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Poems, Jee Leong Koh


Poems, Jee Leong Koh

Maria S. Mendes


In ‘April 25, Monday,’ Jee Leong Koh writes in the form of the Shakespearean sonnet but uses a Chinese proverb as couplet, which he places at the beginning, and not the end, of the poem. His book, Payday Loans,which was forbidden at a public reading in Singapore due its sonnet ‘Come on, straight boy, and make gay love to me’ has a 30-sonnet arch which plays with form while describing the struggles of the expatriate living in NY, revealing both technical skill and a unique voice. For this issue, Jee Leong Koh kindly replied to our questions, offered us his unpublished poem ‘The Daughter’ and gave us permission to publish and translate (for the Portuguese edition of this site) 'April 13, Wednesday', 'April 25, Monday' and 'Reversi, Also called Othello'.



Reversi, also called Othello, Jee Leong Koh


no matter how many turns / you make
Lee Tzu Pheng, ‘Tough, Love’ 


Flip over a black
lie to white. Flip
coffee in a diner
mug. Flip 1st sight. 

Flip a coin. Flip girls
and boys. Flip and
then flip back black
light. White noise. 

Flip a ship on its
side. Flip two sides.
Flip the living and
the dead just died. 

Flip dark hair on
pale shin. Flip a
treasured negative.
Flip a safety pin.


Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea. London: Carcanet Press, 2015. 





May good flowers always bloom for you
And good fortune always be yours too. 

The red paper pocket my parents sent
presents six crisp one-hundred dollar bills
they can’t afford but will send until
I’m married or dead. Needing every cent
to pay the cost of New York City’s rent
while ambition hustles to fulfill
desire, I don’t swindle, steal or kill
but pocket the greenbacks and their portent. 
I think of Hart Crane, strongly doubtful, bent
on being a writer, dining on goodwill,
talking up muse and love like, yes, a shill, 
and plucking the roses the rich soil lent. 


Jee Leong Koh, Payday Loans. Singapore: Math University Press, 2007. 



Come on, straight boy, and make gay love with me.
One night of loving will not turn you queer,
if queer is what you will not bend to be.
Loving a man is but a change of gears.
Why do it with a girl, an undulating
waterbed, and stress leaks pinched too late?
Why with an oven she loves regulating,
you stick your tray of cookies in, and wait?
Men love themselves when they love other men;
loving themselves they know well how to give
each other head, maneuver two or ten
round the bend of straightforward relief.
What have you got to lose? Leap, acrobat!
You can always fall back on pussycat.


Jee Leong Koh, Payday Loans. Singapore: Math University Press, 2007. 



The Daughter,  Jee Leong Koh


for Marguerita Choy (Barawine, Harlem, December 10th, 2018)


They had always had animals at home,
welcoming every stray, kittens and pups, 
into the house on Jalan Emas Urai, 
the kinder of the neighbors named The Shelter.
Better god’s creatures than the devil’s beasts.
Her father grew up in occupied Ipoh
and, to help his family, sold vegetables
under the noses of the Japanese.
Her mother was an Austrian who did not 
care for the Germans. The Americans
neither when their planes strafed a passenger train.
They met in London, after World War II,
he a law student and she an au pair,
and made a family home of Singapore.
Now they live in the city of Dundee,
where she and her sister had gone to school,
and where the older stayed to doctor fate
and bring up her own alien family.
A link, a leash, tenuous and Scottish.
Her mother now alone in a nursing home,
a fact her father forgets when he wanders
beyond the confines of his house to search
for missing animals. The year’s been hard,
hardly a golden year. Right in New York,
Reuters is cutting staff into the bone.
Her cat has sprung a fang and it looks bad.
This Christmas, she will leave with Clay and Mag
the ailing pet and with the ailing parents
spend what little time she had to spare
from her preoccupation with Lafayette.

Jee Leong Koh is the author of Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by UK's Financial Times and a Finalist by Lambda Literary in the USA. He has published three other books of poems, a volume of essays, and a collection of zuihitsu. His work has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese, Russian, and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, he lives in New York City, where he heads the literary non-profit Singapore Unbound. You may also read Jee Leong Koh here.