Tuesday, January 31, 2006

These are My Hands and Feet

I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.
The chicks were softer than the straw in the set.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

They scratched the grass beside the shops for men.
They were the best present a boy could get.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.

Mother called out from above. That was when
I stepped back to answer her, stepped on my pet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

The grass turned black. Its head was not broken.
Father could fix things but he was not home yet.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.

The Shopgirl cried out, Poke it back in! The mitten
with one loose strand was moving. It felt wet.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

My hands did what the woman said. Even then,
I could not save it. But I could not forget.
I could not count to ten till I turned eleven.
One, two, buckle my shoe, nine and a big fat hen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Writer in a Time of Revolution

on Lu Xun (1881–1936)

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 city, the meaning stood up
like a shadow on a wall, when he turned
into a street limned by electric lamps.
He led the shadow home and put to bed
the shade between the lines in Call to Arms.
There, the dead coughed into the porcelain throat
of the spittoon and called out in a red voice
to his sons black-suited, their queues cut off,
lovers of Huxley, Gogol, Shaw and Marx,
called out in a darkening voice for light.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Connoisseur Inspects the Boys

My source informs me you’ve acquired a catch
of boys to staff Happy Establishment.
Yes, one may find a peony in a shithole—
quite right, I have a discriminating nose.
Not for me, or my friend here, the common flower
roll in the Precious Mirror, well-known boys
cultivated to sing, dance, and recite
Shakespeare to please the tourists, foreign devils.
They are no longer Chinese in the most
vital sense of the word. Not virginal.
To be premature is to be perfect, you agree?
No locals I hope. They are like spit on the street,
everywhere. This boy from Anhui? Clean
and smooth-skinned as Baiji river dolphins.
They swim apart yet surface together for air.
Observe the purple blot on the other’s neck,
the way it throws his bloom into relief.
So a defile makes a Guizhou rock sublime
and one never tires of admiring it.
Rarer still—an unspoiled Uygur just arrived
from Xinjiang. See, friend, how his thighs whipcord
as we speak of him. Centuries of horse-riding
over highlands and deserts. A good mount.
You are embarrassed by my frank comments.
I will desist. See anything you fancy?
Your eyes have not strayed from that Shandong boy
since we came in. You flush, like deer in the Odes
grazing on artemisia. He looks classical.
Tonight I will break in that Uygur foal.
An opium pipe for you too, I presume?
Opium delays the rain for a longer sport
among the clouds, as the Chinese have learned.
Sir, open up your ports, one for the young
Singaporean ship of state, the other
for old Europe, and bill to my account
all expenses—Winkelmann, two “n”s to “man”.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mermen

River Sighting by a Man Who Walks Daily

I came upon a young man sitting by the edge
of the river, his hair gleaming like gold coins,
body white against the granite bed, thighs slipping
into green water. Under the breeze-rippled leaves,
he studied a book as if to find his way back home.
Like seaweed rising from dark corals, rushes eddied
round him while geese, sea cattle, browsed on grass. He stretched
as though to throw a javelin. The river lapped
at him. I followed his eyes—on the opposing bank
a woman pushed a stroller. Her breasts, taut with milk,
jutted under her thin shirt like double prows.
He waved to her and swung out of the water, stepped
into his sandals. But the other man, no, fish,
flashing its salmon tail, slipped back to the estuary.


Another Sighting, This Time by a Niece

We dived out of the sun. The waiting room was dark
as underwater pictures in my storybooks.
Tom disappeared to the back after making sure
I had a magazine. Men followed him. I heard
ocean murmurings, at times, a dolphin squeak.
They spoke of finding themselves, as if lost, or wrecked.
Tom’s rough voice sketched how he was stranded among men,
in bars last week, wishing his brother were with him.
He reads me bedtime stories every Sunday night
though I’m too old for that. I like real stories better,
how he and Dad fought over girls, how much he loves
and misses Dad. Tom hugs me as if his arms are short.
In his webbed hands, last Sunday night, before he left,
I hung round his neck, feathers unfurled in my chest.


Finding Recorded in a Wife’s Ship Log

When Dylan falls asleep, my face returns and finds
you sleeping too, after revealing who you are,
unraveling the knots that lashed us both together.
I look at you, the treasure of my deep-sea trawl,
and sort out the invertebrates, fish, corals, weeds—
the times you called the lab to say you were working late,
the grimace of your eyes whenever you groped my breasts,
the shadow swimming above your smile when I announced,
I’m late. You must be tired resisting the roll of the boat.
You sprawl in bed as on a lightbox, each muscle
delicate as scales, each gap a gasping gill.
Your loveliness must be preserved in formalin
and mounted behind glass, above the fireplace,
like a prehistoric monstrous white fish.


Amateur Ichthyologist Verifies Sightings

From the tangled brush, the sea was a sheet of glass
broken by black crescents like the visible coils
of a huge snake. The serpent swam from the abyss
of catshark, halosaur, fangtooth and lizardfish.
The coils kneeled forward, elbowed through the shallows, turned
to seals and rowed up the beach. So the records are true.
On every ninth night they came ashore and tugged
at hooks, peeled off the dogface and shook their hair free,
peeled off the seal-pelt, and stood up on feet. The sand
gleamed whiter round the compass of their stamping feet.
The breeze, heavy with moss and musk, breathed on flushed cheeks.
Last night, one stared straight into the brush and pointed
me out to the others. The circle opened to make room.
I could not move from where I crouched. Then I moved.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A julain

Invented by Julie Carter, a julain is a 3-line poem with a discernible meter and rhymed ABB.


The lonely fork
above his thigh
below her sigh

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mermen (3 of 4)

Finding Recorded in a Ship Log

Finally Dylan falls asleep. My face returns and finds
you sleeping too, after revealing who you are,
unraveling the knots that lashed us both together.
I look at you, the treasure of my deep-sea trawl,
and sort out the invertebrates, fish, corals, weeds—
the times you called the lab to say you were working late,
the grimace of your eyes whenever you groped my breasts,
the shadow swimming above your smile when I announced,
I’m late. You must be tired resisting the roll of the boat.
You sprawl in bed as on a lightbox, each muscle
delicate as scales, each gap a gasping gill.
Your loveliness must be preserved in formalin
and mounted behind glass, above the fireplace,
like a prehistoric monstrous white fish.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Mermen (2 of 4)

Another Sighting, This Time by a Niece

Diving out of the sun, the waiting room was dark
like underwater pictures in my storybooks.
Tom disappeared to the back after making sure
I had a magazine. Men followed him. I heard
ocean murmurings, at times, a dolphin squeak.
They spoke of finding themselves, as if lost, or wrecked.
Tom’s rough voice sketched how he was stranded among men,
in bars last week, wishing his brother were with him.
He reads me bedtime stories every Sunday night
though I’m too old for that. I like real stories better,
how he and Dad fought over girls, how much he loves
and misses Dad. Tom hugs me as if his arms are short.
In his webbed hands, last Sunday night, before he left,
I hung round his neck, feathers unfurled in my chest.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Mermen (1 of 4)

River Sighting by a Man Who Walked Daily

I came upon a young man sitting by the edge
of the river, his hair gleaming like gold coins,
body white against granite, thighs slipping
into the green water. Under the wreaths of leaves,
he studied his book as if to find his way back home.
Like seaweed rising from corals, rushes eddied
round him while geese browsed on grass. He stretched
as though to throw a javelin and the river lapped at him.
I followed his gaze and saw on the opposite bank
a woman pushing a stroller. Her breasts, taut with milk,
jutted under her thin shirt like twin-prows. He waved
to her, swung out of the water and stepped into his sandals.
The other, flashing his salmon tail, slipped back to the estuary.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Risk

So we’ve set our armies down
on the colored continents;
she is watching every frown
on her boyfriend’s countenance.

He reminds her it’s her turn
and her plan for conquest too.
When he launches his return,
she cedes to him Peru.

Her luck holds; her rule extends
from Australia to the Middle East.
Then he stops the game and stands.
Her domain is but leased.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Death in a Minor Mode

Seeing his name embossed in gold,
I'd press a bell at the slight hall
and ask for him. Instead, the lift
ushers the fearful and the bold
and those untouched by death at all
to the third floor where mourners drift

across the Ruby and the Jade
to the Pearl Room, at Singapore
Casket. He lies in simple state.
Around him flutter living shades,
three closest: the old scolding bore,
the daughter loved, the son, his hate.

The sisters blame the beer the most.
The brothers noisily contest
and count, below their breath, their days
to bet them on an empty boast.
Indulgently, their wives protest:
not one of them will change his ways.

The black hearse leaves the iron gate
with less than Sunday racing haste
he used to study as a pundit.
No one bets on his eventual fate
but those who do not wish to waste
plate numbers’ luck in lottery fund it.

We sing to fill our lungs with love,
hymns to the God he didn’t embrace,
recite the prayers for our sake:
Enter the pearly gate above,
relax in silken sheets with Grace,
and drain the jug of crystal lake.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Born Like That

I am a dog.
That is accord-
ing to the Chinese.
I’m born a Pekinese
to lick the fingers
of karaoke singers
and nose the crotches
of waiters, wanderers and watchers
and roll over for
a hand on the soft
reverse of my haunch.
I cannot stop an avalanche
of blood. Blame, if you must, my star.

Last night, outside the bar,
skin tingling after kneading your shoulders
in a stranger’s boulders
and pressing up against his chest
harder than your rest,

I saw a dog tied to a parking meter
sniff the perimeter
drawn by the length
of a new leash’s strength.
The owner came (the animal was barking joyfully) at a jog.

I am that dog.


*


I am one of three featured readers at the Back Fence on Jan 15 (Sun). If you happen to be in Manhattan that day, do drop by and say hi.

Date: Jan 15, 2006 (Sun)
Time: 3-5 p.m.
Place: Back Fence pub, 155 Bleecker Street (corner of Thompson)
Directions: 6 to Lafayette and Bleecker, 4 blocks west; E, F, B, D, Q, A, C to W 4th St., south to Bleecker and 3 blocks east; N, R to Prince St., north to Bleecker and 3 blocks west.
No cover; 1 Drink Minimum + Tip
Open-mic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Show Apartment

for my sister, Yin Peng

With bridal pride, you guide me round the mock
estate, constructed in its Perspex case
with cardboard, tape and glue: the tower block,

the tennis courts, the children’s swimming pool,
in whose blue ring you cannot see your face
but trust the drafting compass, plumb line, rule.

You spoke of how you settled what will be,
after his arduous courtship. Your new base
on land wrestled from South China Sea

is a settlement wavering in the steam,
buzzing with insects, gripped by jungle days,
so that the blueprint bleaches like a dream.

But what a dream! Imagining the move
from swamp to windows, tall, generous space.
As much an act of courage as of love.


An earlier version titled "Home Purchase" was published in the "Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore".

Monday, January 09, 2006

He Bids His Brother-Lover Farewell

Fu-jian Province, 15th century

Spent, you crawl up my flank and hear the flood
subside. This light on us is of the moon.
Again you ask me to divine our wellspring
at Guan-Yin Temple lucky for rain-prayers.

When you strode to the altar, how the men stared
at your unblemished skin, your strong limbs swathed
in a much-mended jacket made of goat.
The gods desired you, even the Jade Emperor.

Of all those powdered faces there, you spoke
to the plainest. Can you explain why? No?
Nor can I. Mother drank your cup of tea
and loved you as her favorite son-in-law.

In that year, Xuan-zong abdicated breath.
His son’s reign inaugurated our days
of picking pekoe leaves on rippling slopes,
and nights of sipping tea. A week of years.

Don’t forget the presents for your bride.
I’ve packed and left them on the kang for you.
She’s gentle, pretty, with child-bearing hips.
Your fathers must have sons to sacrifice

at the ancestral altar, offer meat
and wine, or else their ghosts get hungry.
As the dead sage dictates, a ruler should be
a ruler, a father be a father, a son son.

I’ve done my duty by you. I can do
no more. Oh, how pathetic that sounds!
I’m turning woman, so no more of this.
See, passion cools and my body’s dried.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Floor Tiling

We needed something to cover the naked floor,
delighted though we were with the concrete space,
having moved from a box shared by four families.

When Eighth Aunt was throwing out her linoleum
tiles, my father rushed us to her house. I carted
stacks of light and dark brown squares to the taxi.

With no plan in mind, Father tore the paper off
and stuck a tile in a corner of the floor. Stripes
lined up with horizontal stripes he improvised

before Mother suggested an alternating pattern,
a prettier shape. By then, many tiles were stuck
down. As a compromise, two designs co-existed.

We covered their room with light brown which ran
Out, so the last four squares were the darker shade.
Tiles crawled out of line because of earlier mistakes.

Afterwards, faults in the floor, laughed over in
the fit of work, widened into permanent fissures.
That came later. When I pressed the last tile down,

Father walked out to the corridor to smoke and stared
through the doorway at the work. Then he went off
for a drink. I did not sleep until I heard him come in.


An earlier version was published in "Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore"

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fleetwood

I’m waiting in the covered bridge
straddling Platforms One and Two,
with tracks that run along a ridge;
I’m thinking hard of you.

Snow flies like midges by the light
and dies in the black hands of trees.
The platforms, outlined by the white,
wait like a pair of skis.

From your direction, a train chants,
then chatters under me like hope:
I’m standing in a giant’s pants,
hurtling down the slope.



*

I am one of three featured readers at the Back Fence on Jan 15 (Sun). If you happen to be in Manhattan that day, do drop by and say hi.

Date: Jan 15, 2006 (Sun)
Time: 3-5 p.m.
Place: Back Fence pub, 155 Bleecker Street (corner of Thompson)
Directions: 6 to Lafayette and Bleecker, 4 blocks west; E, F, B, D, Q, A, C to W 4th St., south to Bleecker and 3 blocks east; N, R to Prince St., north to Bleecker and 3 blocks west.
No cover; 1 Drink Minimum + Tip
Open-mic.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Swimming Lesson

Like shiny well-fed seals, two squealing boys
fought, over nothing, arm thrashing against
gold arm, spending their health extravagantly.
One dunked the other, held him down, arms tensed.

Their swimming coach, a man in his late fifties,
rose up beside them, water sluicing down
his sedimental torso. When he yelled
for them to stop and rapped one on the crown,

the rebel stuck out his tongue like a finger,
the other dived and slapped his own back side.
The coach threatened to tell their dads. They laughed.
And not continue teaching them, he lied.

They’d not have mocked him in those sun-streaked days
spent crawling long, interminable laps
under the watchful eye of champion trainers,
those breathless mornings when the colored caps

were stretched so taut they seemed ready to leap
off the block, the gunshot. He shook his head.
Squinting into the sun, he saw the glare
of light, the air, and something, somewhere, dead.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Glass Orgasm

Dishwasher-safe, the glass medical grade,
the dildo is hand-blown
from the same element as brandy balloons,
milk bottles, picture tubes and silicone
implants; in other words, it’s made
of prose. The form is poetry.
It jabs as hard as Japanese harpoons
or, callipygian glide,
curves like the spine of the sperm whale,
so slick and sleek a slide.
The fired figure’s ribbed with filigree:
a tree trunk ivied by plump veins,
a caterpillar’s burrs,
carelessly rocky road or studded Braille,
or else it’s scored by ruts and flutes.
(For Puritans, the glass also comes plain;
for Quakers, terse.)
More than mouth-pleasure, the lacunae gawk
at lattachino work, the twists
of lemon, gold and blue
inside, not painted on, the shoot
of fiberglass; the mists
compressed to chalk;
or the dichroic head unveiling two
blushes when viewed from different spots,
G or prostate.
Van Gogh’s The Starry Night may wet one’s thighs
but it’s too rectangular and paste-thick for a shot,
unlike the borosilicate.
Stars and moon etched on its glass eye,
it probes the ocean, a mammalian fish,
foraging for supernovas.
When it finds and swallows one—O, sweet jehovah
of light and heat and life and death and wish!
It passes—the light dims—out of the ass—
the heat cools—and so decompose,
though shatterproof, though in demand,
to soda, lime and sand,
the poetry and prose,
cut glass.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Taoist Magician's Last Address

My followers, I am about to turn immortal.
After ingesting cinnabar for years,
I’ll soon become like Princely Qiao and Song.

You know the costs, I have spoken of them,
when I was stricken by the longing to live,
how longing broke and drove me out of me—

resigned from lucrative town-temple posts,
slept in a different bedroom from my wife,
and even sent away the serving boy.

When lust sneaked past the bodyguards yet again,
I ran away to live in mountain caves,
ate aerial roots, blue stamens and stone ears.

The Master of the Bamboo Grove is right,
the musk deer grows fragrant from eating cedar
and so I drained my body of its swamp.

You know how many come to mock my work.
Armed with their science and senses, they joke,
“Immortals must be good at lying low!”

They see the worms on cusps of lips and think
death is the common lot. The fools! The fools!
To eke one living from the land and ache

over the scrimped allotment! So I leave
them to their fates and ready mine for change.
The thorny limebush crosses the Huai River…

et cetera. I bequeath to you my scrolls.
Practice your breathing every dawn and dusk
and rest early. Preserve your energy.

Remember: don’t nail shut my coffin lid
but fetter me in a strong crimson net.
I’ll move through it to immortality.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom

This happened in Jiangnan Province in 1658—on Mao Xiang’s country estate, Chen Weisong met and flirted with servant-actor Xu Ziyun beneath the plum trees. Chen was thirty-two years old and Xu was fifteen and famous for his flute-playing. When Mao wanted to punish Xu for aspiring above his status, Chen pleaded on the servant’s behalf. Mao demanded from Chen one hundred poems on the subject of the plum blossom the next morning in exchange for not punishing Xu. After Mao had received the poems, he released Xu to Chen. Being only one-tenth the poet Chen Weisong was, I wrote ‘Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom’ for my Xu who is also my Mao.


1.

The old branch blossoms in the snow,
pink lips on a low brown bough.
I see your face in the whitewashed hall
and remember home in Singapore.

2.

Back home in Velvet Underground last year,
you stuttered your coming-out in a poetry slam.
I did not hear your pink confession then.
Now in New York, I hear you loud and queer.

3.

Walking down Broadway, you digress to decree
which man scorches or not. Sharp noses, those
Jews’, are extremely hot. Alternately
hot and cold, I try not to think of my nose.

4.

You do not see the tea list right before
your nose; the waitress and I laugh at you.
I muss up your hair—no white streak—
almost kiss the petal of your cheek.

5.

Plum blossoms keep me up all night,
keep flowering slowly from my lesion,
flowering for no one, no reason.
Then daylight swabs the window white.

6.

Why am I not your type? Both Prunus mume,
both poets, Singaporeans, shy, unsavvy
men clambering up, hoping to get some....
Fruit from a different tree? A chokecherry?

7.

Your Puerto Rican cherry’s sweet: he runs
his mother’s errands and, though home by nine,
tumbles more men than you and I combined.
How can I compete, souring in the sun?

8.

In your “The Astronaut and the Samurai,”
culture clash sends them tumbling from the sky.
Not now. Age is the newer prejudice—
old shoguns order flowers, not hara-kiris.

9.

In a short decade, you’ll turn thirty-four
and long for a man a decade younger. Breech
blue-lashed to the gnarled stake, you’ll reach
for pink buds and they will dance away, draw closer, dance away once more.

10.

Chinese plums do not ripen to rich-blue,
delicious, cold and sweet. They do not bruise.
You know as well as I, they turn yellow and hard
stored in your golden vase, turn small and tart.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Underground and Above

I wake up hard and tight.
The stem is flushed with sap.
It sprouted in the night
from clay and gas and trap.

I don’t recall the dream
that fed the blind taproot.
Perhaps the stud in the steam
taking off his boot?

The plant is strong with blood.
It holds a singular bloom.
It gives and wilts, and buds
again in any room.

Decaying below the ground,
adorable above,
within the flesh are bound
the stalks of lust and love.


*

I am one of three featured readers at the Back Fence on Jan 15 (Sun). If you happen to be in Manhattan that day, do drop by and say hi.

Date: Jan 15, 2006 (Sun)
Time: 3-5 p.m.
Place: Back Fence pub, 155 Bleecker Street (corner of Thompson)
Directions: 6 to Lafayette and Bleecker, 4 blocks west; E, F, B, D, Q, A, C to W 4th St., south to Bleecker and 3 blocks east; N, R to Prince St., north to Bleecker and 3 blocks west.
No cover; 1 Drink Minimum + Tip
Open-mic.