If Only

Heng Siok Tian’s ‘If Only’ acknowledges the education system’s limitations, while recognising how important ‘examined days’ can feel like in a student’s life. Acting both as a warning and inspiration to greater things, this poem encourages the reader – student or not – to look past formal markers of success and to treasure every experience that shapes us.

If only

It’s possible to measure days
With rubrics used in exam marking.

If only
can calibrate daily
ability, brainyness, capacity
in securing
achievements, bonuses, competitiveness

If only
phrases like
below, meeting, exceeding expectations
expectedly expect
aches, bruises, callusces,
days might be easily examined.

“If only”
might be the world’s cruellest words
in any season, in any lexicon.

“If only – faith”
may be safe words for examined days.

HENG SIOK TIAN is a school teacher, writer and poet who has published five collections of poetry: Crossing the Chopsticks and Other Poems (1993), My City, My Canvas (1999), Contouring, (2004), Is My Body a Myth (2011) and Mixing Tongues (2011). Her poems have been published in several anthologies, she also writes short stories and plays. Her short play, The Lift, staged in 1991, was read at the Third International Women Playwrights’ Conference in Adelaide in 1994.

She wrote this poem encouraging students of literature to continue looking beyond examinations in our enjoyment of the subject. Needless to say, the Unseen team really appreciated it 🙂

Photo credit: Chloe Lim


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