Read time: 2 mins

The Present  

by Goh Yong Ming Calvin
17 June 2024

Every couple of years, my mother, restless in retirement

instructs me to sort through my belongings, allegedly

so I may keep stock of what I have, but quietly hoping

that I relinquish the junk that cluttered the house for too long


This is typically an exercise in futility—but she is insistent

more so than usual; under her watchful eye, I slide from under the bed

the dust-coated cardboard box containing my life

in pictures, paraphernalia, promises from a past passed


Scattered on top is a cornucopia of memories ascribed onto

otherwise meaningless ticket stubs and receipts

that I am loath to discard, even though the ink has faded

and I cannot tell them apart


Beneath these, a box of country flag erasers and a sack of marbles

both acquired after triumphant battles in the schoolyard

a jar of baby teeth, rattling, yellowed, stained

stored for over two decades as a memento of my childhood


Tucked underneath, an expired passport contains proof

that my visits to faraway lands are not mere figments of imagination

holding these objects, I am struck with a sudden epiphany

cornered by the past, I have no room for the present


The deeper I dig, the more comes to light. I journey

down the rabbit hole of cursed memories; my joy turns to sorrow

as I pick out a Polaroid with peers I no longer speak to

a souvenir from a country I have never visited


A scrap of note paper, covered in inappropriate doodles

a stuffed toy, promising love neverlasting

a letter from an ex, filled with saccharine lies

a horde of matter, hoarded, that no longer matters


‘Keep how long liao? Time to throw away lah.’

with distance comes sense; with ambivalence

I watch practicality trump sentiment

as my life is sorted into piles of keep, don’t keep, donate


The first, tarped and labelled, is shoved back under the bed

the second is unceremoniously dumped next to the trash receptacle

the third finds new life for the bits and pieces that

made me, but no longer define me.

I wait for the inevitable sense of loss and longing to descend

but it never comes; instead

with the boxes set aside

I felt free, unburdened—

deeply grateful for the present I did not ask for

Illustration © Isma Hasan 

About the Author

Goh Yong Ming Calvin

Goh Yong Ming Calvin is a literature educator from Singapore who enjoys exploring what different literary genres have to offer. A strong believer of ‘writing what you know’, he is enchanted by the beauty of the quotidian and how it is perceived through different lenses. He is also fascinated by the power of language to […]