October 21, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021: Artist’s Choice


The Blood in the Veins by Rachel Slotnick, painting of Maya Angelou with a river flowing through her and hearts

Image: “The Blood in the Veins” by Rachel Slotnick. “Revelations” was written by Sean Wang for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Sean Wang


When she left she was already shadow,
the jet black smudge of history
blurred by the cataracts of 93 years
(or 95, my father said people lied
to immigration, when a year could mean a lifetime
lost). She had a joy
burning through paper skin and bamboo bones like a lantern.
Her cold hands covered in brown spots like an overripe banana.

She was fixed to her bed
by a pair of bad legs and a crinkled back.
Some nights her favourite operas and fried noodles
would only gather the flutter of an eye
and she would recede back, back into some past
purring in her head like the tumble of a washing machine.
It would get quieter, just the ticking of the fan
spinning above, time whirring through air.
She woke/slept, a dusk of days.
The last 5 years flickered train-like,
the sleek pulses of blinkers,
a throbbing twilight of fireflies.
Her train had left, and I stood waiting
at the station, the track gaping through the ground
swallowed by the wall, a denture-less mouth.

But I remember when
the room was bouncing with pitchy singing,
the kitchen burning with spices and bossy orders,
and you, the voice and echo.

I believe, in those days where you would stare
at the ceiling, the glazed eye of a fish in ice,
you were seeing
some slice of heaven spread before you,
the pocket of sky you wait in.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2021, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Rachel Slotnick: “After reading ‘Revelations,’ I couldn’t shake its spell. It peers through the eyes of the dying in a way that confronts the limitations of living. Here on earth, we look up at the stars and long for there to be a heaven. This poem speaks to the loneliness too many of us have known in the hospice room. It pinpoints the ache of outliving someone, of being left behind, and being tasked with remembering.”

Rattle Logo

October 10, 2021

Sean Wang


I first learnt about the world in shapes:
a ball is a circle, is a sun, is an earth
and a square is a chair, is a window, is a tile.
Then I moved to colours:
green for grass, red for fire, blue for water
and the sky, white for clouds and black
for the night and its ashes.
Then it was words:
stringing vowels like a train
rumbling through the tracks of my throat
in clean whistles and garbled blares.
Letters, the dance of the crayon and the breath
of ink, spinning in patterns like a snowflake.

But numbers:
words which now had no thing,
but rather a multitude of things, hinging
onto its curves like a curious hook
and they could move amongst themselves
in a forest of symbols, rustling in deep
cover, and emerge a fawn, a doe, or a deer.

Growing up is learning to say things better.
Ever since I was born
I knew I liked strawberries, their sour-sweet buzz,
even before I saw its sun pith rising in crimson dawn.
My babbles would have been much less convincing.

What no one told me
is how empty it would be when you had nothing to say,
when your inadequacy stares at you wide-mouthed and blank
white, an unanswered question on a test
running from your desperate pen,
grief you cannot explain away,
the sadness that returns night after night,
as the sun lowers itself into a hole
and the sea reclaims its land.

When it was you and your failure
in a room, face to face, a reflection
and a breaking shadow,
a deaf god and his silent stars.
Now, how could I put this into shapes, colours, words or numbers?
How lonely, how devastating,
how adult.

from Poets Respond
October 10, 2021


Sean Wang: “In Singapore, we are infamous for our rigorous national exams, born out of a strict Asian culture that places an emphasis on academic excellence. One of our key exams is the PSLE, taken by students at 12 years old and holds the power to determine, in essence, the course of their lives. Reading about the recent outcry regarding the difficulty of such exams in the time of a pandemic, it made me reflect on my own personal experience. For me, these exams were the first time I realised that I was in many ways, average and unexceptional. I think coming to terms with my inadequacy was one of the first steps I took towards adulthood, and a struggle I continue with today.”

Rattle Logo