The Singapore-schooled child
Is bonsai-born to perfection;
His hair doesn’t grow wild;
His mind has no inflection.
He is just the rare inquiline
His islanded government ordered
For in his rinsed head is recorded
A rhyme: toe the line or pay a fine.
He’s a wizard in math and physics
Albeit with no theorem; he critics
The fine arts like the first rate cynics
He admirably mimes and mimics.
He’s the perfect bore, spile and pile;
He underpins the bastion of society;
In rank or file, he has no bite, no bile;
The epitome of state-politicized piety!
He’ll marry, father bonsai children,
Hold a job and never go on the dole;
Buy and live in a sky-rise warren;
Thank the state for his rabbit hole.
The Singapore child, my perfect child,
He has no genuine guile or venial vile –
For he keeps a straight and public face
That is always within his Stated place.
Bonsai child! Have you no inborn fires?
Be you so correctly prim and trim,
Loosen up, unwind and untwine
Your copper wires!
Promethean child, I haven’t a clue
How I may help unbind you;
I am past help, wired too, and bound
In porcelain potted ground.
Notes: Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. The limbs of a bonsai plant are trained to stay in their places by winding stiff copper wires around them. In this poem, the bonsai is a metaphor for the child rigidly trained to obey the instructions of those who have authority over him. He is more likely to second guess his superiors and less likely to think for himself. This poem was prompted by two 2014 South Korean incidents: 1. the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol in which some 200+ students perished because they dutifully followed instructions to remain in their cabins even as the ship was listing and sinking; 2. The collision of two subway trains not many days after the Sewol incident; in this incident, the passengers chose to ignore instructions to remain in their compartments and instead scrambled to safety.
Inflection: a turning or bending away from a course or position of alignment.
Inquiline: an animal that shares its dwelling place with an animal of another species.
Islanded: on an island
Mimes: acts or performs as in a pantomime i.e. without the use of words.
Spile: same meaning as pile
Bastion: part of a defensive stronghold
State-politicized piety: piety promulgated by the state
Warren: rabbit hole (metaphor for apartment)
Venial: of sins that are forgivable or forgivable
Stated: a pun (set forth in words; ordered by the state)
This poem is part of the Poetry Book “Arrow of Time“