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).