Three Durians

By | 13 May 2024

Singapore, early monsoon season.
Your uncle comes home from the market
with three durians in a plastic net, helpless
and threatening as string-bound mudcrabs.
He sets them out on a chopping block
and splits them with a meat cleaver.
Their insides are a putrid-sweet secret
glistening under a surgeon’s lamp.
You think of the Old Testament stories
read to you in class, of a slain brother’s black blood
crying out from the soil, of a lust that writhes
and agitates inside God-anointed men
like a ball of serpents. The stain of a strained fruit
plucked by your ancestors, their criminals’ fingers
crusted with the promise of divine candy
turned to rot. So you understand yourself
infected with the same disease. You are a blind leper
languishing on a dirt road, a bad son
crushed underfoot by your creator
and all your Singapore summers imitate these scriptures:
you gorge yourself on durian until your breath
turns fecund and foul, and after, you drink saltwater
to rid yourself of the smell. A weird sacrament
for a Buddhist child to observe, but you observe it
faithfully; sip the saline from the durian husk—
the cup of thorns overflowing
not with blood, but with salt.

Blacktown is home, is the bone-dry heat baking
all the Western Sydney basin when Dharug summer
radiates from black asphalt like ancestors’ ghosts.
Your house is too small for all this yelling,
your parents’ curses burning holes in the carpet,
their no cow sense and I hope you die with your eyes open
shocking the windows like a violence of thundercracks
from within. All the while the double brick facade
expressionless as a hockey mask. Every weekend
you watch your father shear back the lawn
and think about the buzzcut heads of Singaporean boys
sent to weapons training at eighteen, an age you cannot fathom
ever reaching. The years, months, days
are intolerable already. How often have you wished
you had never been born? In your mother’s house
it’s always the same storm, just different thunderings,
each fork-tongued bolt of lightning striking
once, twice, three times at the familiar grievances
like salt rubbed into old wounds, or tilled into new soil.
And there you are: growing out of it, cowed and quiet,
withering on the branch like diseased fruit.
To be known here is to be naked, and to stay intact
one has to cultivate a hardened shell, a thorny demeanour
and a way to cover up that rancid stink
even if you believe that you could never be clean.

You grow up, grow out of your parents’ dreams,
exhaust yourself trying to explain
exactly what is a durian to the uninitiated.
(It’s easier just to show them your spikes.)
You live half a life barbed and difficult, another half
scrounging for a knife strong enough
to split yourself open, and do this all long enough
to know that if you wrestle with a durian
you will only hurt yourself. Better to leave it
until it ripens to its own breaking point;
better still to accept that bruised fruit
never falls far from the tree. You learn to accept
this like a bronze medal, equal parts sweet and sour.
Therapise yourself as you might, you will never not
have lived those years in the desert, sand-burnt,
half-mad, grovelling after manna from heaven
and the pillar of smoke twisting always
just an arm’s length out of reach. God doesn’t care
for your atheism; forgiven, forgotten or denied,
your childhood is as binding as sacred scripture.
All its rooms are inhabited by the smell of durian,
the memory you carry. You can only hope
that someday you may partake of the familiar fruit
and hold before the saltwater
not only to ask yourself if the cleanse is required,
but to question whether you have ever been unclean.

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