Hazed

Hazed is a short collection of poetry on the total penetration of the palm oil industry in our daily life, as well as its oft unseen effects on animals, plants, and indigenous communities.

By destabilizing our capitalist human gaze, I rediscovered the magnitude of the problem—not only are non-human lives completely destroyed, but the palm oil industry also holds eerily colonial characteristics. The rainforests in Malaysia used to be hideouts for the anti-colonial communist resistance movement, the grounds of which the palm oil industry have now claimed, thus erasing nonhuman witnesses to history. Furthermore, fauna like orangutans and sun bears are forced out of forests. They often turn to the surrounding palm oil plantations for food, where they are treated as pests and brutally shot down. Additionally, increasing colonization of land for commercial use gravely endangers the lives of indigenous peoples. Their food and medicinal supplies are dwindling, and their waters are poisoned by the pesticides used by palm farmers. As their land diminishes, their youth, seeing no future in the dying tribes, move to cities and adopt new languages, and hence new identities.

National boundaries do not control natural environments. The palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia has led to the deterioration of rainforests and human life within and beyond. Territories like Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand are affected by the haze caused by the slash and burn technique of land clearing as well. However, the utilisation of palm oil has reached an almost ubiquitous level, and turning to other plant oil alternatives will lead to other consequences. Like our many dependencies, our addiction to palm oil is a symptom and enabler of our accelerating slide into irreversible environmental destruction.

Eulogy for the Orangutan

It wasn’t you
It was the fire that took away her child who crumble
In the greedy fire like Israeli troops storming in
She screeched as the world ate
Burnt limbs, felt no pain in the inferno
Until unconscious, at the foot of a tree
She was picked up by creatures who looked into a mirror
But only saw where the skin peeled red, like raw steak
Hauled her into a truck and took pictures
Just like that, an internet sensation

I heard she succumbed to her injuries
The hospital could not do much
For a dying flame. They said she was severely malnourished
There was no emergency contact, nor funeral wreaths
Only a fleeting image on the scrolling screen
On another hazy day, when the smell of grilling satay
Tempts the passerby on the street

Little House

School is canceled
Sister jumped for joy and turned the TV on full blast
Mama said we should help her with the housework
Get to cleaning the behinds of dusty cupboards and spider-webbed corners

It is very hot
And I have cut myself on broken glass
Trying to shut the windows to keep the bad air out
Sister threw a plastic cup at my head and I saw flashes of yellow and red

Our cats ran up and down the stairs
Leaving behind clumps of fur that Papa hates
So he screamed at Mama for his financial rut
And locked himself in with the air conditioner

After we finished crying there was still a lot to do
Mama had left the house into the grey world, said she’s not coming back
At least she’s got a car
We better clean the ceiling fan and mop up the blood

In case she comes home coughing
Will we have dinner tonight?
We watch the evening news with swollen eyes, just in case
Feeling too big for this little house

Oxygen

I saw you on the hospital bed in my dream last night
The tubes made you look superhuman
The same spell they casted on grandfather’s static figure
As a last hurrah he loudly gasped for air, his death throe bulged his fat eyeballs
Before all calmed down

Already, your face constantly in masks during the haze seasons
And your pale skin twitching as you cough and sneeze
Or falling asleep on a plank, with an air purifier humming eerily
Alert comatose, alive vegetable
Seeing, feeling, but not moving
Life around the house goes faster, faster

You said next year you would run away from the smoke
Those bastards, clearing land and endangering your lungs
You would take a plane, and go to lands untouched by fire
Where the birds of paradise fly low
And waters are pregnant with life
And there on a hammock, you would think about the family you left behind
But breathing, at last,
Maybe then you’d start thinking what
You are living for.

A forgotten war

When the bulldozers trampled your voluminous body
Money hungry, trembling at the potential energy
You carry, I was angered by their audacity
For you were a creature of many in the past
Here, fungi consumed by slugs
Above, a bird nest fern overrun by ant colonies
The colorful hornbill once built a nest on the tree over there
Who stood tall amongst her sisters
And hidden, softly breathing,
Freedom fighters anticipated attacks

I held my breath as colonial descendants
Felled yet another acre
Your friends and comrades, howling
Now refugees on bare lands. Some shot down in defending their birthright,
Some charred to carcasses, or simply disappeared
No international outcry and no memory etched as proof

Only more trucks, more toiling bodies.
As your skin thins and dries, new settlers come:
First the rats, then the snakes, and then the owls
I know you miss your old friends
I saw a starving sun bear dig for insects one afternoon, a year later
They shot her with a crooked grin

Drying out, your scarcity
Feeds abundance elsewhere

Uncharismatic microfauna

Oh, you unnamed millions
Of scaly skin or feathery backs
Or abundant eyes or twitchy legs
I hunted on the internet for your names, or a face
But no one cares about you
Your brains too small and your bodies not plush-toy replicable
Like the Sumatran tiger
You don’t have wet eyes like the Orangutan
Nor you are big and steady like the Javan rhinoceros
You backboneless creatures, our little
Ligaments of the forests, without many organs
You easily hide
When a monkey briefly blinks and rubs his eye
You disappear into tree trunks and edges of the screen
Die within days
Without the chance to even become peripheral

Dendi

His face carries a hundred thousand faces
People whose lineage embedded in
Landscapes I do not understand
I see his firm stature, rooted.
As alien bulldozers and lorries
Come to shrink a country

Nativity here is not skin deep
Nor is it claimed with such ferocity and greed
On the basis of national borders
But like an exposed land the richness leeches
Battered by the currents of modernity that sees no prize in love
Eats away at the core. Emptying out
His brothers, who saw no excitement in watching medicines go extinct
And pygmy elephants limping to find bare land after land
Run to cramped shop lots and adopt another face

He says the toxic is in the waters
And in the air. It chews away at the fibers of his roots, forbidding natural growth
Like rotating machinery extracting oil. Churning, churning
To be bottled up in plastic labels, as dizziness settles
Into pure oil, sealed tight
In tanks like stolen inheritance
By dried out hands, like a sacrificial ritual for the documentaries
A day’s worth of work done, as Dendi walks away from the camera
And the worker washes his face before dinnertime

Hazed Children

When the haze season begins
And breathability becomes a headline
Competition in my classroom pops open like a champagne bottle
Starting with the boy with the white turtle shell mask
The next day, a girl comes in with a pink Hello Kitty one
I know she has trouble breathing through the fabric
So I wore a paper thin one, going back to the basics
Which prompted the kid with a mole on his face to bring in a heavy-duty gas mask
In awe, the teacher came in the next day
Abandoning his completely

Our daily reading becomes muffled
As the creaking ceiling fans spin above us
And the windows grow heavy with soot
Elsewhere, schools get canceled on Fridays and Mondays
While us Northern children, tough like tigers
Strain our eyes to find our daddies in the crowd
As soon as the bell rings
To return to homes with air conditioners, hot showers
Before the evening news fizzles into snores on the couchAnd we tuck ourselves into bed, dreaming of the December holidays

Honey

She cradles her child, humming softly
The tune of the rising sun, a lullaby to celebrate
The golden crescent around his neck, he breathes gently the heavy air
She remembers stories of a quieter time, where
Honey was in abundance, and fear near absent
Standing on two hind legs or crawling amongst the undergrowth
You lived amongst food, and spirits who tire of life outside
Watch over you with tenderness

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

She cannot bear to tell him how it always goes
His paws are too small, she hopes they never chop them off
His face is too precious, she hopes they never lay eyes on it
His curious snout, puppy-like, so many times she pressed her own against it
And saw their ancestors, muscular and vain
By chance if they were to take him, it would not be the first
But let this be the last; she would rather be shot than
Feel an empty chest, nowhere to go

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

Beyond the fringes of the shrinking jungle
In a run-down hut, where water tastes like earth
And snakes are common as mosquitos
A girl cradles her firstborn child, humming softly
Her husband just left with the boys on the truck for another day’s work
She remembers stories of a quieter time, when
Family provided abundance, and fear near absent

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

Monster(s)

Forgive me, for I did not mean to kill
Long ago they took my ancestors by the seeds
From a land far away. The climate felt right for germination
On surgical tables and glass plates, they altered me many times over
Eugenics, I think you call it that, against the grain of my nature
And then sowed duplicates on raw land with such precision

I fail to recognize myself, when I see rows and rows of
The unalive. I am unsure if they are copies of me or
If I am copies of them. Like cows whose milk is pumped forcefully
To pour into cereal bowls. I am taken forcefully to make cereal
And more. It brings me pleasure, to know how much I am needed,
And to see those who exploit me become so vulnerable

Those creatures killed in my name, I assumed they
Were not meant for world domination. I am in your digestive
System and the air you breathe in. I have men in suits and
Power in their pens protecting my right to grow in larger numbers
And your petitions are useless against chocolates and baked goods
For I have become one with everything you desire.

Photograph by Isaac Cordal

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