Barrie Sherwood is assistant professor in English at NTU, Singapore. He has written a collection of short fiction and three novels, including The Macanese Pro-Wrestler’s Cookbook, published in November 2021.

When I asked for a picture of you, 

this isn’t what I had in mind.

I’d thought you’d send a winter scene, bundled in your coat,

or at some landmark, smiling over your shoulder.

I almost hoped for your bikini, though I could hear you say,

My tummy… on film… no way.

Now I’m staring at this cross-section of your brain,

its activity, apparently, mapped in white lines.

I’ve put it up on my wall, I sit gazing long into the night.

(They can be coaxed, the images in black-and-white.)

They spiral from the centre like cursive

written by a stick pulled from the campfire.

They fizz, these tracers, to the furthest limit,

ricochet against cranial walls and come corkscrewing back.

Fuzz of friction. Arabesque of lightning.

(Can there really be laws to explain each curve?)

Is seeing penetration? Does desire cast its own light?

I’m not writing for an explanation, the anatomy or the chemistry.

What I want to know is what was in your mind’s eye

at the moment this was taken.

Is this a picture of contentment? Is this fear? Laughter?

Passion? Your grocery list? Your holiday in Thailand?

A new bicycle? A pear tree? Climax? Or just a sneeze?

Is it yearning? Is it me?

I’m sorry, it’s been so long I’m hoping for traces of myself,

I want to see my hands, your lips, our feet,

the frisson, the tremor, the release.

I should know better. It’s only more code,

white lines against the black. I have to interpret,

describe, a web of meaning, a web of signs.

I need a drink. I get up from my chair…  

But see, there! Just when I looked away –

how alive – how kinetic!

Fleeting into every corner, a ferret of light.

It wants to break out, complete the circuit, find a way.

I’ll bet your eyes were open when this was taken.

I’ll bet your eyes were shining.  

“Purple Haze”

It only occurred to me after a few minutes

that this image was purple. It was just texture

at first – my mother’s knit cardigan, an old

friend’s wooly sweater-set, the sweater Jack Palance

is wearing when he dies in Le Mépris. And within

that fuzzy exterior there’s a skull – the gaping

bone-holes where the living thing would be

most tender.

This isn’t automatic enough. I’m trying

to formulate, phrase and polish even

in a first draft. I want this thing

supposedly immediate and raw to come

neatly full-circle, as if

my brain’s just wired like that.

And there it is, the brain. The thing

in the image. I want to set off in

a new direction, Ramones lyrics,

something-something-tell ‘em

that I got no cerebellum.

Ramones – rock and roll – the brain – purple

haze. What is there here? It’s never neat enough,

the conclusion, but getting anywhere close

is only ever a matter of trust.