“Testing” by Sean Wang

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.”

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