Shades of Light in Holland Village

Alvin Pang

Say you just got a raise. The last good kiss

you’ll remember for life is waiting to happen,

but you come here – Friday night, Saturday night –

the mock Latino bars that didn’t last, bars that did,

cafes and coffee-shops that keep up.

The magazine stall on the corner must have turned thirty,

the proprietors still furtively fingering

glossy foreign magazines like contraband.


What they’re really selling now

is ease. People come for love of mess, looking for a stab

of feeling, the suddenness of pain, any kind of intoxication.

Well-kept bodies who leave each year

more regretful than the last. Running from silence

into noise. Even the rooftop Balinese illusion of Café 211,

four storeys above ground, can’t hide their boredom.


Isn’t this the life? That languorous drowning of the senses?

Isn’t this defeat so subtle, our bohemian afterlife,

token as a piece of heaven, resounding in seclusion,

all the world will let you have

until the hunger you came from

dies from inside?


Say no to yourself. The old man on the void deck,

already forty when these streets were laid, still laughs

although his legs have jumped ship. Some night soon,

he says, I’ll turn off the lights in my room

and never see the sun again. You tell him no

in your head. The taxi that brought you here

is still out there, running for what it’s worth

to hunt down the kind of money

you can’t even buy lunch with; your fatigue

and unclaimed grief mark the air with sighs

disguised as breathing, and it will kill you one day

no matter what you do.

               So the struggle now is with the stiff

bolt on your front door, the stubborn wilting

of your balcony ferns, the straining of your neck

to catch one glimpse of the woman who loves you

in the best possible light.

Holland Village is a busy enclave of Singapore. Full of eateries and watering holes it is frequented by young Singaporeans and expatriates.