Philosophical Paper #1:
Four Variations Upon a Question

"If we are to formulate our question explicitly and transparently, we must first give a proper explication of an entity with regard to its Being."
        -- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

I. The Necessity for Explicitly Stating the Question

are you thinking,"
he half-states and half-asks
as though
the thought were
to be shared with him
like a dresser drawer or
the excess of the last slice of pie.

am I thinking,"
I reply with borrowed
innocence.  The coffee
is brown and the eggs
are runny; are
these the earth and the sky
that bound me to myself?
    No--my thought is more
        the friction of skin upon
            skin, a physics of variable
                forces, time as a
            tease taunting
        rhythm down to the level of
    empty space.
But this is not what I
say.  I
do not speak.

(A split-
ing of minds, poised on the
of reply, and the desired
answer slips
from me.)
"--are you thinking"
when you dare me to
confess: my mind, dearest
cogito, lies three millimeters beneath
this yellowing skin;
beneath that is an unknown quantity.
I fear
that it betrays
whatever is there.
I fear that it betrays me.

Return to beginning of poem

II. The Formal Structure of the Question

Must a question summon its partner
                                      by necessity?

A letter lies upon my desk--
    one delicate thread of ink
broken and knotted and twisted
    into meaning.   into meaning.

*     *     *

"that which is asked about--"
"that which is interrogated--"
"that which is to be found by the asking--"

*     *     *

        the meaning of reply is
            this distance
between thought and the womb of thought
you cannot enter,
although your wrists are slim.

*     *     *

The Chinese language has a
clever way
of letting the listener know
when she is being
asked a question.

There is no word
for these words--only a
indistinct sense
of relief
when one finds one's bearings
in the midst of interrogation.

*     *     *

Asking because.
Because of the impossibility.
Because you are not inside me.
Because you are not me.

Return to beginning of poem

III. The Ontological Priority of the Question

When you grasp her about her
waist, press your open mouth against her
stomach, speak your soft soul through
the pores of her skin, she
cannot hear you,

my dear one.
The contour of your hand melts into
the contour of her sides,
as her contours melt into yours,
clouding the senses like
a warm infusion.

This is the puddle you form
in the mind of your everyday life,
where you found her dripping
into your menial tasks.  A stain forms on
your mouth, where the words
that would release this flow
refuse to spill themselves.

you let it rise
through this pool of time,
built up like tap-water beneath your house.

You let it rise
in tensions, unrippled, through
the short drive home,
the hurried meal, standing, in the company of the cat
as you rifle through messages on the counter-top,
through the smile she finally offers as
she eases you out of the kitchen into the room you share.

You let it rise
even as this evening comes full circle
with evenings that have come before.
You grasp her about her waist
and kiss her breast, her collarbone,
her neck, her cheek,

and when you whisper,
what are you thinking?
into that quiet place where she has left her soul,
your thought spills over
where before, you kept it in check,
it spills over through this fog
in which you lost sight of her,
you are no longer searching for her.

This edge
has formed in the place of your watery thoughts;
towards the other bank, you squint
to see yourself.

Return to beginning of poem

IV. The Ontical Priority of the Question

When he has grasped you about your
waist, pressed his open mouth against your
stomach, spoken his soft soul through
the pores of your skin, you
still cannot hear him.
At this point

your mind is clear of
thoughts, tabula rasa to a mere touch
that speaks and yet does not speak
at all.  There is a woman
beneath his hands,
present and ready,
her arches and contours a thoughtful endeavor
in this bed where a he and a she
come together,
and yet her breath comes in spurts
from a place he cannot find
in his closeness.

You lie there,
waiting for him to realize
there is not a woman beneath his hands.

There was a woman
who lived with him;
she left him in the mornings,
smelling of shampoo,
Over cutting boards and faucets,
they would fill each other's absence
with the daily events.  She spoke to him,
a stream of words barely louder than the TV,
and therein, he probed for her thoughts.

the kitchen and the bedroom
flow into the peripheral ends of his vision,
and your love-making floods into the foreground.
The sum of your life
melts into him and loses its shape,
even as the shape of your body
becomes more distinct.
When you clasp his face
and raise your head to whisper back,
you melt even further--
you become a reflecting pool,
and he makes out his own image
between the series of breaths that shake you in this watery sight.

It is love that allows him
press into you, and love that
allows you to press back with equal force
(and love that allows me
to speak of you as though
you were myself).
But in the thought
that floats to the surface
where your skins meet
--I am thinking of you--
at that very moment when intimacy
pops open, a corridor between his heart and
your heart,
there is only a leaf floating through space.
Supreme loneliness.

The question has answered itself.

Return to beginning of poem

V. Epilogue

I have shared this slice of pie with you
and found ten thousand questions protruding within.

I have found this strand of my thought
and projected it into the future with your name.

I have a woman inside me
who resembles the woman outside
only on special occasions.

A story will be woven
from the answers thus offered.
I leave her at the loom
with a book to read
and a symphony to hum
and hope that when I return,
I shall find you waiting,

my partner.

Return to beginning of poem

7 Feb 1994 -- 16 April 1994
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Sylvia Chong (