i.m. Emile Czaja aka ‘King Kong’
(b. Hungary, 1909; d. Singapore, 1970)
They called him King. Other names came later –
Samson, Hercules – but this one stuck, a name
he could twirl overhead as the crowd cheered,
one with its own weight class. No longer Emile,
they trembled at the thud as he took the stage,
made short work of the others (Tiger Ahmad,
Gorilla Wong…), the whole Great World rising
to their feet. Even Wildcat Hassan, who in ’47
had gone up against the star of the British base
was no match: everyone knew the ring belonged
to the boy from Budapest with the brazen hands.
Backstage, another world was being formed
in the sharp shadows of those stadium lamps,
each lock and throw an echo of the long night’s
hold, slipping surely into morning. By the time
he wound up at si-pai-por, pulled from a car’s
steel grip, his own gnarled fingers loosening,
the realm he knew had ceded title to another.
A clean flip, it happened right before his eyes.
Years later they said they hadn’t seen it coming.
National Day, Singapore
Somewhere a flag is torn from its plastic.
A child ties the strings to a window-grille
and a blood shadow falls across the room.
There is red over everything. The chairs,
which were always beige, and also the floor
which is marble, and washes easily.
Even on television, the men seem
to redden as they troop into sight. Nothing
escapes. Close your eyes, and the darkness
takes on a pinkish hue, which gathers from
the sides like a flood. It’s hard to see now,
with all this red (that is, if you were one
to celebrate the view before), harder
to imagine how the room could have been
with its softer colours meant to set off
the coastal light. I think of it sometimes –
the low carved table, worn coffee-mugs, and
out our open doorway, the corridor.
Theophilus Kwek has published four collections of poetry, two of which were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, The London Magazine, and Mekong Review, among other publications. He serves as Poetry Editor of the Asian Books Blog, and his most recent collection, Moving House, is published by Carcanet Press in the UK.