“First-Generation Driftwood” by Syazwani Saifudin

Syazwani Saifudin (age 14)


A google search will tell you that “muak” pronounced “moo-ah” is a Malay
word meaning queasy, but it’s usually used to describe food:
This cake is muak—it’s too much, too sweet.
A google search won’t tell you that my grandmother’s kue tat were never muak
bite-sized treats eaten with family on Hari Raya (or Eid as I eventually learnt to call it),
with golden dough turned soft and slightly crumbly upon baking
but not before being adorned by its crown jewel: sticky pineapple jam
stirred to perfection for hours, boiling in a bubbling pot
heat worthy of combatting Singapore’s humid sunshine
that languishing flies would bathe in,
their iridescent bodies glistening as I swatted them away
while walking to the market with my atok and nenek,
our hands intertwined, theirs calloused and wrinkled, mine still soft, all of ours damp
even in the early morning before the sun had risen above
the towering apartment complexes with thousands of windows
some of them flaunting patriotic red and white flags
others sporting laundry fluttering in the light breeze
that did little to dispel the sweat pooling on my forehead
as pacik in sandals, shorts and baggy button-downs tried to sell us
nasik lemak, or ice kacang or the discount baju kurung
that my parents used to dress us in for whole family gatherings
intricate designs and vibrant colours beautifully arranged to form clothes
that I am now too scared to wear on my school’s multicultural day
My parents will tell you that something is “muak” if it makes you feel sick
maybe they were muak of home and so, this is home now, it has to be.
But I’m muak of spending each Hari Raya
Without baju kurung
Without my grandmother’s kue tat
Without knowing any of my cousins or relatives
Without buying from the smiling macik some steaming fish balls on a stick
that my friends would describe as disgusting without ever tasting
This store-bought pastry is cotton
My skin is clingwrap pulled taut around a child’s finger
My words are loud like Singapore at night
My language is lost; stale and acrid in my mouth
Neither home feels like home.

from 2022 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Syazwani Saifudin: “The poem that got me into writing poetry was ‘Some Things I Like’ by Lemn Sissay, which beautifully highlights some things often overlooked. Through poetry, I can highlight the things I don’t want to be overlooked which enables me to share my thoughts the way I never could aloud.”

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