Theophilus Kwek

Theophilus Kwek


In one of the photographs there’s a girl 
who can’t be older than eleven or twelve 

dressed for the occasion in a white frock
and socks to match, hoicked high, black

shoes in a ‘V’ on the road’s black tar 
which has just opened from Queensway 

to Alexandra. Or, is being opened – this 
being a time when roads are still opened 

with cameras and speeches, a Minister 
in tow, though all eyes are on that seam 

of earth scabbed over – a clean crust, like 
new ice on a river. She’s ducked beneath 

the tape that marks where the road begins, 
tape that for now holds the onlookers back 

except coming barely to her shoulders it 
lets her right through, past all the elbows 

to where the action is. Not that you can tell 
from the photograph, of course (in some 

ways I think you had to be there), a scene 
of more than soil cleared away, more 

than tar poured out on the carriageway. 
There she is, now and forever too, fixed 

at this opening in time before what comes
after: light industry, a city on its heels, 

so quick even the grownups are caught 
by surprise. The same grownups tiptoeing 

now for all that’s still unseen, caught here 
in a blink of a lens. Yes, an industry of light. 

Based on a photograph from the National Archives of Singapore, available to view here.

THEOPHILUS KWEK has published four poetry collections, two of which were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Mekong Review, and elsewhere. His latest collection is Moving House (Carcanet Press).