Four men carry one,
each holding a limb,
wife trailing crying:
bit by a scorpion;
the evil culprit,
black in a jam jar,
rattles against glass,
Poison in the blood,
no feeling in arms and legs.
On the surgical table,
my father inserts
seven strategically placed
fine needles, newly acquired
acupuncture skills from Taiwan
Soon, the man walks shakily,
slight limp out of the clinic.
Maybe there was more,
I'm sure there was more
to it than that,
but an eight-year-old boy
in pyjamas and slippers
in his parents' workplace,
(and it marks him
for the rest of his life)
there is a cure
for poison in the blood
put there by scorpions,
snakes, spiders, centipedes
And for a while,
the fatal, cancerous,
world that spins
towards hell and destruction
slows its revolution,
and there is more
day and more night.
A long drive
before the highways were built,
driving past kampungs, padi fields
palm oil and rubber plantations,
small towns. Four ferries, thick wood-planks
hewned together with rough rope
thick as a child's arm, all
bolstered by rubber tires,
powered by chugging motors to carry cars
in fours and fives across the sleepy river,
the harsh undercurrent lying under sluggish cover,
then bridges were built, then one ferry remained:
long wait, prayers that no river accident, drowning
death of family trapped in car to be recounted
in The Star the next morning, eventually,
the final bridge is built but the drives are still long.
Looking out the window
counting milestones, watching the number
decrease by one, by one every mile.
Sometimes I close my eyes so the numbers
decrease by greater leaps.
and other families, motorbikes
carrying a whole family to market, school
and back, timber lorries, timber lorries,
palm oil tankers.
Dad stops for a drink break, use the toilet.
Something cool and fizzy or coffee
feels good on a day like this
driving long before new highways
are built to lessen the drive time.
At a open-air coffee shop, miles away
from home, the milestone counters
stopped, mangy strays wander
the streets, sniff and slink
around noodle hawker stalls built
on bicycles or motorcycles,
begging for a scrap, anything
to fill out those shredded mangy bones.
Piss done, drinks on table.
A sad-eyed mongrel creeps by,
a piece of stolen buttered toast
in its salivating mouth.
Government health control officers come,
sweating in green grey uniforms
lure the dogs out to a brick wall, promises
of meat and bones, fence them in
and with their rifles, guns cracking
in the still dead humid dog day afternoon,
we finish our drinks, get into the car,
the leather seats stick to legs uncovered
by shorts, exposed arms,
the sun-scorched smell of discount leather, sweat,
carry on driving, heading for home
trying to make it before the sun set.
Justin Chin is the author of Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes & Pranks and Bite Hard.