Operation Thunderstorm (1)

As if we were not once also torrential,
unstoppable and overboard, our bodies
following our hands across the swell
to this fistful of soil, not so much to build
as to stay afloat, fingers closing round
its buttress roots, stern breakwater,
an island peopled only by our leaving?

All through the years, we fell as rain
and though there was little to catch us then
gathered in every small indentation,
by always seeking out the softest earth
made each channel fit for a monsoon,
with time made the rivers and reservoirs,
made our children drink and not forget the source –            (2)

except it is never a river's source
that then undoes it, that moves the land
to its throat to stop it singing, or stands
a bridge upon its straits, to wedge the banks
apart, digs clean through its bed to put
the currents underground; so the storms,
abundant, must send their ships elsewhere

to drop anchor beyond the locked heart
of the bay, while the sea herself, come knocking,
finds no harbour, and though our own cross
over the dredged marsh as on dry sand
without danger, or really knowing why,
their thirst seems to come straight from the water,
every fresh glass an exile from the sky.

(1) Codename for Singapore Armed Forces' operation to intercept, detain or deter all refugees fleeing South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
(2) Chinese idiom: To remember one's roots, to show gratitude.


Theophilus Kwek

Andrew Wells