‘Sacrifice’ by Lee En

The very first time I did it, a long scar ran down my back, so thin it was almost invisible, trailing from between my shoulder blades down to my tailbone. It was barely there, but it burned; oh yes, it burned so much that I thought my skin was being torn apart. It left me writhing in pain on my bed for two whole weeks, unable to comprehend anything; I was helplessly stuck in a pain-filled stupor. But I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t do it again.

She was my grandma and it wasn’t her fault that she got stage four bone cancer. I loved her and I really thought that she was going to…go, so it was pure instinct that I wrapped my arms around her in a I-guess-this-is-the-last kind of hug. And that was when I felt someone draw a line down my back. At first it was kind of ticklish, but then it started to heat up till the line seemed to throb and I could even imagine it scarlet and oozing blood. By then, I wad already trapped in the the cold, cruel darkness that held me with its claws, tightening ever so slightly every second, crushing my ribcage, forcing me to scream and thrash around. I wanted the torture to end; I screamed for release, for the end, but all it did was laugh at my feeble state, the darkness taking on the face of a hideous monster with wide, half-crazed orbs staring down at me laughingly; his sinister grin stretched too far across his face, showing glistening red flesh slick with fluid. He smiled even wider as he stalked towards me, showing me his needle-thin teeth. I thought I was really going to die. A life for a life; it all made sense.

However, the next day, when I was finally released from my prison, my grandma was leaning over me, feeding me her famous chicken soup.

As you can see, my family was equal parts horrified and amazed that my hug could cure anyone, anywhere. My father—a natural businessman— wanted to make it into a business; selling hugs to the sickly wealthy for a huge sum of money. My mother vehemently disagreed; they had many fights over this.

“Rafe shouldn’t go through this; he’s just a kid! Don’t drag him into your schemes! This is his power; not yours. If anybody is to decide what he is going to do with it, its him! Not you!” I heard my mother scream at my father, desperation and frustration creeping into her tone. I closed my eyes as I wrapped my arms around my 7 year old body; this is all my fault, if only I didn’t have this gift, then perhaps they wouldn’t have to fight.

“Are you dense, Alice? Think of how much they will pay us! He’s a strong boy; he can take it! He’s just a kid! He can’t decide for himself! He almost gave a hug to the neighbour’s kid! Am I just supposed to let him hug anybody and everybody? Hmm?” My father hollered back; I could imagine him gritting his teeth, his fists curled up at his sides, skin stretched painfully thin over his knuckles. His eyes would flash dangerously as his lips would curl up in an unflattering sneer, his head tilted up in distaste, like he couldn’t believe this useless, brainless woman was telling him what to do with his son. He was already at his breaking point, any more shoves and he was going snap. Hard.

“No! I will not let you do this. I am getting a divorce and Rafe is coming with me! He wants to help others! There’s nothing wrong about that! Kindness should be free and not something you have to pay for!” My mother replied shakily, her voice cracking, trying to keep the sobs out of her voice. I could imagine her; shoulders slumped forward, her dark eyes blazing with the fiery justice of a thousand angels. Though they were tear-stained, they stared at my father with pure determination. The steely determination and strength was evident even in her voice; she was not going to give in this time.

“I don’t think you want to do that.” My father’s voice was deadly calm, much like the calm before the tropical storm. Nothing was good when my father was calm; it meant that he was giving you a second chance before you reach Point Of No Return. There was a blaring moment of silence before a loud bang resonated throughout the room, tearing reverberating holes in the patchwork of silence. No one moved; I didn’t even dare to breathe. A scream resounded; the sound bouncing across the four walls; the pitch frighteningly familiar; it chilled me to the bone; my blood froze as the sweat rolling down my back turned into an icicle. There was a soft thud in the room before something clicked in my mind; a truth I refused to acknowledge. The pin-drop silence that followed afterwards was even more deafening; it held the intangible musk of triumph as well as the sickening stench of iron and grudging defeat. Then, before I could react, there was a soft click.

“Go save your mother.” His tone was curt and commanding and his eyes were cold. He knew I was listening from the very start. I ran into the room and the sight of my mother crumpled on the floor in a unsightly pool of scarlet forced a strangled cry out from my throat. I wrapped my arms around her, not caring if the blood was getting on my clothes, not caring about the cold pair of eyes boring into my back. But no, she was dead. There was nothing I could do. Now tears were falling freely down my cheeks and sobs were bubbling up in my chest. No, no, no, there has to be something I could do. I whined; I screamed; I cried.

She was gone; and there was nothing I could do.

“This is all your fault; if you hugged her earlier, maybe she could have lived.” My father’s deep voice wormed into my ears, gripping my heart tightly and squeezing it till I wanted to claw it out. I could hear the smirk in his voice but what was I—a seven year old—supposed to know? Yes, it is my fault. Why didn’t I save her? Why couldn’t I save her? Why? Why am I so useless? Now what? What am I going to do? I gripped her shirt as I pulled her closer to me, her lingering warmth seeping into the marrows of my bones.

“Get away,” My father snarled, “Scum like you don’t get to touch her.”

“But you—,” My voice was small, but it made my father look at me in the eyes. Before I could finish my sentence, a stinging pain blossomed in my cheek. I was too shocked to even say anything and all I could do was dumbly stare at my father, my brain unable to process anything. The pain in my cheek was nothing compared to the agony in my heart; it seemed as if my heart broke and the minuscule fragments were digging relentlessly into the very fibre of my being; it was slowly tearing me apart, nerve by nerve, eating me inside out; just like how guilt was eating away at my conscience now.

“No, sweetheart,” My father murmured, caressing my cheek softly, a wicked, mocking glint in his eyes, “you did.”

For years I believed him; it was my fault that my mother died. Soon after, my father made me hug person after person, all rich enough to fork out a substantial amount of money to pay him for my services.

When I looked at my reflection, only lifeless, stone grey eyes the colour of a stormy, hazy afternoon sky stared back at me. I stared at myself hours after the fever ended, to see what scars were drawn on my skin. Scars, I realised, varied in both thickness and length. And over time, I learnt how to cope with the pain; the monster and the prison were nothing compared to the ones in real life.

“Rafe, stop staring,” My father’s harsh tone was like slap on the cheek. I quickly looked away from the sickly children lying on the beds in the children hospital, not daring to meet his calculating gaze.

However, I found my eyes straying back to the children lying on the bed. Some were wide-eyed, filled with oblivious naivety, their grins revealing a sliver of their broken minds. Some had eyes filled with despondency and fear; the eyes of one who had seen too much. Some were slumped forward, heavy with exhaustion, but they refuse to close their eyes; afraid of what they would meet if they did; afraid of falling asleep and never waking up.

My heart broke for them as I gazed at them helplessly. I could help them and I should help them, but Father would never allow. We were only here for the rich man’s son.

The hug was painless. The stares we got from the other family; not so much. Every muted whisper and disdainful gaze thrown at me pierced my very soul. They shook me to my very core. They were the last thought on my mind as I succumbed to the fever.

As I tried to sleep after the fever, images of the children kept coming back. Those whose mind broke from their very existence; those who didn’t deserve it; those who were too young. My mind kept going back to those children, over and over again. They haunted me; it was as if the scene were burnt into the skin behind my eyelids. I wanted to scream and tear the images out of my head; to get back the ignorance and obliviousness that I didn’t know was that valuable a few hours ago. But I knew it was wrong; I shouldn’t be wishing this; I shouldn’t be closing my eyes and hoping it will go away as it will not be going away. My heart ached as it pounded against the walls of my ribcage, threatening to break through it. I had to do something. My mind suddenly converged on the solution that had been teasing me at the edge of my thoughts; it was bold and reckless, but it would finally put my heart to ease. Would I regret it?


That one word solidified everything. I grabbed my sling bag and stuffed everything I needed in it. Toiletries, clothes, a few chocolate bars, a half-finished bottle of water. Deal with the rest later, I told myself, staring at my bag. Changing into jeans and a shirt, I snuck out of the house. Throwing a last glance at the place I grown up in, I made my way to the same hospital.

“Hi, can I borrow a piece of cardboard?” I asked a homeless man outside the hospital.

He grunted a faint yes as I took the biggest one and scribbled two words.

The two words that I yearned to scream to the world.

The two words that will give meaning and purpose to my life.

The two words that will finally make my mother’s sacrifice worth it.

‘Free hugs’



‘Picking Up An Old Copy Of Eye On The World’ by Joshua Ip

“We are one-winged angels just learning to fly, riding the piercing sweetness of hope with a pair of dreamer’s wings, shaped of a song tender and tremulous, soaring high into the clear night and waking all the stars to dance, a great golden shower of exuberant exquisite joy.”

– Koh Tsin Yen

Re-reading these old poems, each arch arc
Eroding and meandering, inland sea
Performs an oxbow, stark aeolian harp
Erhu-elides, strings out this sarangi —

All instrumental. Each accent accrues
Lush ornaments, multi-syllabic trips,
Three words were all I needed for haiku —
See my vocabulary, see me flip

Excess to access. Pun-nish privilege,
Vanity mirrors vanity, fair and error
Eke out my youth, a 90s Buttigieg,
Now juvenilia. Yet, hell, let’s sing this aria

Sevenfold, lose count of the iambs, ageless let us decry
And one-winged angels sweep exuberant, exquisite across the sky —

‘The Dance’ by Theophilus Kwek

for Grandmother (1940 – 2017)

This year, he says, there will be no dance. [1] Better to let the old house rest,

its spirits cool, settle themselves down as the earth sleeps fallow. We come

forward with cupped hands, and as the custom is, leave store-bought shoes


[ 1. The third day they’d arrive, wrapped in beating colours,
with their mandarins, excuses for tardiness, drums
to wake a neighbourhood. Always a day of gladness,                                                                                                                              a day for noise, so no-one held it against them;
everybody knew they’d stop at grandma’s gates,
everyone said they weren’t watching but they were.                                                                                                                         The biggest lion in Limau Purut, once a year only,                                                                                                                                   come, come. Eh you, why you want to stay inside? ]


and greetings by the door; make tea, small talk. Set ourselves at home. For

the first time in years [2] I am here, at home for the other New Year, the first

time also she will not join us at the table. Big Uncle takes her place, and as


[ 2. Close enough, but we’d still drive Sunday evenings
to the house for dinner, a quiet living-room affair
with the TV on, the nights long gone                                                                                                                                                      when all of us cousins could squeeze on the swing
without embarrassment. Half the time we’d find her
out in front, wrist-deep, pulling up the bad grass                                                                                                                            from the porch, my own piece of the earth she’d say,                                                                                                                              and with the cold steel of garden scissors close by. ]


the fragrant noodles are served, we fall into usual conversation, of a sort. I

try to remember the scene: the men muscling through the open door, a kind

of fierce purpose in their gold finery, [3] even the wild leaps, the daring falls


[ 3. Only much later that I knew, holding her bright jacket
round her shoulders so it wouldn’t slip, how it was
she’d come to plant herself where she stood, to build                                                                                                                      the house (and all it held) around her, out of nothing,
out of the earth itself, by her knuckles, by her own arms,
her bad knee that made her give up on the garden.                                                                                                                               It was her first time visiting, in the cold climate;                                                                                                                                  and this new orange jacket a gift from your father. ]


of the dance. Do I know what it means, I wonder, to be as they are, so intent

on their work of blessing? Maybe next year, father laughs, which brings me

back to the table, but then I hear the beats outside, know they’re already here.



《毕业》by Amanda Wong (黄嘉敏)













‘致旧校舍(外一首)’ by Gu Weite (古唯特)


旧日光影  次第浮起











‘These Little Words’ by Yu Ke Dong

Since he died,
These words have
Become false. I’ve

Lost my faith.
They cannot make
Meaning, the way

A cross cannot
Crack open a
Closed casket, a

Rosary cannot count
Last breaths down
To the bead.

I have begun to
Leave a few syllables
Under your image. Some

Simple sounds, a broken
Clause. Linear offerings of
Stitched-together signs and
Stillborn semiotics, seeking—


There are no temples in
Your name, but I might burn
These prayers on paper so
The smell of crisped consonants
Invokes your presence in print.

I’ll build a Bible in
Bricked blessings, turning my blood
Into clay I’ll anoint thee
Of words and wishes, of
Waylaid writers and wandering wits.

They will not call you
Saint—but my sins will
Make you holy, my discourse
Paint you an exalted marble.

I will raise you in three days.

Today I will
Cleave these words into a clause,
Revel in the rhyme of the line,
Make a stand on the structure of a stanza

Tomorrow I will
Liberate my verse with the slaves
Split the Sea with each synonym and
Enthral followers with each enamelled thought

The day after I will
Sing sonnets in synchronised symphony.
Stick a caesura right in the middle of a sing-song sentence
So that the ballet of the ballad holds its breath—

Gods have not the capacity to perceive your faults and embellish them with their own. They have not the hands with which to write, the hearts with which to bleed, and the blood with which to spill. They have not the propensity to sin, nor to entrap a prayer between two palms, nor to pass secrets between pressed lips.

In the spaces of these pages you are mortal once again—I receive your ageing flesh, your dulling eyes, your greying hair with my promise of a final demise. Split lip and skinned knees, deliciously delicate, you are a sign of the Great Silent Beyond, a one-in-a-million wonder of recycled carbon and dead-star dandruff. I hold your bitten-down nails in my calloused fingers, and feel the skin crack like porcelain.

Pray be faithful
For these are
My last little words.

‘Flight of the Underachieving’ by Jerica Wong

I grasped for what I wanted.
I wanted to wrap my fingers around it,
Pull it towards me.
but my fingers grazed it instead
the fragile sphere of iridescent beauty
only soap and water,
shivered under the sun and
like it was an illusion all along

I tried to grab a butterfly
I missed and tried again
I felt the rapid flutter of its wings
—like the heartbeat of one afraid—
inside my fisted hand

all was still.
I felt its tears on the palm of my hand
unwrapped my fingers to tell it
it was safe with me
but its wings were crumpled,
small intricate body crushed
the tears it bled
felt like acid on my palms
I thought I had captured the butterfly
I had robbed it of its flight.

‘Inside My Head’ by Grace Toh

Sometimes the old nature rises again
And I want to use barbed words to deflect the pain—
But a gentle Voice tells me to step back and wait,
And think: Am I taking a step towards hate?

So maybe this person’s completely at fault
And deserves a small thrashing—or maybe a lot;
But when I bare teeth sharpened inside my head,
Will I become the monster I detest, instead?

It’s hard to keep silent, to swallow the blow;
It’s hard to feign ignorance, although you know;
But it’s much harder still to take back the words said,
And impossible to retract wounds that were made.

Every choice that I make lays the path for another;
What I choose becomes easier and what I don’t, harder.
So I’ll take the blame for my own future state
And I’ll choose to choose keeping mum, rather than hate.

‘Time to Rhyme’ by Grace Toh

There came a time
I feared to rhyme;
I feared to hatch
A sound that’d match.
In every poem I failed to write
Potential fires I feared to light
Came bursting in on me again
And burnt my thoughts in poetic pain.
Great poems, thought I, in foolish fear
Are too noble to fit in mere
Quatrains, rhyme schemes, what-have-you,
And iambic pentameter too.
A good poem goes out of line;
Makes statements way before its time;
Defies conventions; burns the book!
And takes on many a bizarre look;
How could I then with simple rhymes
Write poems lasting through the times?

It took a month of writer’s block
Before I realised that the lock
Upon my writing wasn’t rhyme;
It wasn’t shifts in paradigm;
The answer shook me up a lot:
The problem was in rhyming NOT!

So fellow writers if you feel
The urge to match and rhyme at will;
Go right ahead,
Don’t stop instead;
Forget the time—
Just rhyme.