Jee Leong Koh is the author of three books of poems, including the most recent
Seven Studies for a Self Portrait (Bench Press). Born and raised in Singapore, he
now lives in New York City, and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

Airplane Poems

I have only now become acquainted with the meaning of migration.
—Yasmeen Hameed, "I Am Still Awake," translated from Urdu by Waqas Khwaja

You said, every Singapore poet has an airplane poem.
Takeoff. Ascent. Window view. Turbulence. Landing.
We are a race of travelers and write what we know,
the illusion of reaching and leaving easily anywhere,
the airplane, in the language of logistics, an airbridge.

Belting up, on my annual flight to Singapore, I think,
migration is the opposite of travel. It initiates a break
that one tries to stuff with one's body, like a psycho
pushing the bag of his victim into the trunk of his car.
Or one tries it with flowers, a paper cone of gerberas

lighting the edge of the grave of every vanished place.
Or else with airplane poems. For years I would fall asleep
the moment the plane took off and sleep until landing.
Not any more. The belt pinches. The seat constricts.
I'm kept awake by the cabin lights and the body aching.

for Ruihe

Batik Paperweight from Haig Girls School

by the Aztec hand,/ the Quetzal hand
—Gabriela Mistral, "The Little Box from Olinalá," translated from Spanish by Maria Jacketti

Cased in plastic,
three miniature

of batik the girls
are painting
in your school.

With the same
gift you greet
American art

on your study

What do you
to learn here

that you could
not learn

in central Java,

with the women

molten wax
their tjanting

to the cloth,
Chinese phoenixes

or Dutch bouquets,
the motifs
of trade and control,

before dipping
eyes into
brilliant local dyes,

as their mothers
had done

and their
mothers before

I will keep

and weigh
my poems
down with it.

for Constance

Winter: Seven Poems

Those who compose poems must regard feelings as of foremost importance.
—The Nun Abutsu, The Night Crane: Treatise on Poetics, translated from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

Philosophy's toothache a poet takes to be the throbbing of an open mouth.

You cannot walk toward the sun without trying to open your eyes, not here.

I rose to write, you moved the space heater to the study and went back to bed.

Dirty snow on the bridle path in the park, the grey in your hair.

To modulate without line breaks, remove your glove, run your hand over the lime tree.

In the reservoir the ducks sleep in a straight line from pump house to pump house.

The day is growing longer but I am not waiting for anyone at the end of it.

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