How are you?

How are you?

Her answer is always simply

“I’m fine, thank you.

And you?”


But she never spoke of the Shadow,

The weight of Nothing that stops her lips

From articulating some Fear she knows

She feels, but knows not from which cell it spawned.


For speech is as inadequate

At expression

As people are at empathy.

She wants to say, sing, shout – be heard.

But words can offer no pity;

Lifeless symbols cannot capture

The sense of beings and things.


Imagine hearing the sum of one’s experience

Contracted to the span of one lonely syllable –

Fine – if words have power – it is their ability

To distort the reality of solitude.

They communicate how humanity hides

Itself from itself.

Why speak if with this utterance

One can keep the demons quiet –

For now – it pays to have things hushed.


So in a flash of evanescent pulchritude,

She smiles and it looks pretty – good –

Though our eyes don’t meet. The air tensed

As though a gentle plea

Escaped her prison of resolve:

A soft cry for companionship –

For any one comprehending soul

To listen to the flood of words tumbling

Out of locked jaws in – ineffable silence.


I shrugged and wished that I could understand.

Then said, I’m fine – too.  

Benedict Tan, Johor Bahru.