems in their two-strand voice, English and Malay woven together into a tapestry of the long- and recent-dead. The unquiet will not stay away, but press whispering at the boundaries of our world. Often, again and again, they burst through that tensile barrier, catching at us: ‘My dress is red shantung; / its last occupant is / heartbroken and tugging / on my hem.’ Ghost after ghost visits, bringing the scents and voices of their waking lives.
Here, each word has a twin – the learned and the mother tongue are one, and language is layered like sediment containing the bones of our ancestors. Unsurprisingly, the bonds of family are elemental, the ‘brothersistercousins’, unborn longed-for children, the ‘parents on expedition upriver’, ‘Father in a sarong and t-shirt / walking the five-foot way / calling on shopkeepers / in his mouthful of dialects’.
These are dispatches from the porous borderland of this world, humming with its traffic of ghosts and visitors, and told through subtle, complex poems in which ‘The hitch slips . . . Yokes transmit tension’ but, ultimately, ‘the harness holds’.