Judith Huang is a Singaporean writer, translator and editor. Named a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2001, 2003 and 2004, her writing has been published in journals including Prairie Schooner, Asia Literary Review, QLRS, Cha, Loreli, Ceriph, LONTAR, Spittoon, Stylus, Clockwise Cat, Asymptote and the Harvard Advocate, as well as in anthologies like In Transit, Journeys, Singpowrimo 2014, Ayam Curtain and Body Boundaries. Her first collection of poetry is forthcoming, and her first novel The Utopia Machine was shortlisted for the Epigram Fiction Prize 2017.
In among the inmates
the walls are grey and stale
I bring a red velvet cupcake
to cheer up the inmate girl
Woman, you are not half as bad
as the others in this place.
You’re not moaning in the corridors
You’re not rattling at your chains
It would be so easy
for me too wind up in this place
or a place like this. Years later
I sit besides my father
eyeing the hospital’s billboard ad
of a torso disappearing
into wallpaper creepers. I could do
with such a rest.
I am depressed. I am depressed.
I can’t bother to get dressed.
I lean my throbbing forehead
against the window pane.
Your hands dip into the bag
of books I’ve brought along.
I think of all your favourite things
I brought to show you don’t belong.
That winter in New York
when your voice broke into sobs
every time you called
I told your father
“I think I better go over”
I rented an apartment
a small one, with a kitchen
so I could cook for you
so I could listen to you
complain about all the doctors
who didn’t understand.
It took thirteen years
to find the right meds
but I always held your life
in my two hands, the way I did
when I cupped my own belly
before I saw your face.
The snow stuck to the sidewalks
and turned to grey puddles
from the heat from the air vents.
I went to Canal Street and bought
the kailan that you liked to eat
to balance out your mood from day to day
I knew that you, my dear
precocious girl, would make it through
the year, and that the world
had not heard the end of you yet.
The bed and breakfast where you were staying
had ornate wallpaper
and free hard boiled eggs. We peeled them,
white, bald, pristine,
with a chapskate glee
in the evenings before I took
the T back to my dorm in Harvard Square.
It was strange to have you there
like having a character from a different book
than this new one I was writing: my college life
and I told my therapist it was weird,
I just wanted to be a normal
freshman, with no parent in tow, you know?
The asshole sophomore who bit
my blockmate when he danced with her
insinuated I was some kind of
spoiled daddy’s girl, snarking,
"So you came all the way from the other side
of the world, just to help her move?"
How can he judge? He can't know why
you're here, I thought. He can’t know
it was a triumph just to make it
through the year. How I’d dropped
a class, how I’d swallowed pills every day
and puked up everything I ate
because the girl in the next ward
had a virulent stomach flu
and retched all night. How you were by me
all that time and he – he’s just some schmuck
who thinks I'm privileged – but who gives a fuck?
At semester’s end we make it to New York
and there, I’m posing in my sundress
in Central Park, my smile not least
betraying something dull behind my eyes.
You take my photo outside the Plaza Hotel,
my Advo shirt carefully accessorized
with a gold vintage costume necklace
with a clasp that clicks shut. You’re happy
to accompany me downtown, and though
you don’t say much, it’s the best time
we’ve had alone together, and it's all due
to the fact that I broke down.
Even today I retrace the way
I cracked boiled eggs from when you showed me how:
Tap the middle sharply, then roll the whole
circumference against the table, one full round
then uncap the halves to form