the word for love is forest

and no, leaving, unlike repression, or making love, is not easier the second time.

it seems everything contrives to make me sad the few days before I leave, from the unhurried silences at home, to the way the grass in Pasir Ris screeches under the heat, as it did when I was a kid.

But most especially the trees, I think, which when I first got into Singapore a month ago I saw with a renewed vision. The trees on this island are truly magnificent, tangled, dark-haired, whorling, towering things, growing with an impossible tropical thickness that matches the relentlessness of many things in this place.

I could not stop photographing them and sending pictures to my friends in London. I’m not sure why. Maybe because there is something of my heart, of who I am, in these trees: my parent’s childhood, birdsong in the morning, shade in the afternoon; at night, an adolescent memory of trekking through rotting jungle in search of ghosts or imaginary enemies.

Like these creatures, I am a from-seed product of this island. The contours of my heart and spirit are shaped by the water, the air, the particular angle of the sun that moves from punishingly white hot to watercolour amber throughout the day. Return has been thrilling and difficult. Context has sucked me back in like so much marshland. And then I remember that this easyness was the thing I needed a break from, and how much of me has grown in just a year of being away.

My dad said to me “if you hate this place so much, make it better”. The thing is I don’t hate this place. If it seems like hatred maybe it is a surfeit of love. I’ve woken up every morning this past week full of anxiety chanting “I love you, I love you, I love you” as a talisman against departure.

It is so hard to articulate the kind of love I have for a place that is in many ways so hateful. Perhaps it is the same kind of love as thick root clusters growing painfully through concrete, or a single tree rising alongside the 25-storey flat to block the view and cast its shade, a beautiful annoyance. Or the sheer impossibility of these vast primordial forests against the petty scifi cityscape– always a knife’s edge dance between swallowing and being swallowed up.

It is also everyone here that I love, these magnificent, tangled, dark haired, whorling human beings. They are the hardest to leave again. They cluster about in a giant forest of memories and love, and shade and laughter, and I know I can never be away for too long, that I will have to take my place amongst them at some point and do the hard work of loving, being loved, loving against this place.


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