Koh Jee Leong (b. 1970)
an excerpt from A Lover’s Recourse
After Roland Barthes
So soft his neck, so distant from the thought of stone,
I am appalled to see it pass into a stone.
That night swam for so long and slipped out of my hands.
Tonight it is as clear as fossil in the stone.
I come from a small country of large alterations,
where stone erects no memory for passing stone.
Somebody is fucking somebody in a corner.
Everybody juts as if released from stone.
Why have you come to kill this mutant, strong young man?
Hack off my head, and I will still turn flesh to stone.
There is a shiny slope in things that lie down flat.
In all coming and going speeds there is a stone.
He is not dead, I tell you, he is merely sleeping.
The rest of you move back. Jee, roll away the stone.
Digging in a bed of guilt, I grow marvelous flowers.
The trowel studies hard the language of the flowers.
The man, a teacher, had not been touched for a month.
I fingerfucked his ass while looking at the flowers.
My ass would like to think a knotted rope of hemp
does not injure the flesh much more than do flowers.
Love is a luxurious hurt and a limited choice.
I’m sorry, dear. Please forgive me. I brought you flowers.
This week I train hard to transform ghazals to gazelles,
to flaunt this handicap: fortynine names of flowers.
At four, the windows black, I labor to sit still
and listen to the sap rising, and then the flowers.
Look at him, read his poem, or Jee will disappear.
God looked hard and where his looks fell, there were flowers.
You look into a stone and see its early fire.
You look into a fire and all you see is fire.
The reason that we saw each other only twice
is that I have no hands to thrust into the fire.
Time is a river. That is if you are a fish.
If you are a sunflower, time is a fire.
We do not ever know what the gods want of us.
Perhaps that is why we compare them to fire.
A charred library is sadder than a pile of ash.
A body catches but it does not cage a fire.
Saying it makes no difference to the universe
but when did saying anything put out a fire?
Sick of analogies, Jee wants the thing itself.
What are you, Love, when you are not a fire?
You smell your fault as readily as you hear a bell.
Ignorance rings a school bell, ego a church bell.
The loop of wire moves along the twist of wire.
Steady your hand or desire will sound the bell.
I ache for the beautiful young men I pass on streets.
They do not know they are beautiful bronze bells.
Out of the party chatter rises a cathedral.
My tongue keeps ringing my head that is the bell.
He has heard of, but has not heard, the onehand clap.
He has tapped many bodies but has not heard the bell.
I hope perfection does not lie in quietness.
A poet builds his house in the fading of a bell.
The fading is a fault but silence is an itch.
Most unendurable, Jee, is the unrelenting bell.
by Koh Jee Leong
from Seven Studies for a Self Portrait (2011)