Alvin Pang

Even Naomi was struck by the success of her “Dial-A-Poem” phone service.
People called in from all over – tongue-tied lovers, wives in need of
lines for a birthday card, husbands for apologies in verse, marketing
people and copy writers looking for a snappy tagline, students and
scholars who’d forgotten who wrote this sonnet or that, even the rare
poet who’d lost his muse. One of them kept asking over and over for
Ciberio’s Canto Erotico, to be read in the traditional fashion –
slowly and with the occasional wet smacking of the lips, whereby he’d
end the call with heavy breathing and sobs after, invariably, the
notorious Third Movement. An ad-man spent an expensive hour exploring
rhyming couplets with the word “radish” in it; no easy task,
and Naomi caught some of them being used in a jingle by a pharmaceutical startup
a month later, although she couldn’t sue. She’d saved at least two
confirmed marriages with Lee Xuan’s Haikus of Regret, and thwarted one
suicide by walking him through Jalawi’s Water Epic line by line until
help arrived. Her favourites were probably the mothers who called to
ask for poems to encourage or console their children (this peaked
during the examination months), especially those with unborn children,
who’d sometimes be named after the sestina or ballad she would have
patiently recited over the phone to a receiver, pressed lightly to
some softly pulsing, burgeoning womb. On exceptional occasions,
Naomi’s been tempted to make up her own titles and verses, instead of
relying on her prodigious memory of obscure classics – after all, who
would know better? – but her conscience always gets the better of her
when she thinks of all those words already buried and untended in the
vault of her mind and heart, wanting nothing more than to be free, and for a
while to be useful and cherished.

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