Koh Jee Leong's new book of poems Equal to the Earth has
just been published by Bench Press. His poetry has appeared
in Best New Poets (University of Virginia Press) and Best Gay
(A Midsummer's Night Press), and in PN Review, among
other journals. Born in Singapore, he lives in New York City,
and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

(from "The Book of the Body"

"O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you..."
—Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric")


It is time to bring your face into focus
before this lens moves below the chin to other features harder to identify
as yours.
The best image is that of the cheeks.

The right cheek and the left cheek do not meet.
Like the back of the hand and the palm,
like the head of a silver coin and its tail,
the cheeks do not see each other except in a mirror or a photograph.

This was true of my cheeks
until my right brushed your left when we danced and, in that flash of flesh,
the coin turned up both head and tail,
the back of the hand shook hands with the palm.

Roof of the Mouth, Jaws and the Jaw-hinges

From this poem on I forswear
talking about the body as if it is a house for the soul
—with windows for eyes and walls for the skin of cells—
or a cathedral or a cave, as if the body is a container for something finer.

There is nothing finer than the body
of the woman who drew the first bison on the wall of the cave,
or the body of the man bent over
his cruciform plan for the cathedral,

or the body of the child who drew
away from companions playing tag in the field,
wandered down a narrow trail to the lake
and dreamt of a great flood that covered all the earth, and a house floating,

and so I will not compare the jaws to doors swinging
on hinges, or the top of the mouth to a roof.
When my imagination fails me,
I'll name the body plainly by its name.

The Wine Bottle Holder

From Paris you brought back your first gift
for me, a stainless steel wine holder, arched
back in a single curve, seen from the side,
and, from the top, a shiny sharpedged plane.

It was the most defined thing in my kitchen
where mismatched mugs squatted in the sink,
the gas cooker was bronzed with spits of sauce,
and ripe bananas hung over the trash.

I stashed it in some cupboard and forgot
those early days of careful give-and-take.
Now, taking out the holder from my mind,
and flashing it, this way, that, in the sun,

I see it keeps its clear and severe lines,
the boundaries of being, and within
the first material it is made of,
the graceful arch still of that of a bridge,

but, more, the months have worn its cutlass shine
to a glow, cutlery's, and here it sits,
its empty mouth also a steady hand,
to hold the bottle of Bordeaux we choose.

Decorative Figure On An Ornamental Background
after Henri Matisse

Time almost up, Ravana climbs the tower
to survey Rama's army ranged at him,
a sea of fur, teeth, claws, and seething blood
ready to dash against daybreak, or smash
the stronghold of the demon king, and save
Rama's beloved Sita, the loyal queen.

The play is almost done, Ravana thinks,
the silly ploy to catch the girl, the sweet
talk to fool her he's ravenous for sex,
the sub-plot to give Rama's monkey spy
run of his private rooms—all to entice
the jealous lover to the jailor's island.

Ravana checks his irony. He can
smell still her stink of fear when his hand clamped
over her mouth. Her voice, rejecting him,
rings in his ears a distant temple bell.
Even the monkey's conscious courage throbs
beside the immense calm of his great heart.

And when Rama runs his sword through him,
the demon king, kidnapper, god-killer,
and realizes who Rama the exile is—
Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, nothing less—
the human coming into the divine
will strum and strum the raga down the blade.

Ravana shivers slightly. That is to come.
But now, losing its strength fast to the night,
the tower and its purpose-fitted stones.
Only his unshod feet can see the steps,
making a tabla of the stony air,
moving to some strange music from below,

above, around, inside his ten fierce heads,
high scholars of the holy scriptures, while
his twenty hands that smashed the lesser gods
and crumpled Indra's dreaded thunderbolt
open blindly like the petals of a flower
to the sun rising from beneath the sea.

Back to Front.