From the coastal highway, you can almost see both
bridges, red taillights stretching across the strait,
factories letting their people go for now.
Air conditioners on full
blast in every car, pockets of resistance;

nights in Penang reach a high of thirty-five
degrees Celsius. I’ve been caught in the throng
of strangers and strange smells between buildings
in the old part of town,
somewhere between the Equator, tradition,

and foreign investments. The chains we make for
ourselves are the hardest to break. Both bridges
make dotted lines to the mainland in the dark, invisible
from Gurney Drive and
Flower Bay, the mess

of overpriced tourist attractions and teenagers who want
nothing more than to be someone else. I’ve seen
the assymmetrical shape of gratitude. Tonight, Penang is
bright and lit up like a fancy paper
lantern. It’s Saturday and tonight,

all the water in the world couldn’t surround
this island fast enough. It’s a fashion to start burning
from the inside out. Both bridges snake
over the water, twin pathways
for professionals trying too hard

to be everywhere at once, keeping Penang
in contact, plugged in, connected in both
reality and reflection. Two cables
for a sparking current so human, it’s ready
any moment to incinerate its own shell.

bridge2 (rickyliew)

Second Penang Bridge by Ricky Liew (Flickr)

This was written (for an assignment) after Great Southwest by Texas-dweller Glenn Shaheen. Referring to my hometown, the title of this poem points to the long-awaited completion of the second Penang Bridge in March 2014, connecting the island state of Penang to the mainland peninsula of Malaysia. The first Penang Bridge, completed in 1985, has been a cultural and architectural icon for Penang, and there was much ado, among the island-dwellers especially, about the second Penang Bridge.