Jee Leong Koh

Carp Swimming

after Hyam Plutzik

this dissension into fish or birds

dg nanouk okpik, “For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend”

Because I can look for hours at carp swimming,
red lightning, finny torpedo,
although bullfrogs croak for a groggy season,
and mosquitoes breed irritation into fever,
Aedes mosquitoes, flying rats, carriers
of breakbone fever, water poison,
although the Chinese water snake, crepuscular in his habit, olive brown,
“a longitudinal stripe of dark salmon extending from head to tail,”
is hunted and killed for manufacturing snake oil
to cure arthritis, killed for being useful,
because I can stare for whole days at carp swimming,
although the willows bend their heads and cry
for god knows what,
because I can look at carp swimming
and see the lightning,
I have hope that I will survive the bullfrogs, the mosquitoes,
and even the snares of snake-oil makers,
the hooked nets of usefulness,
because I can look at carp,
my gracious quarrel with the world,
I will survive the depredations of the spirit
and live in what I saw,
because I can look for hours at carp swimming,
and because I see the kingfisher dart into his kill.

Black Dragon Pool

for Katherine S.

I have no words for my weary sorrow

Li Qingzhao, “On Plum Blossoms,” translated from Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

You showed me the verses
Du Fu wrote, deep in poverty,

unappreciated by the court,
unhappy with his lot.

I remember only the image
of an unlit stove.

What impressed me more
was that you copied

his poem into your book,
and other poets of loss,

pages of neat handwriting,
after your daughter died.

Almost unrelated
came the thought

of Black Dragon Pool
in the city of Lijiang,

last summer,
a cloudless sky,

how I was unsure
if the people prayed to the gods

to stop the dragon
from drinking up the water,

or prayed to the dragon
or to the pool.

In Death As In Life

In some city, Trieste or Udine …

Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Day of My Death,” translated from Italian by Mary di Michele

Your mother wants her body
donated to science, she wants
            to be useful
in death as she is in life,
            to brain,
            eye, uterus,
and even skin researchers.
She wants to be all used up.

We are more selfish. You wish
            to be cremated
and for your ash to dash across
            the Great Lawn
            we live by,
lift off like a warm grey scarf
            before landing
on grass you have traveled to.

I surprise myself by wishing
            my ash dispersed
over the sea south of Singapore,
the country I have left behind.
            That’s too far,
            you complain.
It’s not, I say. Come August
I’ll show you the exact spot.

Singapore Catechism

Laterite roots

Leong Liew Geok, “Exiles Return”

You go where?
I’m going from the literal to the lateral, from roots to routes.

You go where?
I’m going from the lateral to the littoral, from routes to riots.

You go where?
I’m going from the littoral to the literate, from riots to rights.

You go where?
I’m going from the literate to the lottery, from rights to rates.

You go where?
I’m going from the lottery to the latterly, from rates to writs

You go where?
 I’m going from the latterly to the litany, from writs to rites.

You go where?
I’m going from the litany to the laterite, from rites to roots.