A Lack

A Lack

Words by Valerie Eng.

Illustrations by Hazel Koh.

[Trigger warning for death.]


 i close the door behind my feet

every time i enter my room now.

the curtains are always drawn

and there is no light in my room.


darkness. impure, sifted sewage

spilling from the windows. i close my

eyes and i am in the onyx of your

absence. i can hear your footsteps

following me, soft and heavy and measured;


i cannot see my ten fingers or my ten toes,

i can only force myself to feel,

to imagine my toenails gripping the air.


the air that holds your breath even

though you are nothing but ashes

chasing the wind and chased by lightning,

though you are everything but dust

chasing death and chased by –

God knows what.


i cannot see my ten fingers or my ten toes,

i can only will myself to feel.

to cry and wail and scream and shriek,

to think of your face, grinning, held close to fried chicken

and your face held still between two stalks of flowers.


i can feel it, Ally, i can feel the tears coming.

they rush up, a needle for each time i think of you,

and then they stay there, unmoving.

maybe it’s the footsteps that fade into silence,

quickening as a shooting star approaches,

dissolving into sunken tears as the star fizzles out.


and it’s all too fast. my hands never stop moving

and there is no time to sit and think

of how you aren’t here any longer,

how i’ve lost a friend. no time to sit with the loss

feel it from shell to intestine, no time to

think what i mean when i say ‘RIP’ over and over

without really deciding if it’s peace or power i want it to be.


no time to let the silent user behind the other screen type

its last seen into my skin, no time to

sit and think and feel and mourn and heal.


so instead of it all, my limbs launch

into ceaseless chatter and i switch on the light

and i open the door and i

sing at the top of my lungs and i

burrow myself furiously into words and i

think of everything else but you.


i have not shed a tear since your cremation.


Valerie lost her best friend Ally to suicide a few months ago. Valerie and Ally met during their stay at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where they founded a writing collective called The Youth Are Rising (TYAR). Born from a passion of words, TYAR aims to become a strong, community-driven organisation that provides accessible creative therapy to youth with mental health issues in Singapore. Centred around the power of words, TYAR hopes to bring safe spaces, empowering platforms, and kind communities that invest in the creativity of society through narrative therapy. Valerie has been continuing to work on TYAR since Ally’s passing. To find out more and get involved in TYAR, email theyoutharerising@gmail.com.

Hazel Koh is an illustrator and contemporary artist concerned with understanding slowness and emotion in an age of desensitizing technological overstimulation. She reads, thinks and draws, working mostly with images.