August 14, 2013

Jerrold Yam


I am caught talking to myself again, ears
coveting their own audience, eyes anchoring
on pictures and birthday cards
along my study table. I don’t know
why I felt this would be different—how this place,
strange and unapologetic, may bestow the
home I never accepted. Everything
can perform familiarity’s rites.
Friends I have made this morning
brag of deadlines, conversation
a concert of sympathies. Yet there are things
to envy. Through the frosted pelt
of my window an old
city accelerates into winter, shedding
inhabitants at each interval,
clinging to the only route it knows
even when we are gone.

Bristol, November 2012

Back when I could stare without bitterness,
my brain easy enough
for toying a newfangled scene
or surprise, I would hop on a train to
watch meadows swim by,
mud slathered on fields
like toffee, my reflection in the glass
lighted by the novelty of the countryside.
For a moment there is no shame
in becoming my own best companion,
no remorse or loneliness
pushing me to disentangle words
from strangers. When I wake,
there would be no need for a future.
Give me unsettled coffee
by the window. Give me suitcases
muffling the snare of permanence
with leather rind, and I
can almost believe the life
hurrying before me
is not my own.


At the start of July, when work and school
accelerate for the finishing line,
she still sings, lips
courageously ploughing
through the ruinous air of days,
shaping happiness out of nothing. Grandma
would turn her radio off when she hears it,
so unaccustomed to joy—so wary of
its rituals—are her ears. In that way
my maid has taught me more
than anyone I have not
chosen to fill my days with. In my room,
after school, I try to beat her
at her art, wetting music
over the arid clays of fear and irrelevance.
For a moment I could say
I’m not back to where I am again.


Jerrold Yam is a Singaporean law student at University College London and the author of two poetry collections, Scattered Vertebrae (2013) and Chasing Curtained Suns (2012). His poems have been published in fwriction, Poetry Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Third Coast and other fine places. He is the winner of the National University of Singapore’s Creative Writing Competition 2011, and has been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. More about him at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What fantastic lines-kudos to Barry for showcasing the best!