Forward

As a first-time soldier
thrusting his face forward
took flight the new pilot
into a valley of unknown 
unaware of all the volleys
the number of pelting shots
unabashedly facing the void
with nothing to lose, all to gain
unseeing unknown forces at work
missing every torrential outburst
shot forward, heeding his captain 
right into the waiting arms of fate
went bravely
through pouring rains

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A walk in the forest

During the one month that I’ve lived in Canberra, and for many before I moved, I’ve watched—with growing envy—the city’s locals share glorious pictures of the National Arboretum.

On photos it seemed such a vast area of green nothingness brimming with so much liveliness. Trees smothered brown and yellow during sunsets, mist hanging over unknown mountains, sneaky sunrises playing games of colour in the sky—every picture piqued my curiosity and intensified my urge to be there, live it, and relive it.

Except, I found out soon, the National Arboretum is unreachable by public transport. Although, somewhere in my subconsciousness, I knew I couldn’t just take the bus up there—the many jaw-drop moments I’d seen in photos revealed towering altitudes. Still, it came as a disappointment.

But rejection only makes us want something even more. And when we do get it, at last, we’ll savour it for the rest of our lives.

I will, the Arboretum.

View from the National Arboretum, Canberra
View from the National Arboretum, Canberra

Thanks to a bored brother and a good friend’s decent car, we cruised uphill with my eyes open bright and soul screaming wide. As we went higher and higher, I felt lighter. Trees have that impact on me.

When we stopped and stepped out, I grabbed my jacket to shield myself from the icy breeze. It was the first day of winter and though the sun shone bright, coldness pressed against my skin, tingling my t-shirt, and teasing my boldness to go thermal-less. It wasn’t nail biting, but just enough for me to appreciate the weather without developing a raging hatred towards winter. Nature knows how much to offer and when.

National Arboretum, Canberra
National Arboretum, Canberra

While the cold remained subtle, the views were more pronounced. As far as my eye could reach, I saw nothing but trees—steps upon steps of luscious greenery that refuse to die even in winter. From way above, I was looking down at massive branches appearing to be nothing more than bushes. Ah, Bush Capital indeed.

Amidst the sea of wood, I spotted, like deer in a jungle, benches and footpaths inviting humans to stray away from their handphones and into the amassing wilderness ahead. It wasn’t just a remedy for screen eyes, but rather an invitation to experience the vision of this great green city. With neat guidelines, pathways, and dedicated clearings to enjoy the view from, the Arboretum is the ideal environment for people to take a moment alone with nature without contaminating it with their innate humaneness.

Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra
Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra

As we walked down the path—a path—we came by a large row of pine trees extending to a forest behind them. While the sun prepared to step back for the day, a faint glow erupted from within and beyond the forest, emitting a clarion call for the crazy.

We heard it and heeded it. It’s enchanting to walk into a forest that’s both dense and airy at the same time. It was light enough to see through the trees, but also mysterious and unmoving. The deeper we went, the further we wanted to go. Pine trees always give each other enough space to grow and expand. Like the best of friends. And although they’re upright on a slope, they’re so well rooted that they don’t sway in threatening ways. We could walk quite far into the pine forest and still glimpse the last of the sunset through the branches.

Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra
Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra

Sitting idle at home two days later, I realised the Arboretum is more than a collection of trees in natural habitat. It’s a trove of magical views, mystic thoughts, and ground breaking moments—a much endearing, must visit.

The companion

In that town of men
there lived this boy
slim and pale
though worthy of Yale
he was nice to everyone
family though he had none
walked his dog all arvo
a black spaniel so bravo
came from a slaughterhouse
became more like a spouse
bounding eagerly through the town
bearing his name tag like a crown
such was the dog’s devotion
to the boy whose only motion
was to share his milk and cookie
in rearing though he was a rookie
knew that two packs on supermarket haul
was the secret to a life without a brawl
the talk of town they remained for long
the lovable guide dog and its blind boy

Choices

Garbage bags are trash
and so are candy wrappers
delectable coffee k-cups are as well
oh, but wait—not the to-go cups

Bottled water’s plastic, mate
and less is more since it’s waste
but wine’s mine, and that’s fine
glass breathes better—now don’t you pine

Think lean, mean, and buy in bulk
for killing fields are war scenes
they’ll forever haunt as packages
the convenience buyers—those savages

Landfilling bags or recyclable tins
beans from scratch or scratched open lentils
is one friendlier, healthier than the other
questioning, my friend—it’s just the first step

Fine wine indeed

Like wine was our relationship
those mellow tones at the beginning,
deep and divine flavours soon evoking
it could cut through all bitterness
each sip unlike the one before
left us both whining for more
every day we cherished our prize
drowning sorrows in sweet shiraz
our conversations revolved around it
giving expecting voices a chance to rise
halfway through lightheaded we were
having said too much already to take
shoving pizza helped calm the nerves
a temporary solution for aching insides
like plaster made of oil and water
only so good before it slides all over
for unlike ever before we’d talked
and what a shame to stop progress
now past that intoxication point
and so we plunged on, on and on
draining the last of the fine wine
inhaling like oxygen under water
exhaling grape breaths of regret
oh, those eight servings of wine
gone without even lasting four
laid out flaws in plain vain sight
the gluttony, greed, hidden hatred
ending the mighty fight for high
all that remained, of wine, of us
was a broken bottle and a slit wrist