Tuesdays at Cheongster Cafe: The General who cries ‘War!’
by Felix Cheong
GENERAL Lee’s men see his three stars
But can’t make out his battle scars.
“Sir, on what petrol, in what car
Did you take to travel this far?
Did you force Syria out of Qatar?
Did your bare hands kill a jaguar?
Did you fly our flag up on Mars?
Did you and great Godzilla spar?”
General Lee pauses to speak
As colour drains out from his cheeks.
He had earned his stars being a geek,
Tested at exam halls each week.
How to show his men he is more
Than paper strategist at his core?
Nations at peace don’t spring for war
Unless war dogs run to their door.
He must sing loud the song of zeal,
He must bring his men to their heels.
He must look like the real big deal,
He must talk of war in his spiel.
“War is coming, beyond those hills.
Prepare yourselves for the big kill!
This is no game, this is no drill.
Let your blood for your country spill!”
Every father, son and nephew
Turn up for battle as their due.
They clean their old boots of mildew,
They gear up to meet their old crew.
“Sir, who’s this enemy we seek?
We will not rest till their defeat.
We will send them home in white sheets,
We will lay our lives for this feat.”
General Lee’s heart leaps six feet
To see such numbers in the street,
To see them turn fearless from meek,
To see them trust his stars complete.
“This is no war fought with torpedoes,”
General Lee says on his toes.
“We are at war with mosquitoes,
These Ninja Zika-carrying foes!”
To a man, they all shout, “Aiyah!
This is not a war at all lah!
I could’ve spent more time with Ma,
Needed and kneaded at the spa.”
After they leave, General Lee
Feels the great weight of the Empty.
His years of university
Add up to naught in the army.
“War is nigh!” again he cries,
“We are now outflanked from all sides.
Prepare yourselves for the bomb dives.
Rise, for your country you must die!”
Every nephew, father and son
Turn up in sweat under the sun.
They have barely had a stiff one,
They have barely kept their big guns.
“Sir, who’s this enemy we fight?
We will not let them see the night.
We will scare them into such fright
They can’t tell their left from their right.”
“This war can’t be settled by treaties,”
General Lee says with eyes misty.
“We are at war with diabetes,
With sugar, white rice and sweeties!”
To a man, they all scream, “Aiyoh!
You can’t call this a war, bodoh!
I could’ve practised my yo-yo
Swinging between wife and Miho!”
After they depart, the general,
Like attending his own funeral,
Readies his career for burial,
His stars reduced to mineral.
“No, I’ll not go without a howl!”
Again he cries: “War is here now!
We are being run down by its plough.
Rise up to this enemy foul!”
Every son, nephew and father
Has lost ears to the hereafter.
A country at peace has no matter
More urgent than cafe chatter.
In the horizon, tanks roll in,
Flags of the enemy flying.
Soldiers in battle gear sweeping
Lands cheap and easy for their taking.
“War is here! War is here! It’s true!”
General Lee cries till he’s blue.
“I lied before but now I’m through!
Take up arms now or we’ll be screwed!”
No one hears his third alarm raised,
No one sees the need to be fazed.
Not when “war” is bandied like a craze
To call any kind of malaise.
Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.
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