Pickerel smile

Wanted to share this poem by Sarah Howe that caught my heart — it’s really about the joy of poetry interpretation.

Sarah Howe

pickerel, n.1 – A young pike; Several smaller kinds of N. American pike.
pickerel, n.2A small wading bird, esp. the dunlin, Calidris alpina.

I see it clearly, as though I’d known it myself,
        the quick look of Jane in the poem by Roethke –
that delicate elegy, for a student of his thrown
        from a horse. My favourite line was always her
sidelong pickerel smile. It flashes across her face
        and my mind’s current, that smile, as bright and fast
and shy as the silvery juvenile fish – glimpsed,
        it vanishes, quick into murk and swaying weeds –
a kink of green and bubbles all that’s left behind.

I was sure of this – the dead girl’s vividness –
        her smile unseated, as by a stumbling stride –
till one rainy Cambridge evening, my umbrella
        bucking, I headed toward Magdalene to meet an
old friend. We ducked under The Pickerel’s
        painted sign, its coiled fish tilting; over a drink
our talk fell to Roethke, his pickerel smile, and
        I had one of those blurrings – glitch, then focus –
like at a put-off optician’s trip, when you realise

how long you’ve been seeing things wrongly.
        I’d never noticed: in every stanza after the first,
Jane is a bird: wren or sparrow, skittery pigeon.
        The wrong kind of pickerel! In my head, her
smile abruptly evolved: now the stretched beak
        of a wading bird – a stint or purre – swung
into profile. I saw anew the diffident stilts
        of the girl, her casting head, her gangly almost
grace, puttering away across a tarnished mirror

of estuary mud. In Homer, the Sirens are winged
        creatures: the Muses clipped them for their failure.
By the Renaissance, their feathers have switched
        for a mermaid’s scaly tail. In the emblem by Alciato
(printed Padua, 1618) the woodcut pictures a pair
        of chicken-footed maids, promising mantric truths
to a Ulysses slack at his mast. But the subscriptio
        denounces women, contra naturam, plied with hind-
parts of fish: for lust brings with it many monsters.

Or take how Horace begins the Ars Poetica,
        ticking off poets who dare too much: mating savage
with tame, or snakes with birds, can only create such
        horrors, he says, as a comely waist that winds up
in a black and hideous fish. The pickerel-girl swims
        through my mind’s eye’s flummery like a game
of perspectives, a corrugated picture: fish one way
        fowl the other. Could it be that Roethke meant
the word’s strange doubleness? Neither father

nor lover. A tutor watches a girl click-to the door
        of his study with reverent care, one winter evening –
and understands Horace on reining in fantasy.

Here are some pickerels for you:

Credit: Charlesjssharp (Wikipedia) Credit: North American Native Fishes Association / File Photo

For completeness, here’s Roethke’s poem, which I hadn’t read before Howe’s:

Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse)
Theodore Roethke

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,

A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.


La belle dame sans merci

Was watching Season 6 episode 5 of Downton Abbey, and I feel just as intensely towards the show as in the beginning.

Mary Crawley’s my favourite, and I would love to be more like her — sure of herself, commanding, ambitious. This episode there was a moment that could have changed her entire family’s lives, and the conclusion she got out of that was — she had to be ready to lead. Then a scene of her, alone, framed by the columns of her house, her estate, her empire.

Perhaps I’d write a longer post on the richness of this show, how much there is to love about it. Part of it has to do with my fascination with the lives of the old English upper class (which came first, my enjoyment of english lit or my fascination?), but more than that, this show just expresses so much love towards all the household members. It doesn’t hurt that everything is gorgeous in this show — the house, the land, the costumes, and the cinematography showing the best of it. The beauty makes me ache.

The motley of characters in our LoL gang

As I grow older, the urge to express diminishes, especially when I have this convenient vehicle (cough lcy cough) to dump all my emotions and opinions on. It’s great for my mental health, but clearly not great for my creative output, which is approximately 0 at this point in time. Evidently repressed emotions are great for producing some form of art.

I’ve also grown more private, which I think stems from the utter security I feel with regards to where I am in life right now, in terms of social and material needs, etc.

In a conscious attempt to share more about my life, I’m going to introduce everyone to my league of legends gang, which claims the dubious award of being the group of friends I spend the most time with, by virtue of our shared interest/obsession, whichever way you wish to look at it.

#1 lcy
Our resident jungler and peanut-wannabe (SKT’s, best team in the world, jungler). Since he is after all my husband, he needs no introduction. This man has been playing for 6 hours straight today; his stamina is wondrous. But then again, you’re looking at Singapore’s pro-bridge player who just endured a 9 day bridge marathon (matches starting at 9am and ending at 7pm every day) with Asia’s best, so mental stamina is a given.

#2 HRHritaaa
The platinum-ranked player that looks down on us golds/silvers/bronzies from her lofty throne. The three of us — lcy, rita, and I — started playing league at the same time, but rita has left us in the dust of her heels (I’m last in the race, unfortunately). She likes playing support best and mid second. Always disconnects at the start of the game and reconnects within the next three seconds, as a sort of ritual to the internet gods. So far it has worked. When we queue and the accept phase fails, we shout “RITAAAA” even when she’s not queuing with us. Because 100% of the time she’s the one who failed to accept. Or so we say.

#3 lightningcrab
He has an assortment of weather-seafood accounts, like fogfish, thunderclam, etc. More than half the time he can be found on the TW server, performing the role of uncle agony. Mains support and top, the same roles as me. If the two of us are playing in the same game, he will pretend to ask me what role I want, to which I will answer “support”, and then proceed to reply, “Actually I want to play support today”. The question is a lie.

#4 wacqy
Our ADC. Besties with #3. Once he gave an ultimatum to crab to choose between TW server and him; TW server was chosen, so they were ex-besties for a night. When I support him, it sometimes happens that he dies, I remember I have a skill that I haven’t used, and I get the kill after using said skill. Lcy thinks that’s my strategy for not being accused of KSing, since it’s not KS if your adc is dead. Lcy is paranoid.

#5 weedee
Our mid. He used to be a one-trick pony with a godlike malzahar, but he has since added two more champions to his pool, syndra and ziggs. (I freely confess I am a zero trick pony.) Once a salty yasuo on the other side said “PRESS R ONLY I ALSO CAN” (R is the key for a rather long suppress, equivalent to a stun). I guess the yasuo can only press R and not the number key for the qss, which is an item he can get to cleanse himself of the suppress. Regularly cycles 30km in an hour, except today, when the 3pm time he gave us for being back at home to play ended up being 6.30.

#6 lelouch
He quit for a while, but it seems he’s back. Doesn’t have a mic, so is more mysterious than the rest. Can be put at practically any role. We haven’t tried having him as support, but that’s cos we have an abundance of those, if you couldn’t tell.

And so that’s the league bunch. We actually only knew rita and weedee in real life before this; weedee knew crab, crab knew wacqy, and I think crab and wacqy knew lelouch?? Anyway this is the magical power of multiplayer online games. The first time all of us met was in lcy’s and my house, because we decided to invite some random strangers. Our origin story is the stuff of animes. Probably.

Sanitary pads vs tampons vs diva cup

The title is descriptive, so if you’re not interested in the practical going-ons of bleeding down there, it’s a good idea to press the back button. Otherwise it’s a journey of TMI all the way.

1. Sanitary pad

Like most Singaporean (Asian?) girls, I started off using the pad. It’s very beginner-friendly — just paste it on your underwear. No instructions needed. That’s its only advantage over the other two products.

First, the dripping sensation is extremely uncomfortable, which distracts you from normal life. It makes you feel perpetually dirty down there. Whenever you go to the toilet, you spend a significant amount of time wiping whatever blood you see. If your flow is heavy, your pad won’t be able to absorb it fast enough, which makes you feel like you’ve peed yourself, and insecure that you’ve already leaked.

The leaking! That’s the dumbest part of it. You can be having an okay flow, but spend a couple of hours sitting down and the blood’s going to drip right down your butt, which presumably is not where your normal-length pad covers. You might as well be wearing a diaper when you go to sleep. God forbid you move around in bed.

On less significant issues, some people seem to think that the sanitary bin has a magical surface that repels the sticky side of the sanitary pad. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, it doesn’t, which means that everyone else is greeted with three soiled pads when they open the lid of the bin, because the pads are all stuck to the flap. Science.

For the less informed, this is what a bin looks like. There’s a flap that, if used properly, means that other sanitary pads are hidden from your sight and smell.

Sadly, it would be almost a decade before I started experimenting with other products. And I never looked back.

2. Tampons

When I was using the pads, I felt rather fearful of the other product, namely, tampons. It’s not exactly something I can see being demonstrated, and it’s rather different seeing anatomical diagrams on how to insert it, and gazing from above at your crotch.

Yes, this is what I see when I look at myself.

I had the good fortune to be given three samples of the tampons with plastic applicators, Tampax Pearl. In my opinion, it’s the best product to start with as a beginner. The applicators act like an injector, so all you have to do is find the correct hole down there, and shoot it in. (That’s what she said.) The plastic material makes the applicator slide more easily into that channel. Then you pull the applicator out and dispose of it.

I had a bit of difficulty figuring out what worked for me at the start, so I wasted a tampon before I succeeded. The diagrams don’t help much with that process, because when it comes down to it, you can only feel around to see which way your tube goes. For those who played my period game, yeah the second scene was how I felt.

(My period game:

So, slight learning curve. After that it changes your life. Say goodbye to drippy feeling, say goodbye to sanitary bins (you should switch to the cardboard applicators, which are more environmentally friendly and can be flushed down the toilet), say goodbye to wiping furiously. It’s great! You can even forget that you’re having a period!

Except don’t, because tampons come with this huge warning on every instruction sheet: TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. Namely, don’t leave it inside for more than 8 hours, otherwise you might die suddenly.


Damn! You might think. That sounds like way too much risk! For periods?? And you’ll be right. But hey, just don’t lie in on a saturday morning, don’t use super absorbent tampons when your flow is light, and you get to reap the benefits of this glorious product without dying!

But how do I tell when I need to change my tampon? You might be wondering. You can’t really tell with confidence, at least in my experience. If you feel like it’s heavy, or if you see stains on the tampon string, those are good signs to go by. Nevertheless, if you’re worried, it’s a good idea to just line your underwear with a pantyliner.

If your flow is super heavy, it’s more reason to use a tampon! You can use a pad on top of (or should i say below) the tampon, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll leak.

You never have to worry about how you’re sitting or sleeping!

Um, can you lose your tampon inside your vag? I’ve to say this is highly unlikely. It has a very long string.

And no, it doesn’t hurt.

3. Diva cup

After gaining confidence from successfully trying the tampons, I set my sights on the cup for a good few months.

I was in the states by then, and they were charging $30 at the time, which made it an investment of sorts for something that might not work in the end. Of course $30 is not that high a price to try something out, given that you pay that amount for a restaurant meal, but everything is relative and I was thinking about how a box of tampons was only 1/5 the price… ANYWAY, eventually I got around to seeing the value of this investment — no more worrying about whether I had tampons with me! No more spending money on tampons! ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY TO THE MAX! So that’s how I ended up buying it.

Even then, I only used it sporadically until a couple months later.

The learning curve of this is steep, baby. They have so many youtube tutorials advising you on the various ways of folding it when you insert it, and then letting it pop out after that, and it’s still hard. It hurt when I didn’t do it properly (eg, it prematurely pops out, or you pinch your insides), it hurts when it’s not deep inside enough… but once you’re past that, boy is it the best product.

It (so far) doesn’t run the risk of TSS. Laze all you want on Saturdays!

No monthly installments to sanitary product companies (and the government, if you’re in a country that calls your tampons a luxury item.)

Fantastic at dealing with heavy flows — it holds about 25 ml. Apparently a regular sanitary pad holds 5ml? If you don’t leak at some random spot.

Because it can hold so much, you can wait till you’re back home to take it out and wash it. If your flow is too heavy even for that, wiping it with toilet paper in a public toilet is a good temporary solution.

Bad part: you have to deal with cleaning it. Duh. Emptying the cup is actually quite interesting (a sort of satisfaction?), but it can be quite messy when you remove the cup, because blood is gooey. It’s ok once you get past the initial aversion. Just part and parcel of being a woman. Babies are grosser.


I’m using the diva cup now, so clearly I prefer it to the other two. I worry the least about leaking with it, and I don’t need to keep an eye out on my supply of pads/tampons. I also feel good about its environmental impact.

Here’s a handy table summarising the pros and cons of each product:

Sanitary Pads Tampons Diva Cup
 Learning Curve  Low  Mid  High
 Sensation  Worst: drippy feeling all day  Great: normal life proceeds! Great: normal life proceeds!
 Frequency of changing  High  High  Low
 Hygiene/smell  Worst  Best: pull it out and replace it. Don’t even have to look at the tampon.  Great when you’re just doing your normal toilet business. Emptying it brings you face to face with the menstruating demon, but that’s just two minutes of staring into the devil’s eyes. It doesn’t smell either.
 Risk of leaking
High  Mid: no need to worry about body posture, but you won’t know for sure when to change it. If you add a liner/pad, you’re pretty much invincible.  Low: can hold so much blood you probably don’t have to change it.
Health risk Probably none  Significant if you can’t remember to change your tampon  Low
Long term cost
Mid-high: cheaper than tampons in SG, at least when I was still using tampons two years ago High Low: you can use the same cup for years. I’m not even sure if there’s an end-date. Just factor in the cost of the soap used to wash it.
Environmental Impact
High High Low

That’s all, kids. Sanitary Products 101.

Japan in photos (part ii)

iv. Matsumoto

Every attraction we entered required us to take off our shoes, and the same went for Matsumoto Castle. I always thought wood would be good insulating floor material, but in the wintry air, they were dead icy to the feet. I wondered if the samurai running through the castle wore their shoes.










The mustaches they attached to their samurai mannequins made them look rather like dogs.


(This makes me think of the Undertale dog guards.)



v. Hakone

It was only on the second day, when the clouds blocked our view of Mount Fuji, that we realised how lucky we were on the first. When the clouds moved away the next day, I snapped a picture of Mount Fuji every other second, as if it might disappear any time.























Pola Museum: I never thought glass and concrete could create a warm feeling, but something about this place made me feel absolutely serene. The proportions and lines came together so cleanly. I have never felt this way about a modern building.







Since it was the new year, we decided to go along with the Japanese tradition of making a wish at the Hakone shrine. All the visual novels I played that were set in Japan (cough Hatoful Boyfriend) came to mind.




Spot our wish!

Bonus pic of Hatoful Boyfriend


vi. Tokyo

We became yoshis for about two hours and did not trip over any banana peels.





Now for the classic: the Meiji shrine, during New Year itself! We severely underestimated the number of people. We also did not know that we were queueing for an hour to throw some coins at a huge upside down tent xD

Before we saw the sheer human mass:






Well we queued up for an hour so we might as well


Happy new year folks!

(Part i here: https://melodily.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/japan-a-photoessay-part-i/ )

Japan: A Photoessay (part i)

i. Nozawa Onsen:

We arrived on Christmas Eve in the dark; watched snow fall lightly outside our bus. By the time we alighted, it had all melted onto the streets.







We asked the hostel staff for places that are still open for dinner at 10pm. As we were about to leave, another staff member rushed out to offer one last suggestion: “Not many people know about it, keep it a secret!”







We woke up the next morning to find snow-dusted streets.



















ii. Obuse:

The artist Hokusai resided in this town in the last period of his life. After browsing through the Hokusai museum, we embarked on a half an hour walk to the temple, which ceiling he had adorned with a phoenix. Paying 300 yen to enter, we stayed for only 10 minutes.










iii. Jigokudani Monkey Park:

It was a forty-minute trek on a path halfway up a hill. A slip on the exposed side would plunge us down a good twenty metres. “Pose for a picture!” I urged lcy, but he trudged resolutely ahead and did not say a word until we reached the plateau.



















iii. Karuizawa

We had originally planned to visit Matsumoto Castle, but it was pouring in the morning, so we changed our plans and headed to Karuizawa instead.







Bee-man’s shop was boarded up. For such a terrifying picture, one hopes that Bee-man is doing fine, despite his failed shop.













The icy slopes you see on the mountain are ski slopes. How does one go about building a ski resort anyway? Are there special ways of paving the slopes so that they are colder than the rest of the mountain? Or is that man-made snow?



Continued here: https://melodily.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/japan-in-photos-part-ii/

How about we give the tests for wannabe citizens to potential president candidates for a start?

After the election I’ve seen quite a few articles trying to rationalise what just happened, and a common trope was that reflecting some sort of liberal guilt — that we’ve somehow failed to reach out to the other half of America, to hold them within our arms of tolerance as we claim to hold people from minority groups. I say “we” because it is clear that my world view leans very much liberal, even as I am not an American.


yeah, even those who want to grab me by the pussy

I feel that this stems from a misunderstanding of tolerance. Tolerance is not an attitude extended blindly out to everyone, especially people who insist on hating certain groups of people because of their identities. Clearly, there is no room for both attitudes to co-exist; tolerating prejudiced attitudes sends a signal of condonance, implicitly expressing approval for these expressions of hate that very much decrease the quality of life of people these expressions are targetted at.

Hate is very much an active, invasive action; it seeks to expand the space of the group who expresses it, and reduce the space of the other.

As such, there is a similarity between the concepts of tolerance and free speech — while free speech, on the surface, means that everyone should be free to say anything they want, speech that aims to silence someone else contradicts that principle, and hence should not be included in the protections the law affords. It’s a violation of the social contract, where we strive to gain collective security by surrendering some of our freedoms. Simply put, hate speech should be outlawed, in a society that promotes free speech.

Another issue that this election has exposed is the appalling absence of checks for candidates running for political office in the USA. If we give citizenship tests to immigrants who want to become citizens of the country, how can we not have any sort of vetting criteria for the most powerful office in the most powerful nation of the world? Democracy is the best system of legitimacy we have, alright, but surely it is flawed democracy if there are no safeguards to prevent such an ignominious man and probably criminal from being considered in the first place, much less be elected. Perhaps it is a difficult, even impossible, job to get voters to care about the truth of rumours, but tests to ensure a BASIC knowledge of the political process and the economy’s mechanisms for everyone who wishes to run for president are surely easy enough to implement. SURELY. Not to mention, candidates who do not have a criminal record, and have no pending trials for crimes they might be found guilty of. Heaven knows, every other job vets potential employees thoroughly for criminal backgrounds; and yet the highest office in America doesn’t? What kind of joke is this? Now that attaining the office of president means that this man is above the law for crimes an ordinary person could go to jail for, it really makes a joke of judicial law.

To elect a man who acts on IMPULSE, who lacks so much knowledge in what he is going to have power over, as president, that is the very definition of DANGER.

And of course I can tell myself, well, I’m not in America, I don’t have to care so much — not about the minorities, women, and immigrants who will now have to fear for their future. Sure, except because America enjoys so much power, many countries’ futures are arguably at stake, not to mention the freaking environment which affects the not so distant future of our planet. As a couple of world wars have shown, it only takes a few crazy, power-hungry men to fuck over the world.