Showing posts from March, 2006

Payday Loans (11 of 31)

My father doesn't know Zeus from Zeno
and doesn't care. His philosophy works
through his hard hands, and not through easy talk
(We have two ears and one mouth. Robert Koh),
when he makes the giant a.c.'s fever go
from power plants and when, at home, he checks
his children's tantrums with one palm. He takes
charge, you can say, of climate control. So,
when schoolbooks tell me how these authors dig
their dad in whose furrows they trod and trod,
how for their famous pop those poets burn
or how yet another posse fights the pig
of an artist-pater, Ah! I thank my god,
I am the spark of an electrician.

Middleton Place, Charleston

March 27 Monday. Middleton Place was a former rice plantation worked by slaves. During harvest, each man was responsible for half-acre a day, called a task. Women and young boys were called half-hands and had half-tasks. Some were called quarter-hands. The rice planted was Carolina Gold; it was shipped to other colonies, Europe and even as far as China, and it made the rice planters the richest men in North America.

Behind the plantation restaurant were the former stableyards, exhibiting the blacksmithing and weaving skills needed to make the plantation self-sufficient. Only two gravestones belonging to slaves had been found on the grounds. One belonged to a domestic servant, possiblty a butler, the other to an unlisted slave, possibly a cousin to the wagon-driver. Butler and wagon-driver were positions of some responsibility in the economy of the planation. Perhaps the planters forked out some money for the gravestones, which were then erected by the other slaves who would themselves …

Circular Church and Blossoms

March 26 Sunday. The Circular Congregational Church reminded me of the Round Church in Cambridge, England. This Romanesque Revival structure, as my Lonely Planet informed me, boasted three circles, one for each member of the Trinity. The cemetery was small but well-maintained. Winston was particularly interested in a grave for three brothers who died when they were children. The epitaph was composed in rhyming couplets. We also looked into the cemetery of St. Michael's Episcopal Church, lit by bursts of pink and red azaleas.

Dinner was at Blossoms, a relative newcomer to restaurant row. My blackened mahi was delicious and Winston's crab ravioli better. The waiters, mostly male, were white and blond and young and, since they were not simalacra of each other like in New York City, presented a procession of blond in different shades and shapes. I could almost believe I was eating in Abercombie & Fitch, except for the barracks-like ceiling of the restaurant. My faith was shaken…

Journal Entry on Savannah

March 25 Saturday. The Telfair Museum of Art was housed in a beautiful Regency house to which was later added a rotunda now serving as the main gallery. Sylvia Shaw Judson's "Bird Girl" took pride of place in the former drawing room. Equal parts severe and serene, the Girl, balancing one plate on each hand, harkened back to the Victorian idea of cemeteries as gardens. In the same room hung David Delong's architectural etchings, all finely observed, done during his stay in Washington D.C.. We saw the rest of the Delong exhibition and I was particularly taken by his sketches of the world of motorcycle racing. The sketches, of a group of friends unloading a bike from the back of a van, of enthusiasts examining an unloaded bike, of referees behind their stand, the American flag artfully arranged as if it were the starting flag, and of many others, were far more engaging than his oil paintings of similar subjects. Something about the subject--its grittiness, its casual ma…

Payday Loans (10 of 31)

My cipher is the Paradise Tree Snake
which flattens itself into aerofoil
and glides. This house on earth is luck’s mistake;
I’m born of air, not water, wood or soil.
Here many snakes exist, less snake than sock.
A python sleeps in its non-Delphic pit.
Two oriental whips pair in wedlock.
And a black spitting cobra does not spit.
This cage has stupefied desire and doubt;
I must escape into the thrashing trees
and navigate in darkness like the scout
who senses through its skin false guarantees
and turns, mid-flight, towards the unforeseen,
not held back by what has, or might have, been.


from my journal entries on Savannah and Charleston:

March 24 Friday. Historic Savannah could have started life as a movie set. The neat oak-shaded squares, commemorating important people in the city's past, from John Wesley to Polish patriot Pulaski, line up with the stately houses, in various stages of restoration, to give someone's idea of the South. Many of the houses, we learnt later, were in fact saved and…

Payday Loans (9 of 31)

I wake up with a hard-on and the light
between the hotel curtains gives the finger,
no rosy morn but pale pleurisied bringer
of the day to come: I'll write to write to write;
we’ll see, since we’re sight-seeing, the sights;
lunch with an ex-boyfriend not seen in years;
go to a bar where we will lust and leer
but do nothing before we call it a night.
I turn and turn and still the sheets disgust
me. He disgusts me. I disgust me. Lust
winds me round it. The finger, bruised, a slight
cut in the curtains, previously a smear,
hardens into a direction, clear,
desirable and promising as light.


from my journal entries on Savannah and Charleston:

March 23 Thursday. The Amtrak station outside Charleston was far smaller than we had imagined. Lonely Planet estimates the Charleston population at about 96 000, so the size of the station makes sense in retrospect. One room served as ticketing and administrative office, another a waiting room backed by bathrooms and a snack machine, the third another waiting ro…

Payday Loans (8 of 31)

Frank, the Italian, stops the leaving priest,
and asks, scissors in hand, "Who’s the next pope,
Father?” The cleric smiles, “I’ve not the least
idea.” “Why the mystery? The bishop
of Milan, right? A powerful diocese.
Never Nigeria. He’s got no hope.”
The cleric leaves a generous tip. Greased,
Frank turns to the two darker barbers, who mope
like Carver’s men, and asks, “You know the ‘poop’?”
One nods vaguely. The other says, “I know,
yeah, yeah. The poop.” Frank points to his arse, “Poop.”
I sit down in Frank’s chair and think (“I know,
I know.”) about my job interview (“Poop,”
Frank chuckles.) and how Frank’s the best I know.


Yesterday I finished reading Earl Wasserman's The Finer Tone on Keats' major poems. I find his interpretations of the odes, "La Belle Sans Merci" and "The Eve of St. Agnes" persuasive. He attempts to reconstruct Keats' symbolic system on the assumption that Keats offers a coherent and consistent account of his system in his poems. The syst…

Payday Loans (7 of 31)

(Smacks his head) Of course! That’s the secret!
Pulitzer winner and a battery
of awards, Ted Kooser lasts so long as poet
and insurance Pres. because of his secretary.
(Think Wallace Stevens.) “Miss Lincoln, take care
of this, will you?” “Where’s that file, Miss Lincoln?”
“The last poem, Miss Lincoln, is it quite there?”
Give me my loaf-haired secretary. Larkin.
The lucky bastards. Then your voice reminds,
“Do you need this shirt for your job interview?”
and I think I’m the lucky bastard, assured
you’ll run my Benefit and Life while I
dictate, your voice efficient on the line
to me (“Yes.”), President and uninsured.


I was one of five featured readers at the Neuronautical Institute's first poetry reading at the Bowery Poetry Club yesterday. I read a 15 minute set consisting of "Brother," "Come on, Straight Boy," "Hungry Ghosts," "Underground and Above," "Song of the Reformed Headhunter" and "Mermen." The Neuronautical Institute, organi…

Payday Loans (6 of 31)

Love, your apartment is a mess, a state
for six years you live with, in, no, become.
Newspapers, letters, CDs, books are crumbs
scattered on this rented hardwood plate.
Floored in the bedroom, the mattress conjugates
the two of us; pajamas, glad bridegrooms
shed the morning after, they assume
an aspect of permanence. Why hesitate
then when I said I’d move my things to join
my briefs, in that white drawer, and toothbrush?
You said you need your space bought with the coin
of years making the mess your own, the hush
when you can’t hear the argument of groins.
My rucksacks wait. They can wait. They won’t rush.

Payday Loans (5 of 31)

Rage, as before, against the Fall, Baghdad,
the body's prick but in a villanelle?
If style's a way of being in the world, as Good-
man says, against what does the change rebel?
The termite temple of lust, fame and friends?
World closing in like water? From the shore,
the wave outruns and picks three out of ten.
The pope died yester-, no, the day before.
So long, pope! We're still left with mystery
you poke and jab and slap and kick and hack
while crooning sweetly to her in your shack.
(Here it comes: the obligatory flattery.)
Your twelfth book opens with a tenor's plight,
brings down the house with “entry into night.”

for Stephen Dobyns, on the publication of Mystery, So Long

Payday Loans (4 of 31)

“Poop-on-the-floor,” insult the kids, preschool
in Billy Collins’ poem, and “Dumb Goopyhead.”
Latino Boy retorts, this poem’s retard,
it’s written by a white. Indian Girl rules,
nobody talks like that. She wants Abdul
to smile at her or smirk at what she said.
A black boy stares, dreaming, into the yard.
The others give up. Their blank looks are cool.
How do I write for these? They’re merely types
within whom roam detachments of girls and boys
and within them grown-ups, their stars, their stripes,
commanding a terrible allegiance. Deploy
rhythm and rhyme? Send for Rumi? LeRoi?
Reduce to gangsta rap? Retard, he snipes.

Payday Loans (2 of 31)

Lifeguard, who are you watching in this train
awashed in bottles, cups, along the aisle?
Your shoulders search me with so bright a smile
that it goes down, through, like a good champagne.
These past months, year, treacherous tides, in vain
I have been waving for a versatile
Savior to hold me up in dull denial
of waters dragging me down like Hart Crane.
Save me (your sweatshirt boasts of your vocation)
from love’s inexorable throat, a coward
as I’m who wishes by this invocation
to float and flout the flux. Loose-limbed lifeguard,
what do you have to say? You’re on vacation
and this your stop? But there’s a huge reward!

Payday Loans (1 of 31)

“Poets who cope with everyday vicissitudes by saying them do not tend to produce fully formed, self-standing "poems." We have neither the luxury to be detached craftsmen nor the divine grace to lose ourselves completely in great imitations. Rather, it is each one's persistent attitude that is his poem; the whole book is a more objective poem than any of the poems.” Paul Goodman

To which united state can I apply
for the position of official bird,
or unofficial, when what seems preferred
are local fliers states themselves supply?
And rightly so, Heart twitters in reply,
for countries to prefer what they have spurred
to song or flight into a foreign word,
or what adopted, like the cuckoo. I,
alas, am not a cuckoo-clock or bald
two-headed eagle and it is too late
to try to be either. But I have hauled
my famine long-distance from the Strait
of Singapore and now quaver to be called,
so I can crash-land at the correct gate.

The Neuronautical Institute presents...

an Equinox poetry reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club,
and I am one of the featured readers. It'll be lovely
to see you, if you can make it.

Jee Leong

Date: March 21 (Tue)
Time: 6-8 p.m.
Place: Bowery Poetry Club (NYC)

Directions: foot of First Street, between Houston
& Bleecker across the street from CBGBs; F train
to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker

The Idiot

My cousin, Ah Hou, flung my specs and fled
from the tenth floor to catch what he’d dispatched.
The plastic lenses were crazily scratched.
On another day, my cousin, Ah Hou, hid
my school bag in the garbage bin. His mum
screamed. He rubbed his head and acted dumb.

When he was born again, Ah Hou renamed
himself Hosea. Worked in a shoe factory.
At weddings, he would sidle up to me,
both visibly alone, vaguely ashamed,
to preach, God would have cracked him like my specs
if Ah Hou had stayed hidden like my bags.

His ailing father was China but the cure

His ailing father was China but the cure
was not Confucius whom the son threw out,
along with the physician. His father died

and, in another country, when he turned
into a street limned by electric lamps,
his father stood up like a shadow on a wall.

He led the shadow home and put to bed
the dead who coughed into the porcelain throat
of the red spittoon, coughed and called to arms

his sons black-jacketed, their queues cut off,
lovers of Huxley, Gogol, Shaw and Marx,
called out in a darkening voice for light.

on Lu Xun (1881-1936)

Delayed Gratification

When you asked me out to watch a musical, I thought, “How gay is that?”
Your childhood hero was a barber whose wife was raped: Sweeney Todd
flicked his blade, his mistress baked the men in pies and delayed, not yet!

Back in your one-cat apartment, on the futon, we watched The East is Red.
You slept in your own bed. Next morning, when you came to me, I caught
your lips in mine or, rather, I was caught. Your hands unhooked me, not yet.

We stumped the afternoon in Central Park. The crocuses were up. You gabbed
about some German phrase. Give me a French cab instead, I thought,
a covered horse-drawn carriage. But the Rambles is not Tumble yet.

Back in bed, we watched 1984 ("Our scientists are set
to eliminate the orgasm."). My fingers circled, stopped and swam to your crotch.
You scooped them up and kept them in your sternum-pond. Not there. Not yet.

The cold sun rose. Seven times. The whole week I thought of caged rats,
the missed cab ride, the east is red, hot meat pies – musical plots
that …