Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Later Letter of Sultan Mahmoud

Wherein our fabled folk-hero, the Sultan, mulls over loss.

Brides and marshals have left my side,
My provinces I have lost; my pride has deserted me
Only in your goodness you have kept me alive
When I rend my throat for mercy and no one hears me, you are there
Day after day, my life receives from you a trickle of hope
My love is for you -- how can I pine for anyone else?
The world's treasures before me are as so many pearls before swine
I chase, I covet, with feigned fervour, but I fool no one:
As easily as I gain what I desire, they are taken from me
Only you, for in every moment I long to return to your embrace!
Never turn your gaze away, lest I turn to dust
For I am filled with dread for when you too will leave me forever
I will tear my robes, I will shred my heart, I will never regain peace.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Lament of the Three Marys - Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire

A Pheadair, a Aspail, an bhfaca tú mo ghrá geal? (Óchón, is óchón ó)
Chonaic mé ar ball é á chéasadh gan ordan (Óchón, is óchón ó)
- Oh Peter, apostle, did you see my loved one? (Alas, alas, and alas!)
- I saw him while ago, being attacked by the enemy (Alas, alas, and alas!)
Cé hé an fear breá sin ar Chrann na Páise?
An é nach n-aithníonn tú do mhac, a mhaithrín?
- Who is that fine man on the Tree of Passion?
- Don't you recognize your own son, Mother?

An é sin an maicín a thuileadh in ucht Mháire?
An é sin an maicín a rugadh insan stábla?
- Is that the little son I carried for three trimesters?
- Is that the little son who was born in the stable?

An é sin an maicín a d'iompair mé trí ráithe?
A mhicín mhuirneach, tá do bhéal is do shróinín gearrtha
- Or is that the little son who was reared at Mary's breast?
- O little darling son, your mouth and your nose are cut

Cuireadh tairní maola trína chosa is trína lámha
Cuireadh an tsleá trína bhrollach álainn
- And blunt nails were driven through his feet and hands
- And a spear was driven through his beautiful chest

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Painting for Sakhayana

On Monday, while evening mass had just started, Sakhayana Alekseyeva, a famous actress who lived in Yakutsk, saw a painting which I had published on Instagram. She replied, saying that she loved it, then she shared it for the rest of her fans. It was the best thing that happened all day! I made sure the world knew.

I made the painted version of this picture in particular from Marie's advice, because of that mesmerising and surreal effect from the frost on her eyelashes, and also I needed some outlet to express and exorcise this unlikely, sudden, and stupid infatuation which stirred my emotions into a mush and gave inspiration to all sorts of strange creative ventures.

Back before the sanctuary, I gave a quick thanks to the upstairsman for allowing me even this small and frivolous joy in painting a picture of a beautiful lady, and the indulgence of being noticed for the trouble. I certainly hope this made her day as much as it had made mine. Meanwhile I shall pack up and busy myself with many other things.

Acrylic on canvas 30 x 30 cm
  20 March 2016

(It's just a study, really.) 
[Link to Sakhayana's Instagram]
[Drama series "Ыллыктар (Transcr.: Illıktar)" from NVK Sakha]

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Confession of Alessandro Serenelli, 1961

I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.

Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.

My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.

There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.

When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.

If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.

Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.

I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.

Alessandro Serenelli, May 5, 1961

--- original Italian text ---

Sono vecchio di quasi 80 anni, prossimo a chiudere la mia giornata.

Dando uno sguardo al passato, riconosco che nella mia prima giovinezza infilai una strada falsa: la via del male che mi condusse alla rovina. Vedevo attraverso la stampa, gli spettacoli e i cattivi esempi che la maggior parte dei giovani segue quella via, senza darsi pensiero: ed io pure non me ne preoccupai. Persone credenti e praticanti le avevo vicino a me, ma non ci badavo, accecato da una forza bruta che mi sospingeva per una strada cattiva. Consumai a vent’anni il delitto passionale, del quale oggi inorridisco al solo ricordo. Maria Goretti, ora santa, fu l’angelo buono che la Provvidenza aveva messo avanti ai miei passi. Ho impresse ancora nel cuore le sue parole di rimprovero e di perdono. Pregò per me, intercedette per me, suo uccisore.

Seguirono trent’anni di prigione. Se non fossi stato minorenne, sarei stato condannato a vita. Accettai la sentenza meritata; rassegnato espiai la mia colpa.

Maria fu veramente la mia luce, la mia Protettrice; col suo aiuto mi diportai bene e cercai di vivere onestamente, quando la società mi riaccettò tra i suoi membri. I figli di San Francesco, i Minori Cappuccini delle Marche, con carità serafica mi hanno accolto fra loro non come un servo, ma come fratello. Con loro vivo dal 1936.

Ed ora aspetto sereno il momento di essere ammesso alla visione di Dio, di riabbracciare i miei cari, di essere vicino al mio angelo protettore e alla sua cara mamma, Assunta.

Coloro che leggeranno questa mia lettera vogliano trarre il felice insegnamento di fuggire il male, di seguire il bene, sempre, fin da fanciulli. Pensino che la religione coi suoi precetti non è una cosa di cui si può fare a meno, ma è il vero conforto, la unica via sicura in tutte le circostanze, anche le più dolorose della vita.

Pace e bene!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Folktale told in the Winter Solstice

Photo by Charel Klein
The story goes that there were three gods: The first ruled the sky, the second ruled the earth, the third ruled the universe. Each god was unshakably convinced that he himself was the greatest of all the gods, and no day passed without the three gods boasting quarrelsomely about their own greatness. Eventually they became tired of convincing the others by words alone. They agreed to hold a contest, so that each can take turns to reveal themselves to the people and then find out which one among them was the greatest, once and for all.

The god of the sky mustered all his strength, then with a flourish of his left hand he whipped up the fiercest storm that the world has seen of this age. Forceful gales blew over the ocean in to the land from the furthest north, sweeping people off their feet, and carrying their homes away in mudslide and deluge. With the snap of his finger he created the lightning, and anything or anyone who crossed the path of thunder were burned to a crisp. With his right hand he shook the land and a great wave passed over the ocean, and soon a thousand fishing towns nestled by the western shores of the ocean were soon carried away by the raging waters: women in the homes, children in the homesteads, and men in fishing boats. And the Barentines and the people of Tunu and Iceland fell prostrate before him in terror and said: enough, we shall worship you; hereafter take our sacrifice. 

The god of earth mustered all his wit, and with the sweetest singing tone began to sing to the people. The wealth of your masters are ripe for the taking, as are the bounty of all the earth. Rise up against your oppressors, take what is rightfully yours. Hold on to no scruples, as I who wield the wheel of history is by your side. With his left hand he set the houses of the wealthy aflame, and with the right hand he uprooted the trees of the forest, and turned the skies grey with soot. The enlightened masses of the eastern lands fell upon their enemies with gleeful pillage, even turning on their own tribesmen in their fervour for progress. But after this unfortunate time of bloodshed and rapacity had passed, peace once again returned, and the people who remained saw all these and were happy. We shall worship you, you who have created our new world, chorused the prosperous Lenese and the well-fed Chukchi, hereafter take our sacrifice.

The god of the universe mustered all his power, then became a small child, a helpless and minuscule homunculus who grew in the womb of a woman, who bore him in the stables and brought him up until he became a man: a man of genuine human likeness and appearance, who walked among the people. He spoke in a humanly tongue of love, mercy, and the unity of mankind. Men and women of all trades were drawn to him; those who believed his words became as newborns, coming to be again in haloes of water and fire: new men of shrewdness and wisdom, incapable of deceit, yet as innocent as the buntings in the snow. With his power he forgave people of their wrongdoings, healed the incurable, and raised the dead. The rich and the powerful resented his ways, but when they tried to kill him, he tore down their place of worship and built another in its place within three days. And the Rumelians and Taimirians fell prostrate before him in the new temple day after day, proclaiming his name above that of every other god.

And this is why the Barentines live in perpetual fear of the elements, why the Lenese live in absolute confidence in their industriousness and scientific knowledge, and why when you ask a Rumelian about the god whom they worship, they could speak of him for days and days without ever stopping for breath.

References: Psalm 82:1, Philippians 2:6-11, John 3:5, John 1:47, Matthew 10:16, Mark 14:58

Photo of Snow Bunting by: Charel Klein (

Thursday, November 26, 2015

You have never left my side

You have never left my side.
You were there in my darkest hours,
When the Tornado-demon hovered by my ears,
Convincing me that I have been left utterly alone.
That I was worthless dust, left by the wayside,
That my friends have fallen away
And all that I can look forward to is for the next storm to pick me up
And scatter me into the cornfields of Nebraska.
But I know that not all my friends have fallen away
Because the ones that remain have become my support.
In my heart I know, though my emotions had withered to the bone,
And consigned themselves to the realms of the Damned,
That you are present in every Tabernacle;
That in every feast I taste the fruit of your goodness
And work of your hands;
That whenever the demon should incite me
To close my doors from my brothers and sisters,
I should throw them wide open.
And so let this worthless dust be scattered into the prairies
Let it tell of your succour and help.
As my feeble senses fail, so shall your glory fill the lands
Down to every canyon and dank alleyway;
Lasting joy in the face of grief.
Ach, let it be so.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Postgraduate Journal 3.12.6

Faithside: This semester has actually been pretty good on my side, despite the emotional low point miasma that stuck around when the semester started and I hauled ass right back to the school residence. Part of this is because I resumed my old practice of joining daily mass in the church across the road from my residence hall. I first joined (and committed to) daily mass in a panic during a particulary severe depression pang when I was working in Nebraska, whereafter the affliction was cured within two weeks. For this I credit the very reassuring presence of Jesus in the tabernacles and also the connections that I have built with members of the Nebraskan and Singaporean faithful who have stayed by my side and have been real champs. In November the church remembers the faithful departed and I have found joy in telling people the story of Tina and keeping her in the realms of the remembered. I am also especially grateful to Amanda and co. and their newly-fromed Ubi Caritas group in Yale-NUS College, a place where the spirit of rigorous enquiry and willingness to tackle big scary questions of faith has been nurtured and maintained. Guys, if you are reading this, I heart you all; this semester is gone too soon!

In other news, (1) daily Rosary was instated on the NUSCSS side, to the point that a small group of us, myself included, are doing it out of sheer force of habit. October was the month of the Rosary, not November, but it does not seem to matter any more to the diehards. (2) I have started a three-year programme of marking daily readings in the bible, because I heard an extraordinary claim that church readings cover the entire bible in three years, and I just have to see if that is really the case.

Scienceside: I have now a co-supervisor from Physics, a very kind and agreeable old professor dude, and am now caught in the thickets of computational physics. I actually prefer being snagged in the brambles of calculation than sucked into the quicksands of experimentation. One reason for this was that experimental people I have had to work with seemed to have scant interest in finding out how things actually work, and seemed to be bent on making things work by sheer power of will and by working themselves into a state of delirium (in which case anything at all can be thought plausible). The more important reason was that I sucked at experimental work while at the same time was passably good at calculation, having dabbled in computational techniques since my undergrad days. But even then, calculations sometimes don't work, and in fact at this moment none of my projects are working, and I have increasingly found myself compelled to cram undergraduate theoretical physics in order to understand the inner workings of my software, with its myriad weird error messages, (contra)indications, and acrobatic tricks.

I have been taking a course where I have learned to do computational physics from scratch. It started with some simple linear algebra and then swiftly degenerated into a mad scramble to write a working program with C that does high-powered stuff like Quantum Monte Carlo and the Metropolis Algorithm on Ising models and Schrodinger Equation solvers. Sad to admit but sometimes I fail to produce a working code (the Hydrogen molecule project has been especially disastrous), and the physics students are all pwning my arse at every turn. But I am positive, because my stated mission for this PhD adventure is to punch way above my weight, and this semester shall be no exception.

My first attempt at Monte-Carlo

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A visit to an old friend, the park official

Don't look so alarmed, Park Official Du. I know you're expecting me. You're not? Well then, please don't mind me having taken your seat while you were away for the day. It's just my little joke. Do you remember me? We met in college, during millitary training. Wasn't it fun? I have noticed your new pet project in the park has just been completed. My word, how the media loved it. I must congratulate you for having made it so well. It's not easy these days in this society, and you know that.

Don't look so glum, Park Official Du, managing the park is hard work, but I'm sure it (wink) pays off. Will you be so kind to help out an old friend? You know the economy these days, people burning out their cash on Shanxi coal mines and now grounding themselves like ships on coral in the stock market. You know it's tough surviving in society nowadays. Nice to have someone you can trust, eh? It's my nephew, they still aren't releasing him for the hit-and-run case, which you must have heard by now. I would have made them see reason, but they're already eyeing my own books. Some foolhardy cretins must have been trying to frame me again; I suppose they are about to use my good-for-nothing nephew as an excuse! Maybe I can't take care of the police very well now, but I'm sure they'll still listen to you, Park Official Du.

The past ten years have been a dream, but on the whole my family has never been very wealthy people. All we have, you might know, are each other, and a set of stainless steel cups which is our heirloom. It pains me but I must part with it, in gratefulness of having ever known you. No, please don't refuse it, I have made my decision to give it. I insist.

Besides, we still have a lot of these cups back home. You can have more of it if you'd like; yes, yes, you really can. It's been sitting idly with us all these years, and it will be such a shame if someone else got hold of it and accidentally... dropped it... on a glass bridge, for example. Yes, like the one that you built. It just wouldn't look very nice, don't you agree? (laugh) Oh, don't mind me, Park Official Du, it's my strange sense of humour again. It's a joke, as always. I'll leave you now, and hope to be seeing you around again.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Misa de Cristo Rey (Working Title)

A sneak peek of Sanctus

I composed a mass setting after being seized by the Muse for a few times over the months. I would like to dedicate it to the Parish of Christ the King in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I got the first brainwave. The name "Mass of Christ the King" seems to be taken, though. Should I find a new one?

Will anyone be using it? Will all this effort end up in something again? It's hard to tell, as always. But I have to start moving before I can find out at all.

Thursday, September 03, 2015


When you hear my petitions, Bubska,
Dance our dance, that no man will ever see
Sing my song, which only Eternity shall heed