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Marylyn Tan’s debut collection of poetry, Gaze Back (Ethos Books, 2018) embodies a witchy feminine grotesque that pushes on boundaries you might not have known were inside you. The book, written and published in Singapore and recently selected as a finalist for a LAMBDA literary award, offers much to consider about the possibilities and limitations of a transpacific queer feminist consciousness.

The Transpacific Literary Project will be posting a collective review of Gaze Back done by Phyu Hnin Phway, Cyntha Hariadi, Phina So, and Tania De Rozario, as well as some comments from Marylyn Tan herself. To open a reflection on the text, read two poems from the book: “Nasi Kang Kang” here and an excerpt from “Bedroom Nude Coffee Table Book” just below.

In both, you can also read and listen to partial translations done by the readers Cyntha Hariadi: Bahasa Indonesia, Phyu Hnin Phway: Burmese, Phina So: Khmer, who start to carry Marylyn Tan’s groundbreaking work into the (broken)grounds of other languages.


 

Nasi Kang Kang

 
I asked the internet about nasi kang kang
 

google said:
some southeast asian cultures believe
that virginal fluids, including menstrual blood
have special supernatural powers
and is commonly used by individuals
and witch doctors in rituals

 
google said,
according to malay folklore
a woman who feeds her husband or
boy friend with nasi kang kang
can have absolute control over him

 

kang kang means to straddle kang kang artinya ngangkang
squat, because you don’t raise your leg to pee jongkok, sebab lo kan nggak kencing berdiri
queef, because you’re claiming propertykentut, dari gorong-gorong tengah paling besar
spread your thighs like a rumoursplitsebab lo sedang mengklaim tubuh sendiri
the red sea so you can buka paha secepat sebaran kabar anginbelah
keep your marriage together laut merah itu supaya lo bisa
merekatkan perkawinan lo

like a shitty science experiment mirip eksperimen sains konyol
take part in the water cycle mari ikut dalam suatu siklus air
above a pot of fresh-cooked rice di atas panci nasi baru matang
let vapour condense at what biarkan uapnya mengembuni
themalaysianlife.blogspot.sg calls apa yang the malaysianlife.blogspot.sg sebut
your muff nonok lo

 
to rain upon the padi field agar menyirami sawah
of your philips rice cooker dalam philips penanak nasi itu

 
the idea is
witchcraft comes naturally
to women

 
but which
witch
women

 
okay, but then hor
my hubby say white rice too fattening then how

 
the caloric intake of nasi kang kang
is half that
of swallowing your pride

 
okay but then hor
I sometime forget to wash my down there
& sometime wash oreddi still very smiauly[1]
I scared my boyfriend eat already
recognise my chao chee bye[2]

 
the hot air rising from the cooker
has tightening effect on your lovehole
like brand new

 
so after the rice steam
his one will also cock steam[3]
he will stop calling your labia flaps
roast beef after you use your

 
pleasure cooker

 
okay, but then hor
nasi kang kang is fake one then how
I asked SGForum. they asked
ijit cai png[4]

 
they asked
steam rice where got kang kong?

 
I said sian you all multiracial society
machiam like don’t know other cultures sia
like never eat lassi lomak until gelat before
so not boleh[5] cannot make it one. like that
I ownself answer my own question

 
but then hor
everyday I work until damn late damn cui[6]
no time to cook no maid how????

 
themalaysianlife.blogspot.sg says:
for busy career women, useful
improvisations to this recipe include using
claypot chicken rice

 
just tar pau the rice
and do the kang kang at home

 
no need to keep a pet dog
just get a man

 
falling in love is a fistfight
it is common to hear bells
when you finally win the tinder match
some will tell you
there’s not much difference between
a wrestling & a wedding ring

 
for many career women
there are pot lids like glass ceilings
over their rice bowls

 
watering their wetlands to make sure
they are wanted

 
these thighs were made for walking
not waterlogging

 
I had a vision of a woman
squatting over food
like she was exercising
her residential rights
to the kitchen

 
my mother had a fridge magnet that read
THE WOMAN WHO
BRINGS HOME THE BACON
SHOULDN’T HAVE TO COOK IT

 
but that’s possible only after you
hire someone to make sure
the bacon cooks
itself

 
it doesn’t matter
if your nasi kang kang is organically-sourced vegan

 
& gluten-free

 
it’s not the
emotionally-healthy option
keeping body & soul together is
much more than a campaign telling
GOOD GIRLS TO SWALLOW

 
instead of starving yourself

 
eat your own nasi kang kang
fall madly under your own spell

 
forget those who
call you demon for you are
self-possessed—

 
nobody needs a recipe to cook rice
instead, gardening tips:

 
weed out self-doubt
slash & burn those who
tells you to be both curved
& skinny as a sickle

 
pluck up every impulse to
sink claws into flab
& perish the thought
you are hungry

 
only to please

 

 
[1] A colloquial pronunciation of the word ‘smelly’
[2] (Lit.) ‘smelly vagina’
[3] (Colloq.) cock steam–‘erection’
[4] Ijit – Chinese-Singlish pronunciation of ‘is it’; cai png–‘rice with assorted dishes’
[5] machiam, lassi lomak and gelat are (predominantly Chinese) bastardisations of the Malay words macam, nasi lemak and gelak
[6] ‘wilted; tired


From the translators:
These are lines that I like, that speak to me of the circumstances Indonesian women are in, which Marylyn subverts. I found something funny and very challenging when I tried translating these. Marylyn’s voice is casual like she’s a friend–her use of some Singlish creates that chattiness quality–I couldn’t easily use the formal first person pronoun ‘aku’ or ‘saya’ (‘kau’ or ‘kamu’ second person) that’s most commonly used in Indonesian poetry in the translation. I felt the casual informal ‘gua’ or ‘gue’ (‘lu’ or ‘lo’ second person, from Chinese Hokkien?) fits more snugly in some lines. Indonesian readers would find it rude, rough, not poetic at all. I also used Indonesian colloquial bits like ‘ya’, ‘nggak’, ‘kek’.

I worry about the loss of certain contexts, especially the Singlish and other concepts originating in a local or Chinese, Christian background. Sometimes, it’s best to consume in its local flavor than turning it into Fusion version to accommodate both the original and the translated language.


 

Bedroom Nude Coffee Table Book (an excerpt) សៀវភៅស្រាតនៅលើតុកាហ្វេក្នុងបន្ទប់ដេក

 

slight filipino man with a chunky camera introduces him as performative
signalling photographer
flicks through shots
of my friend naked in starbucks:
បុរសហ្វីលីពីនតូចស្តើងម្នាក់ កំពុងកាន់ម៉ាស៊ីនថតដ៏ធំមួយ
មើលទៅទំនងដូចជាកំពុងតែអួតខ្លួនគាត់ថា
ជាអ្នកថតរូបអាជីពម្នាក់អ៊ីចឹង
គាត់ចុចហើយចុចទៀត
ចុចថតរូបមិត្តភក្តិខ្ញុំ ដែលកំពុងតែអាក្រាយកាយ
នៅហាងកាហ្វេស្តាបាក់។

“I HAVE ANOTHER PROJECT— «ខ្ញុំមានគម្រោងមួយផ្សេងទៀត…»

 
what people are into: អ្វីដែលមនុស្សម្នាកំពុងតែផ្តោតអារម្មណ៍លើនោះគឺ
the raw portrayal of raw girls being unguarded & raw រូបថតស្តែងៗរបស់ក្មេងស្រីៗ ដែលព្រលែងខ្លួន
មើលទៅហាក់ដូចជាគ្មាននរណាជួយមើលការខុសត្រូវសោះ។

apply words liberally ប្រសិនបើគេរកពាក្យដាក់ឱ្យសមនោះគឺ
candid & vulnerable jostling «ងាយរងគ្រោះ» ជាពាក្យដែលសក្តិសមបំផុត
bloodied slabs on a block candied sweetmeat វាដូចជាវត្ថុមួយដែលមានឈាមប្រលាក់
ឬក៏ដូចជាដុំសាច់មួយ ដែលងាយនឹងមានគេត្របាក់។
 
carefully laid ទម្រេតខ្លួនយ៉ាងប្រុងប្រយ័ត្ន
to catch the light ដើម្បីផ្តិតយកពន្លឺ
 

maybe five seconds ប្រហែលតែប្រាំវិនាទីប៉ុណ្ណោះ
before the flies descend មុនពេលរុយវាបានទៅផុត
again
 

the tropics នៅតំបន់ត្រូពិច
you know អ្នកគួរតែដឹងហើយ
 

this one take picture swee ម្នាក់នេះ ត្រូវតែថតរូប
but / of-course cannot be fat lah តែ…មិនត្រូវធាត់ទេ
fat / still got people want meh ធាត់/នៅតែមានមនុស្សគេចង់បានទេតើ!
វាយ៉ាងម៉េចទៅវិញ?
 

[photo: subject
mostly on her knees in the confessional
with the red light on
 

sliding her money into that space
between tampon & switchblade letting
rosary beads swarm the wood
grain thwarting
her fingers down her
throat to fish out
bolita ball bearings below her skin
 

the weight of which is imaginary
& unbearable]


From the translator:
I know that when translating into Khmer, I should really first sit with the poet to make sure I understand everything really well. I do believe that in Khmer language, we often need to add many words to fill in the meaning.

Marylyn Tan is a linguistics graduate, poet, and artist interested in conditions of alienation and marginalization. She has performed at the Singapore Biennale, the Singapore Writers Festival, SPEAK., and she has also been featured in various print anthologies, such as Rollercoasters and Bedsheets, A Luxury We Must Afford, and Inheritance | The Anthology. Gaze Back is her first published book.

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