FEATURE

Word Jam: Stories By Public Officers

Text by Respective contributors

Challenge invites literary writers in the Public Service to contribute a poem or micro-fiction inspired by their work.

The Future of the Nation doesn't always want to be moulded

poem1I adjusted Future's words today,
with lines and swirls of red.
Held its hand as it turned
marks into letters,
thoughts into stories,
into arguments and proposals,
into speeches and op-ed pieces.  

I shrank Future's problems today,
with an anxious heart.
We can't have a place of disrespect, I said.
We need to get along.

Before gaps begin to show.
Before cracks make us
hide behind our doors.
Before we
stop trying to see.
to think.
to feel. 

I talked to Future today.
Told it all
my fears and dreams.
It did not want to listen,
I tried anyway.  

We're passing this to you,
I said
with trembling hands.  

Handle it with wisdom.
Pass this on when the time is right. 

The future of the nation
doesn't come in ready moulds,
doesn't come with set instructions,
doesn't have a template,
or shape,
or form. 

But then.

I looked Future in the eye.
I tried again.
Today.
And then the next.


“The Future of the Nation doesn't always want to be moulded” is a poem written for Challenge by Genevieve Wong, Level Head (English) at Haig Girls’ School. Several of her stories have been published by the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Math Paper Press. Find out more at www.instagram.com/frombehindtheline

 

A Singlish Citizen Serves
(to be read solemnly, in inverted commas)

poem2I will go now and complain, go straight to Town Council:
next door’s light is spoilt, I saw. The lift must check again.
Then fifth-floor landing got rats, two days nobody call
and so many weeks still haven’t rain. 

I know someone still cares, bothers to fix it all.
They fog out all the mosquitoes, bargain away the haze.
Yes, four taps will always flow, heng the trains will not stall.
Sell me koyok—I will give them face.

They know I don’t ask for much, as Case Three-Six-Five.
Majulah! Cos my duty is to keep standards high.
Who says one person cannot improve everyone’s lives?
If I say, then I do—I am I. 

“A Singlish Citizen Serves” is a poem written for Challenge by Ann Ang, Head of Department (English Language & Literature) at CHIJ St. Theresa’s Convent. Her debut collection of short stories, Bang My Car, was first published in 2012, with a second edition launched in 2016.

 

The Internship

poem3The Uber driver sped off. The Intern's head was abuzz, her heart full. She hadn't thought the last day of an 8-week job attachment could have been so rich. There had been the usual well-meaning advice: enjoy the rest of university; learn to be a good team leader, not just a task manager; policy was complex so most of the issues she had worked on would have evolved by the time she started work in a few years, and she was better off focusing on learning how to process thorny problems than memorising content.

But lunch stood out most of all. "Interns cannot pay", was The Supervisor's constant refrain. Not just on this final day, but almost every day of the 8 weeks. If The Supervisor was busy, one of The Team would manage to take her out to lunch. This meant not just food, but stories rich in detail, like the gravy the Nasi Padang Aunty invariably heaped on her plate after learning she was a student. Stories smoothened by telling and retelling, but rough enough to be real. She found them staying with her like the memory of holding small pebbles as a child, after which her hands felt soft, diminishing echoes.

"Interns cannot pay." This was categorical, iron-clad as the words of the Perm Sec's PA when dishing out dates for meetings. "One day, you'll have your own interns - don't let them pay for lunch either. Keep the chain going. Pay it forward."

The Uber driver ground to a halt, the usual ring announcing The Intern's arrival home. The sky was somewhere between evening orange and night violet. Just enough light peeped through the net of raintree leaves for the streetlamps to stay off. She found her steps a little more tentative today as she walked to the lift in her block; not sad or even heavy, just pleasantly slowed by the invisible germination of something without a name, at least for now.

The internship was over, but she felt like so much had just begun.

“The Internship” is a story written for Challenge by Aaron Maniam, Director (Industry Division) at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. His debut collection of poetry, Morning at Memory’s Border, was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2007. He has a new collection of poems forthcoming in late 2017. 

The Universal Class

poem4hegel called us
the universal class
somebody in parliament says
we have lost our heart
my colleague prefers the term
keyboard warriors 

I have humbler aspirations:
meetings where everyone speaks clearly
PS’s approval
fewer whatsapp groups
weekends without email
10 PAs who magically find a common date
more holidays 

(but on holiday I think:
this place could do with some SOPs
and better planning
and maybe with ERP
the traffic will be better) 

other days I dream of heaven
and wonder
if the angels need to book meeting rooms
or do they just find a large, flat cumulus
and since god knows everything
do they still draft anticipated Q&As? 

“The universal class” is a poem written for Challenge by Daryl Lim, Assistant Manager (Social Assistance) at the Ministry of Social and Family Development. He published his first collection of poetry, A Book of Changes, in 2016. Read more at www.darylwjlim.com


Office Lady

Challenge also invited poet Amanda Chong, who is a Deputy Public Prosecutor/State Counsel at the Attorney-General's Chambers, to contribute a poem. She shared "Office Lady", a poem published in her debut collection Professions. Read more about her at www.amandachong.com

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