Featuring Cheryl Julia Lee
THE MYTH OF Orpheus and Eurydice ends in tragedy, when Eurydice becomes lost to Orpheus for eternity - because of his singular act of looking back when he was not supposed to. Is looking back always a bad thing? Perhaps not, as Cheryl Julia Lee indicates in The Fire Came The Year Before But I am Only Just Gathering The Ashes. While this piece carries with it a tinge of bildungsroman in the acceptance of time past, it is also the piece that has taken her the longest time to write - which explains her sense of attachment to it.
Cheryl's writing comes from a very personal place but her experiences have been somewhat distilled; something grasps her - an image or feeling, sometimes a person - and she writes something on it but it does not necessarily feature in the exact same situation. When asked if there was anything she would like to achieve in terms of relating to others through her writing, she responds humbly, "I'm so bad with this question! I'm just going to say what I always say: it'd be lovely if whatever I wrote made someone somewhere feel something."
She also sees writing as a corollary of reading from a young age. Initial attempts were made in writing short overwrought poems in primary school, and she even tried to write a fantasy epic after Lord of the Rings at the age of thirteen. This piece of memory goes into the knick-knack box of other memories that she keeps. Just as photographs fade in time, the pieces of memories have been altered as well. One of the memories that she keeps going back to is the memory of her great-grandmother's coffin being taken down the flights of stairs to an awaiting hearse. In this, she is running to catch up with the van but she keeps tripping over her pajamas pants, and she cries for five days. This has been included in that memory although she most definitely was not running on the road after the van, or crying after five days. She has also added the image of the rain of yellow flowers to the memory, after reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.
On revisiting the past (literally), Cheryl expressed interest in meeting Samuel Beckett if it were possible, "for all the obvious reasons", in addition to her opinion of him as a nice man. Interestingly, she recently met someone who had met Beckett and the man could not stop talking about what a nice man Beckett was. If anything, it seems that people are definitely not consigned to the past after their time is up; we remember what we want to and these memories can become what we want them to be. They will always be a part of us through words, emotions, and images.
The Fire Came The Year Before But I am Only Just Gathering The Ashes
- from the hearth which we built
out of the bones of old lovers
and the things we stole
from them, where we offered
our bodies to each other
like dragon fruit and myrrh,
our knees folded in humility.
You came to me with matches
in your hands - a pyromaniac,
a fire-eater, an alchemist -
made of me a willing accomplice,
an unknowing hostage.
Four elements under the common
1. The malicious
3. of the dwelling
4. of another
- we took for our manifesto,
transmuted into our golden rule,
setting alight a string of beacons
down each other's spines to signal
capture and homecoming. This tango
that took more from each of us -
breath, skin, words, guts -
than we knew how to give,
we had to dance to the end, but
The ashes - still smouldering
- I wash down with my coffee,
feel the gentle, sour heat
on my tongue with a tinge
of iron. And now, every boy
wonders why, when they empty
themselves into my mouth, I shrug
and say that I already know the taste
of tepid water.
We were always eating expired things then. Milk, bread, biscuits, cake. We forgot about them as they sat around the house and just as they had gone bad, we put them in our mouths. Chocolates I bought back with me from Australia, cheeses in last year's Christmas hamper, juice from the last time someone decided to go grocery shopping. We didn't always realise they tasted funny - not everything curdles and a two-month old orange can be just as sweet. When we did, it was usually too late. Sometimes it wasn't. We finished what we had started anyway.
Images by Cheryl Julia Lee, Excerpts from 'We Were Always Eating Expired Things', published by Math Paper Press, Singapore.