We aren’t ready for the monster yet, they hiss at you through clenched teeth. I haven’t done my eyeliner yet! pipes a reedy voice. Just five more minutes, I beg of you. We aren’t ready. You mutter something about how we weren’t ready for the Speak Good English or Chinese campaigns either but that never stopped anybody.
But modern monsters are polite and will take their time so that people can get ready for them. It’s an art, you know. Arriving early enough not to be late but stretching out those last few meters into minutes to avoid being so early as to impose. Monsters have always been willing to wait for the right moment, the right entrance, the right angle for the spotlight. Monsters are strategic.
All around you everyone is readying themselves at the speed of history, or the arc of the moral universe. That’s what monsters do to you. Readying is now a verb. Before long someone will upgrade that to up-readying or ready-sizing or future-readying and then the monsters will really be upon us.
You wonder what the monster’s pronouns are, and default to “they/their”. Are issues of gender / sexuality / identity a key concern for the monster, wonders someone out loud. You want to say no but you are too invested in your egalitarian and intersectional worldview to make a public statement on the topic. This just goes to show that you aren’t ready, either.
What would one do if a monster came now, someone asks. Everyone is too busy getting ready to answer. The Chinese man in the corner recommends firecrackers, and is met by a muttered “have you ever heard of fire safety”, followed by an even more muttery “blahdy PRC”. But it is a valid question, and it’s so much easier to mutter at people who have a wrong answer than to come up with a better one of your own. Certainly his monsters are not your monsters, and halfway through this poem I still haven’t figured out whether to use the singular or the plural.
People who are ready for the monster decide to form a committee to manage the feelings of those not ready for the monster. They propose monster bills, because those are efficient and effective. Not just one. Both. They repeat themselves, just to be sure. Efficient and effective. Someone in the committee wants to declare the monster an endangered species for its own protection, to ensure the preservation of a natural habitat for the monster, which can eventually lead to tourism and the monetisation of the monster population in Singapore.
Someone flashes a slide saying that only 15% of Singaporeans are afraid of monsters. You know what they say about statistics, someone says. Someone always says something about you knowing what they’re saying, though you aren’t always sure which you and they they’re talking about. Wait, what, 15%? Why do you say “only” as if that’s a problem? Me, I think the obvious follow-on question is – what percentage of Singaporeans are monsters themselves? And what percent of Monster Singaporeans are afraid of monsters? How does that compare to the percent of non-Monster Singaporeans who are afraid of monsters? Or the percent of Monster Singaporeans afraid of non-monsters? How does one sum fear in this equation? The committee decides to commission another IPS poll, which will spawn a ten-thousand-word study by Mathew Matthews that nobody will read, and a ten-word headline which itself will spawn a thousand memes.
Maybe we should commemorate our monsters instead of getting ready for them. It’s only a matter of scheduling. If you look a monster in the eyes you might turn to stone. Rose-tinted glasses lead to rose-tinted stone. But if you put your monsters on a pedestal instead, maybe they’ll turn to stone first. Or marble. Smooth, white marble. Proof that we know how to deal with our monsters in this country. If you don’t draw attention to them they won’t go anywhere. Stay statuesque. Get ready all over themselves.
Seriously, are you ready yet? Somewhere someone sings in an affected accent – It’s in your hay, Ed. In your hay, ‘e ‘ay, Ed. You stop to reply to this bizarre series of sentences but then you remember the monster is coming. Yes, the monster is coming and it’s rude to keep them waiting. That strange uncertainty of plurals and individuality. What’s more worrying, monster or monsters? They or them? It’s in your hay, Ed. I’m still waiting for the numbers on those statistics questions, so I can arrange them into the right answers. I don’t want to be the last one ready for the monster, who is really an It in my hay rather than a They in my hay, because I’m traditional like that. See now I like books and “ready” has the word “read” in it. Readiness makes me think of a bookworm. Gotta read up to be ready for the monster, the one in your hay. Oh hay. The monster is coming. The monster is almost here. The monster is at the door, and somehow all I can think of is, who the fuck is Ed anyway?
Joshua Ip is a poet, editor, and literary organiser. He has published four poetry collections with Math Paper Press, won the Singapore Literature Prize for his debut, sonnets from the singlish, and placed in three different categories of the Golden Point Award. He has edited nine anthologies, including the A Luxury We Cannot Afford and SingPoWriMo series. He co-founded Sing Lit Station, an overactive literary charity that runs community initiatives including SingPoWriMo, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and the world’s first wrestling/performance-poetry hybrid, Sing Lit Body Slam. He received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council (Singapore) in 2017. His website: http://www.joshuaip.com.