Al Lim’s poems for this issue reinterpret Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s celebrated poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ through a distinctly Singaporean lens. In ‘Charge of the Eighth Brigade’, Al recasts Tennyson’s gallant cavalry into the role of NS conscripts, prompting us to revisit the question of morality and military obedience in a distinctly local manner. In ‘wonder’, Al reworks Tennyson’s narrative within the contemporary local form of the unified twin cinema, highlighting the ethical dichotomy central to Tennyson’s poem—is the sacrifice of life ever justified by its outcome?
Charge of the Eighth Brigade
Plug mine in, wait no batt
iNo phone dying.
Sun so hot, buay tahan
OC shoot, PC cease,
both give me extra.
Act damn blur, live longer—
still kena tekan.
Fall in now, last parade
rush to wait and zuo bo.
Balonglong get delayed
scrub carbon, crabs go home.
Tracer flash, thunder flash,
they say all by handbook.
Heat injured, fall longkang
sign seven, suck thumb.
Dig shellscrape, sleep in rain,
still water get dengue.
Go MO, rifle stun,
tio DB, negligence.
Eh Sirs ah, Wayang done?
Charge your men, rabak sia.
We wonder: rank big ah
but actually, not at all.
through the brimstone rain
to lead the lighted path
reaping honor and glory
for becoming cannon fodder
and expending 600
Al’s meditative response to Othello draws from Salih’s assertion of rootedness in Season of Migration to the North as well as the Moor’s insistence on his individuality, mapping these avowals onto a Singaporean persona to explore the plight of a dominant individual’s vulnerable claim to power, one hinged upon tentative relations with authorities, trusted aides and memories, where one must remain on guard, primed to defend his claim.
“I felt not like a storm-swept feather but like that palm tree,
a being with a background, with roots, with a purpose.”
Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
“Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak”
I am the black ram probed by men behind riot shields. Wary
eyes watch my hands. Staying: no sudden movements
from this general, Barbary horse with eyes steamed white as
char siew paus from my childhood. Here lies no Desdemona
but only construction sands clawing at my eyes, halting
my tracks. Invisible Iago pulls the puppet strings, that tie
and fasten me to stocks. I wait for the obligatory open
palm pointed towards my sword.
AL LIM is a rising sophomore at Yale-NUS College. Part-Thai and Singaporean, he studied in Sydney and South Carolina before serving National Service as a Military Police instructor. He is president of the Southeast Asian Society and INK: Literary Collective in Yale-NUS.
photo credit: cliparts