Views and Testimony of a Sheep

For a democratic sheep

Tan Chee Lay

i) Nomination
at last in today's headlines
all the typeface and microphones
replicate election's complicated DNA
and how these might be refined
into the docility
of an ovine Dolly

Gulping down a breakfast
which now seems a little less abundant
the flocks open textbooks
is this for a class in political science
occurring every four to six years
to revise for a exam in democracy
one's conscience is forbidden to skip this session
whether one's intellect may take a vacation
still depends on one's ability
to fill registration forms

In the distance the coin-shaped clouds darken
from the east, thunder drifts like drums of war
the scene before us no longer resembles any painting –
where the wind blows between the blades of grass
is where little lambs
must rule their homes

ii) Campaigning 
If the campaign period is also
the festival where trees are planted
soon the flocks of sheep can fill themselves
on a vast harvest of fruit

Hurry, let a seed
of compassion rarer than pearls
in the earth's iron bones
its roots must grip the soil
fed on the compost
of genuine speech

Quick, nourish it
with the sunlight of campaigns
             the air of platforms –
a golden papaya on the verge of falling
provokes wondering cries
from the sheep nearby

Outside the orchard
a lone sandal
on a tiny lorry
announces the search
for its mate

Such similes –
are they comic tales
or works of literature
or perhaps, incapable of either,
they lack the excitement of
the political science
of bookmakers' dialects

It's all very well
to listen                        and laugh
but while idealists question
and realists stay mute
household tasks
await the little lambs

iii) Election night
Election night
is a safe night –
those with the luxury
of casting votes
generate furtive scrawls
in their diaries
before they sleep

Crosses like mistakes
are located near a concrete vow –
a two-line nebulous promise

Election night
is a balmy night –
the moon and stars
assemble on the national flag

In the distance, from nearly-refurbished
government housing
there is the sound
of collective flushing
in the turmoil of live broadcasts
the annunciation of the election results are empty

Election night
is a bustling night –
an apolitical stadium
an opposition party's industrious policeman
a repressed yawn
a six-year-long echo of a drawn-out scream
a sacred vote that resists cancellation
                                                                        only in dreams
Around the televisions
those who wave flags carry on
those who scream have long lost their voices
those who resist continue their resistance
                                                                        in the shadows

In the end, only
democracy's pledge insists
on reciting in a different language
a serene lullaby
amidst the passions of election night

iv) Altering constituencies
A tree is a promise –
in this way the journey towards the orchard begins

At one end of the road
there is the gaze of the sheep
who queue along railings
at the other end of the road
(containing the opponent's camp and our own) –
is it a dreamscape
redolent with the smell of fruit
four hundred pairs of eyes
do not see identical vistas

But whatever they are –
whatever their gaze –
all little lambs 
love their homes

translated from the Chinese by Teng Qian Xi

This excerpt is taken from the poem sequence, "Dispatches From Far Away 2003". 

Click here to read an essay by the translator, about the translation.