Koh Jee Leong
Born in Singapore, Jee Leong Koh read English at Oxford University and studied Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. His poems have appeared in Singaporean anthologies, and American and British journals such as Crab Orchard Review, The Ledge, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide and Mimesis. “Mimesis”: His poem “Brother” has been selected by Natasha Trethewey for the Best New Poets 2007 anthology, to be published by the University of Virginia. His chapbook, Payday Loans, has just been published in April 2007, and is available at his blog: http://jeeleong.blogspot.com/. Of this thirty-sonnet sequence on love, work and migration, organized by the month of April, Marie Howe says, “Cash in your paycheck and buy this book.”
Valentine to Volume
More than a point in time, more than a line
from first to second date, more than a plane
of three coordinates – the groin, the brain,
the heart beating the amplitude of sine;
but less, much less, than the amassed incline,
the spike of rock, the muttering hoofs on plain,
on hatless scalps the drumming of the rain,
less than the density of years’ design
measures your body, after we have played,
not by the glistening mesh of pubic hair,
nor the mechanical springhook of knee,
not on the golden scales of shoulderblades,
but in the bathtub of my body, where
displaced water makes a discovery.
Lachine Canal, Montreal
To China through the northwest corridor,
through blasted passages, ice-crusted tides,
to reach the dragon-guarded shore,
the argosy of afternoon light rides
and disappears. Upriver, the fur trade
boomed, and busted land agreements reached
by bog trappers and royal maids
whose children pedal down in boats and, beached,
sleep singly or in twos. In my head, grass,
green toothpicks, pricks the back of my eyelids
to picture this carnal bypass
aslant the clenched black rocks spitting rapids.
Bright Admiral, my expeditious force,
command this rented tandem kayak, share
an hour of my eunuch course,
unscroll us through white arches of the air.
from Fire Island
7. Fire Island
It came to me days after my return
from the island,
the real ending,
the resolution of this brief resort
to old symbols, experience, of a sort,
and, most of all, memory’s cold, calm burn.
Staring into memory’s eyes, I saw
then the island,
and on a towel small as a handkerchief
my hollow body sleep, no joy, no grief
like a swan’s wingbone tossed up on the shore.
The beach, burning up the air, was empty,
sucked me to it,
to the body
and I entered it. I opened my eyes
and I knew something that rises and flies
from the Ocean had penetrated me.
I am no small matter. There is an ease
in a gold helm,
with a gold shield,
that tells me I’m born to overthrow gods,
born to whistle till night comes and the cold
land gives up its ghost like a steady breeze.
from Talk About New York
… I prefer to absorb whatever I see, take in the sights. It’s like if I talk, I’m afraid I will lose
whatever I am trying to keep in my heart.
There was a Chinese garden in the garden of
my memory: paper lanterns flying to the moon-
shaped entrance to an artificial, green lagoon
reflecting the pagodas and lotuses above.
Perhaps I fell in the lake after you said you cried
on seeing Hangchow’s bridges span its wide canals.
Perhaps a Chinese garden forms in all locales
where past and present, hurrying to meet, collide.
Perhaps. The fact sticks it to me that I was wrong.
Also mistook your hotel’s name, Pennsylvania,
for my Peninsula, my metropolismania
programmed to build a city where I may belong.
But you were staying in Penn’s Woods, and in the Bronx
we strolled through local forest the geography
teacher in you explained when asked – canopy,
understory and floor – , then glimpsed two quick chipmunks
scuttling into the shrubs. Cheeky reminder that
we weren’t home climbing Bukit Timah, leading the way
for students, playing parents for less than a day,
recognizing the will of the brownnose or brat.
You paused, and read from a botanical park sign:
that tree, a pine-like species, was deciduous –
a fact that contradicted the world known to us
who thought that every conifer was evergreen.
We walked on, slightly changed, around the real estate
camouflaged by daylily and rose gardens. Dazed
by the noon sun to silence, we walked on, amazed,
before our bodies caught up with us at the gate.