I looked through my poetry, and there was Singapore, like a seed, or a root, across a family of poems. We begin with a map, and we trace the borders over and over, drawing and redrawing from memory, from experience, from imaginings. Where does home begin, and end? Where do our journeys take us, within and without our bodies and our minds? Does language begin before knowing? Does the image exist without language? All these unanswerable questions, but questions are important. We tell our stories, as true as we know how. What is real for one is fiction for another. We braid our knowledge, old into new; friends grow into sisters, the cord one of our own forging. This is alchemy: of making something from nothing, of making new from what is old, of making sense where there is none to be had. Leaving is a form of arrival; a loss can also be a gain. For me, creating Map-Making was an act of faith, and of magic. Love is the strongest, most unbreakable spell.
A Map of Dust
Map-Making is about many things, but its physical form was born of death.
Each photograph is imprinted with my father’s passing. I made those pictures in the years after cancer claimed his life, and the women in his life—my mother, my sisters and I—reeled, finding their way without the man that held them together. Each frame a drag set against the undertow.
I laid this book out as my beloved watched his father succumb to the perfect storm his body would not recover from. Summer came early to northern Europe this year. The flowers that would have lined the roads to the church had withered in the heat. After the service, the sky darkened for the first time in months, weeping for one who had loved it so. The casket still held what remained of the man when the printers went to work, draping each leaf of this book in funerary hue.
This piece was written the day my mother and I committed my father’s ashes to the sea. Each word heavy as the fine fragments of his remains, blooming in the waves. Another cycle of my life, to the fifth year of his death.
Map-Making is about too many things, carried by the dark tide.
Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet who was born in Singapore. She is the author of eight books. Her most recent full-length collection, Rainforest, is from Pitt Street Poetry. She was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and twice for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. www.eileenchong.com.au
Charlene Winfred’s work can be found on her website: https://charlenewinfred.com