Friday, March 31, 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.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

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 be buried in unmarked graves.

Civilization mingled with nature in Middleton Place on three terraces. On the topmost terrace were the formal gardens, disciplined rows of azaleas, magnolias and camelias leading to the sweet marble statue of a Wood Nymph with red petals in her lap. On the middle terrace, the rice fields, cultivated in a different sense--productive, necessary, exploitative--and flooded three times before harvest, by slaves raising the water-gates. The bottom terrace was the marsh where herons and egrets picked their way through mud. And the River Ashley itself, too brackish for rice cultivation, flowing in its imperturbable manner into the Atlantic Ocean.

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 shakened by the memories of my National Service nightmare.

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 machismo, its presentness--finds its expression in sketch rather than in oil which gives the subject a false monumentality. Is this a limitation of the artist or the subject?

The newly opened extension, Jepson's Center for the Arts, was a modern building with white walls curved like sails. In the Kirk Varnedoe Collection, I enjoyed Alex Katz's "Black and White Birch Tree." Its formal elegance was that of a whiplash, its tentacle-like branches snapping around and across the pitted tree. Another painting, "Night Amphibians," hung along a hall, surprised by its visual ingenuity. It gives sufficient figurative expression to locate the settting as a murky stream flowing beneath a road-bridge, yet, appropriate to its surreal title, other parts of the painting were more conceptual, barely outlined. The right side of the stream pooling into a pond and the scum creeping up the columns of the bridge were painted a gorgeous streak of oily green and yellow, thrown into greater contrast by the white shapes at the top and left of the painting.

After taking a delicious rest in a cafe called Ambrosia, where we had soft goat and rustic pepper cheeses, honey, strawberries, and grapes washed down by pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, we went to hear the New York Collegium, conducted by Andrew Parott, at the Lucas Theater for the Arts. It was the collegium's first foray down south, which gave me a false sense of affinity to it. The program was Telemann and Handel. Telemann's "Water Music" was filled with interesting musical ideas; I particularly liked the irresolute eddy at the end of the Gigue. His "Thunder Ode" was more interesting in its second part than its first. The concluding chorus, repeating the opening, reminded me of the dramatic rises and falls in the Joy Ode in Beethoven's Ninth. Handel's "Alexander's Feast" was based on Dryden's "Ode to St. Cecilia." The soprano, Tamara Matthews, was natural and expressive, exhibiting an art that hides its art. The last recitative, "Let old Timotheus yield the prize," was appropriately rousing and earned the collegium warm, if not wild, applause.

The night ended with dinner at Huey's, along the riverfront. Winston ate a crabcake sandwhich while I had a shrimp po'boy. We had beignet for dessert, dough squares deep fried and covered with fine sugar.

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 restored by Jim Williams, the gay antique dealer, who was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Williams's own house, the scene of sex parties, Danny Hansford's murder and Williams's death, stood at the southernmost point of our walk. To the north, the square after next was Chippewa Square, where Forrest, sitting on a park bench that eventually ended up in the Savannah History Museum, told the story of his love for Jenny.

Club One Jefferson, where we headed after dinner, combined the fixtures of a neighborhood watering hole, with its pool tables and pinball machines, and the pretensions of a cosmpolitan gay venue. The drag show was staged on the third floor. It was not Lady Chablis's night and we were treated to a parade of drag performers of varying talents. Bianca was beautiful and svelte. Motion was the rocker-chick who could not rock. After the show, while hanging back at the edge of the empty dance floor, we met two guys from Syracuse, New York. Both were camping in Hilton Head for a sales conference. They have been with each other for five years; they own separate apartments but spend most of their time together in one. They said they cannot "come out" because they will risk losing their jobs. They drove to Rochester to watch "Brokeback Mountain." After waiting in vain for people to take to the dance floor, we decided to leave. The guys there were much more interested in feeling up each other than in dancing. Mapquest tells me, as I am writing this, that Rochester is 87 miles from Syracuse.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

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 room that ended with a huge TV screen showing the local news. A white man in his late thirties sat in that second waiting room, two bulky plastic bags by his side. Slowly we were joined by groups of white and black men and women. We were the only two Chinese men in that waiting room. We were waiting for the train to Savannah. Pat Sejak was chatting with the contestants on Wheel of Fortune. Only when the train pulled in did we realize that most people in the station were waiting for their family and friends, who now climbed down slowly from the train, the last step a low plastic stool placed there by a train conductor, and hugged and high-fived their waiting family, and were not passengers themselves. We climbed aboard the train which soon pulled out of that little outpost.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

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 system comprises three strands: (1) the poet's aspiration to an oxymoronic mystical heaven's bourne, (ii) the pleasure thermometer of increasing intensities evoked by nature, art and love in turn, and (3) the necessary extinction of the self to merge with essence in heaven's bourne. Wasserman is particularly good at showing how the poetic structure, and not merely the paraphrasable content, enacts these three strands of Keats' system. He rescues Keats from those who see him as a mere picture-painter and from those who are just after his ideas.

Thou silent form, dost tease us out of thought,
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

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, organized by Matthew Hupert, presents a poetry reading at the beginning of each season. Matthew welcomes new readers, so if you live anywhere near NYC and would like to read, here is his contact: thew@neuronautic.com . Send him some of your poems.

I was very glad to see many of my friends turning up for my reading. Thanks for the support, guys and gals. I hope you got something out of the poems. Some of us had a very pleasant dinner together afterwards, at the Polish restaurant, Theresa's. Beef stragonoff and sauerkraut. Sinewy words.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

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.

Monday, March 20, 2006

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

Sunday, March 19, 2006

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.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

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!

Monday, March 13, 2006

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.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

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)
$6

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

http://www.bowerypoetry.com/

Thursday, March 09, 2006

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.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

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)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

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 hurry and halt toward climaxes, grazing the razor-blade of not yets.

I molded myself round your back and smelled your sleep sprayed with sweat.
You woke, what time is it? 8.10. And went back to sleep. 9 on the dot.
9.40. 5 to 10. You did not close your eyes this time. Now. Yes.

I leapt, a cat, lapped your balls, licked and paused till you turned wet,
my barracuda teeth teasing the stops. I’m coming. You blew like snot.
Gratified, you reached for me and pumped. My cock cried, yes, not yet.