I wrote this for Datin Maimun's farewell last year. After 20-odd years at the V.I., she finally retired last year. It has been a fruitful two decades, I daresay.
I didn't publish it here earlier because it always felt incomplete. But when time passes, poems lose their urgency and, for lack of a better word, solidify. As lime water changes into stalactites and stalagmites, so are poems glimpses of spontaneity frozen in time.
* * *
The Fruit of Your Labour
The fruit of your labour
Lies in the vessels you have helped shape
Not merely in what you have filled these vessels with,
But how you taught them to be filled.
The chipping and the knocking, the scraping and the firing;
The times we resisted, the times you persisted.
The roots of your labour
Anchored in 23 years between these walls
On fertile ground you found us, and we found you.
And this is God’s favour,
That after all that has come and gone
When the sands of time and waves of the world
Have chiselled away and eroded the things we do and say,
When our castles are shown to be but castles in the air
(These fortresses are no longer there.)
You will not be remembered for board or for beam,
If you fought alone or in a team,
If you were as you are, or much more than you seemed.
In all these men will differ, and argue to their hearts discontent.
But what remains—the kernel of your intent
To see boys grow, to know the heart of the gentleman
The storm may sink the vessel
And the sun bring it to float,
No longer to sail the seas;
But the crew of men it carried—
The sailors and rookies with which it tarried in darkest night
Continue to ply the ends of the earth,
Carrying your light and all
Your life here had been worth:
Each kind gesture,
The debates in patience and courage,
Never to back down;
Each year, each new wrinkle on the face
Each new burst of faith to run this race.
Fare not well,
But fare well above and beyond the thoroughfare,
Beyond what is expected of one at the end of life at school.
You know us well, you know we live to break the rules;
So you, too, teacher, break this rule—
That having been wound to the end of the spool
Carry on with purpose and zeal
Till the paths of life reveal
The fruit of your labour borne in us and you.