Ian Chung



I have sailed many waters, blown by the officious winds of many a poet you know, limbless cameras more than pride. You have no gills, in a band-major outfit choked with silt—a people with the sextant of authority. Once my arms were bound; in search of fish food your eyes yearn for the wilderness, water lukewarm with self-knowing. Watch over me, part of someone else’s baby campaign, bad fumes from their maws. With hindsight and half a chance, watching from the side winged chariots, ancient seas, nymphs, sirens, yet, in his hand, the Merlion.


I have not been a dutiful sentry of your shores, do not judge my home by this false face. Prolonging the numbness, from around, from within, lets the luck out, mirrors the spouting exterior. Land fashioning a weird twin-horn or Mer-unicorn, the world bows its head in unison. I know one day I’ll be forgotten, but the indelible relics, reminder of things past and future, lit layers of grains, glittering, sparkling salt, are reduced to a cheap gimmick, a tourist trap beneath history’s drowning. Your baby pulses, besot with fear & anxiety, a laser-eyed, larger self.



Renewing itself in the waves at our feet, giving the maturing centre its hold on crafty art, stable instincts of the land and shifting currents of intervening seas, the afterbirth of bright lights and buildings that scratch the sky finally finds its inside. Reduced to a cheap gimmick, a tourist trap, it is as unyielding as the river bank, the creature we pledged to, better or worse. I plead of you nothing but two favours: a symbol of unity throughout a nation, your amphibious sentinel grit. Shattering the mirror of our Motherland, it’s no heaven, like kites to many winds. Facing the sea, the flowers are in no hurry to blossom. A jaundiced figure on our banks, I have no birth date, a creature of myths.


The Merlion is the great river, gazing still at next waves nearing horizons, a machine gun of estrangement. I live by laws, but offspring aside, I’m here each night. Watch over me, or does it leave the native parched? Where eagles nest in peace, a nation’s dreams made you a myth with each aggression of the seahorsed waves, no riddle from your mouth. Such a poor exposed thing, cathedrals of mirror on candy-stone temples. You are not even a frog, how can you be a frog? As a child I walked through a garden, open in self-doubt to that misbegotten crew, despite unequal ways.




Author’s note
‘Merlion Cento’ was composed algorithmically from the Reflecting on the Merlion anthology, taking the nth line (in part or whole) of the nth poem, going from start to finish and then reversing direction. The publication’s details and a list of poems from which the Cento was composed follow.
Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai (eds), with Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari and Seetha Lakshmi (co-eds) 2009 Reflecting on the Merlion: an anthology of poems, Singapore: Firstfruits Publications.
‘Ulysses by the Merlion’, Edwin Thumboo, 18-19
‘The Merlion to Ulysses’, Lee Tzu Pheng, 22-23
‘The Merlion’, Alfian Sa’at, 24-25
‘Merlign’, Alvin Pang, 26-27
‘Merlion’, Liang Yue, 28-29
‘Akan Datang’, Ng Yi-Sheng, 30
‘Conversation on the Pier’, Paul Tan, 31
‘Telemachus by the Merlion’, Gui Wei Hsin, 32-33
‘Thetis by the Merlion’, Toh Hsien Min, 34
‘Musing on the Merlion Myth’, Grace Chia, 35
‘Merlion’, Isa Kamari, 36-37
‘The Hardness of Water’, Tan Chee Lay, 38-39
‘Merlion Speaks’, Daren Shiau, 40
‘The Merlion at Crazy Horse’, Grace Chua, 41
‘Propitiations’, Gwee Li Sui, 42
‘The Obligatory Merlion Poem’, Felix Cheong, 43
‘The Pagoda’s Fate’, Chia Hwee Pheng, 44-45
‘City-Girl’s Tribute’, Heng Siok Tian, 46-47
‘The Singapore River’, Latha, 48-55
‘Anthology’, Ng Yi-Sheng, 56-57
‘Confessions of an Ambivalion’, Marc Daniel Nair, 60
‘More Than a Sum’, Kylie Goh Jin Ying, 61
‘Ode to the Merlion’, Jeffrey Hong Wee Seng, 62-63
‘Elegy to the Merlion’, Theophile Kwek Mui Yi, 64
‘Putting on the Merlion’, Eric Tinsay Valles, 65-66
‘Merlion’, Murugadhasan, 67-69
‘Rhetorical Action’, Geoffrey Lim, 70
‘Merlion: Strike One’, Koh Buck Song, 71
‘Merlion’s Gift’, Muhammad Jailani Abu Talib, 72-73
‘Merlion’, Chanel Wee, 74
‘Merlion’, Nicholas Chiang, 75
‘The Legend of the Merlion’, Goh Kay Kee, 76-77
‘The Merlion’, Zhou Yi Shu, 78
‘Merlioness’, Leon Yuchin Lau, 79-80
‘Merlion’, Joy Chee, 81
‘Telemachus’, Aaron Maniam, 82-85
‘Mer? … Who?—Merlion’, Kirpal Singh, 86-87
‘A Mythic Tail’, Aaron Lee Soon Yong, 88-89