"The Love Motel"
The following night, they went back to the love motel on the farthest side of town from where they lived to order the bubur ayam. Fucking came second on the agenda, because technically they could do it everywhere now that they were so nowhere yet everywhere, if you get the drift; besides, it had been, after all, five years.
The bubur ayam was 14,000 rupiah a portion, relatively cheap for indoor rates, and it was so deep-tasting and serious it knocked them silly the first time that they had forgotten all about the first desire. The broth reeked of garlic and oil so fragrant, could it be some sort of sesame, or coconut, or with Chinese wine thrown in, whatever it was it wasn’t the sort of show of goodwill they were used to in this part of town. The chicken was of the Hainanese kind, boiled to perfect moist tenderness with just a hint of ginger, the fried peanuts a sybarite of salt and spice. And there, wedged between the parsley, the spring onions and the fried shallots was the omelet, rolled and sugared like tamago. Though they were suckers for Chinese food, they were both Javanese – quick to appreciate sweetness in unexpected places.
Such so that they did not sleep, preferring to get their fill and refill in the six times two witching hours between sundown and sunrise, matched lust for lust. And for the first time, she did not, at the end of it all, stare into the bed-length mirrors, her breath not yet dried up, to be told something other than what she saw and believed to be the truth.
For the first time, she saw a woman sated, and that between the self and the mirror there was no alternative story.
I wanted to post this because I wanted to ask a question. When is a poem a poem, and when does it cease to be one? Where does the border between poetry and prose actually lie?
I had the pleasure of meeting Lakshmi (left) - when she came to KL, and again more recently in Bali. She's an Indonesian poet, but lives in Singapore and writes in English. If you couldn't guess from the piece above, she's also a food critic!
The Love Motel comes from Ellipsis which was voted one of the books of the year by the UK Herald. The book is a collection of "poems and prose poems".
So this is a prose poem ... or is it a short short story? Or are they one and the same thing?
Robert Wallace has some useful thoughts on the relationship between the two. (He gives the example of writer Russell Edson, who had the same piece of writing published in one collection as poetry and in another as prose.)
Back to The Love Motel before I get too far sidetracked googling up all the references I can find! (This question fascinated me.)
It works perfectly well for me as a short-short - it's self contained, complete and satisfying. The piece begins "The following night ..." so we're dipped into a story that extends well beyond the words on the page or the screen. You wonder how life has changed for them ... and why. You wonder at the end why the mirror used to tell her "something other than what she saw and believed to be the truth". The reader must expand the spaces.
I love the irony - here are these two seeking a love motel but sidetracked by something much more exciting and sensual ... a steaming bowl of rice porridge from a hawker's stall! What a joyous irony! They come back together after five years and it's their favourite dish they seek out first ... not the sex (which anyway cannot be so thrilling or urgent now that it is no longer so illicit). And which turns out to satisfy more more than the sex ever did.
But is works equally well for me as a poem. A poem can tell a story. A poem can be conversational in tone (as this one is with long run-on sentences give a sense of a voice telling the story). If the lines were arranged differently we wouldn't have any doubt, I think.
I'm inspired to try this foot-in-both-worlds form for myself. Leon I think already has!
Anyway, what a wonderful tribute to food. I'm so hungry now!