the master never reveals the 18th stroke
this morning i shinned my mushin no shin
against the chair. the chair was not there when
i slept. the poem was not here when i woke.
too woke these days(?) alert: we do not sleep
enough to write, nor leave enough unsaid,
our fingers fretting faster than our minds.
we don’t make enough promises to keep.
old master never shows the 18th stroke.
they know not what they do, or of what kind
how well they bought what they could not afford.
they made their beds, and lay in them, and snored,
and met things that were not-beds, and awoke,
and were troubled by what they could not remember,
and sent them to their friends in whatsapp groups.
held down by mindful-thinking paperweights,
their dreams flapped furiously. the not-bed-sheets
unfolded fractal. hopes jumped through non-hoops.
beyond the point of unconscious competence
they promoted themselves, petered unprincipled,
until they were aware they wrote no more.
they knew not what they did. the greats deplete
their ignorance too soon. knowledge displaces
as it barges in to fill the empty spaces.
they echo no more as the evidence.
buffeted by life, with too much on our plates
we recite, repeat kata, mechanical,
until the world believes there were only 17 strokes.
not being good is often better than
not being better - to your relatives
you are compared completely happenstance,
not being born with an alternative,
you falter next to others running faster,
not your fault, fuck fate, foul fricative,
the art of bettering isn't hard to master
though being bettered's easier. i relate
my relativity, i fluster
time after time, kaput, capitulate,
relatable or god, relatable-r,
(do we compete on being moderate?)
these lines we draw. the balance is a blur.
spread out and shaken like a balance sheet,
a fitted single. spit it like a slur -
not better off, not worse, i, non-compete,
two standard deviation bell-curve curse,
i, normal distribution, i, complete
the average, i, leverage-averse,
i, square root minus one, imaginary
numbers better, real life is worse.
fine country. definite. everyone carries
every one, dots Is, and crosses Ts,
compares the differences, the measures vary
little, each small talk a spelling bee,
better to see than try to make a scene,
best be unread, than good at poetry,
not being mean, not meaning, not the mean.
does not compare, no clean analogy.
not better being, was, to be, has been.
what's better than? an inequality.
not being good, merely, the other hand,
an absolute question of morality.
Joshua Ip is a Singaporean poet, editor, and literary organiser. He has published four poetry collections (most recently footnotes on falling (2018)) and edited nine anthologies. He has won the Singapore Literature Prize, Golden Point Award, and received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council (Singapore) in 2017. He co-founded Sing Lit Station, an over-active literary charity that runs community initiatives including SingPoWriMo, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and several workshop groups.