Anna Onni

from orchids to rice

The Story of Tan Hoon Siang [taken from an information board in the National Botanic Gardens]: During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942-1945), Japanese officials entered the home of Tan Hoon Siang and saw a Vanda dearei in bloom. They concluded that if he could successfully cultivate orchids, he could also grow rice. Tan Hoon Siang then resettled in the Endau Settlement in Johor, where he was put in charge of cultivating rice for the Chinese population in Singapore as the head of the agricultural department.

the vanda dearei was indirect payment for a burial
was an unexpected ticket to indentured life for a defiant
collaborator made useful by the agricultural necessities
of war of death of moving of subsistence of carefulness

and because google-fed curiosity now finds me staring
at this great-grandson of tan tock seng—this hospital now
under siege from a non-living virus now residing in hosts
now taking in hostages now being unknowingly hostile
now justifying this walk to look at phallic protuberances
these orchids engineered into their fullest swollenness
so many unsuspecting case studies for adaptive floral erotica
making me miss those secondary school art classes where we
stared together unbelievingly at georgia o’keeffe’s strokes
and all I can really think about is breeding orchids into rice
of how the mania for the exotic could be better channeled
into more productive streams more pragmatic concerns

and I spend hours gazing into the ceiling fan—asking
the humid tropical heat if survival can justify anything

and perhaps it can if we can cultivate a sanguine grace
for all the foibles that turn hobbies into jobs
for all the complicit turns that keep us alive

monumental digs

I once heard an intellectual say that
the indigenous people of stonehenge
deserve the right to defend their sacred
land against those foreign invaders—
those joyride tourists who know no better

and I held back a snort as I imagined
tarot reading dryads with bluetooth-amplified
spectral chanting becoming vegan activists
for the right to claim a pre-historical place
that some still say the aliens made
back in the days when the world was flat
and square and a little less stir crazy

but why not? why not when my “own” country
has overturned every inch of land into foreign soil
so that no one can claim a pre-colony pastiche
confirmed by discovering rusting metals in a burial site
that trace our lineage to settlers not wayfarers
who cared for the land enough to stay put
and build massive structures as proof of purchase
solidified by donation plaques on park benches

and so when I walk in this city and finally cop a squat
I take off my shoes and let my toes dig into the ground
let myself have the unaffordable luxury of growing in place
and eventually—a long time from now—of being found

Anna Onni has goals such as writing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel, making cinnamon rolls as a monthly ritual, and analysing news events through tarot readings. She illustrates for the Singapore War Crimes Trials Project, The Birthday Book (2020), and literary anthologies Food Republic (2020) and Singapore at Home: Life across Lines (2021). She is currently working on expanding The Book of Sainted Aunts: The Illustrated Portraits of Mildly Martyred Sinners-Turned-Saints Since Queerdom Come that was published for the 2021 Southeast Asian Queer Cultural Festival. Instagram: @annaonni

< Chris Tse

By Anna Onni

has goals such as writing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel, making cinnamon rolls as a monthly ritual, and analysing news events through tarot readings. She illustrates for the Singapore War Crimes Trials Project, The Birthday Book (2020), and literary anthologies Food Republic (2020) and Singapore at Home: Life across Lines (2021). She is currently working on expanding The Book of Sainted Aunts: The Illustrated Portraits of Mildly Martyred Sinners-Turned-Saints Since Queerdom Come that was published for the 2021 Southeast Asian Queer Cultural Festival. Instagram: @annaonni