The Right Set Of Teeth

If I died, would you bury me?
With my rifle and my buddy and me

     “Purple Light” (a Singaporean army song)


National Service is a rite of passage for every able-bodied Singaporean male.


back home                                           it is always war

war      scratching                               at every door

you shut                                               war leaving

antique pennies                                    scattered

underneath the rug of                          your tongue

war in the water                                   in the womb

in the convex mirror                            before a turn


We were a people governed by others; the British, then the Japanese.


before I was a child                             of my country

my country was                                   a child

reared from                                          the milk-white teats of

an empire                                             a sleeping village

swaddled in                                          fish nets

hooks                                                   no match for guns

the boots                                             of a soldier

of a white knight                                  with the sun                                        

swaying                                                like a raised flag                                  

the fear                                                of god                                                 

sauntering                                            over him


It was a matter of survival… there was no alternative.


my country                                          a child

gutted like fish                                     organs

oozing                          half                  grown

a child                                                  watching

her father                                             growing

flowers out of                                      his chest

a bayonet                                             is a blade

a child                                                 a fish

opened                                                 like a window  

silently                                                 screaming                               



Today, every young Singaporean man, his family, his friends, consider it very natural


korkor returns from                             pulau tekong

brown as                                              the roasted chest

nuts                                                     we cracked                  

over the tombs of                                our teeth                                             

his hair                                                 shorter than

freshly shorn                                        grass                           

when I run                                           the belly of

my palm over                                       it                                             

it feels                                                  like mercy killing

like calming                                         a furred beast


that the young man should perform that most demanding and noble duty of a citizen

– bearing arms in the defence of the country.


at eighteen                                           my friends called their

rifles                                                    girlfriends

ride or die                                            wives

of the jungle                                        of the shell

scrape                                                  the body they held                                          

in their sleep                                        so peaceful

like the night                                        before a cub is            

taught to skin                                       a smaller thing


Recruit dies after walk      Soldier dies while doing chin ups SAF regular drowns during special operations training       Five servicemen who died this year      Soldier dies in freak incident during in-camp training      Military funeral for 19-year-old NSF who died after heat stroke       21-year-old NSF dies during training exercise with smoke grenades Soldier dies in training       Instructors blamed for soldier’s drowning       Soldier dies

pulau tekong                                           obstacle island

tyre                                                      swing

pull-up                                                 bar

vault                                                    wall     

rope                                                     noose  

our boys                                               shedding                                             

their skin                                             to become                                           

chestnuts                                             so solid                                   

until                                                     it meets the

right                                                     set of


Shuang Ang was born and raised in Singapore. Her work has been published by the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop, the Rumpus, and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. She was a Breakout 8 Writers Prize Winner, and a runner-up in the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Shuang is currently an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, where she is working on her debut collection.