• Jee Leong Koh


a duck that would not lay / and a runt of a papaya tree
          Lee Tzu Pheng, ‘My Country and My People’




Did you grow a bean plant

as a school science project,

noting carefully in a jotter

book the stages of growth

that a dark green textbook

taught? They did not say,

the books, what to do with

a fully grown bean plant,

and so I reluctantly threw

it down the rubbish chute,

feeling bad at the thought

of leaves squelched with

gum, hair, chicken bones,

the slender white stalk

bent. Did you dig a hole

in the schoolyard secretly

and plant an orange pip,

then watch the soil keep

quiet? Did you keep chicks

(all the children did) as if

you were back in a village?

After accidentally stepping

on one to death, did you

give away the other chick

because someone told you

that it would die if it lived

alone? Did you hear that

or did you, my country

woman, hear another say,

no one dies of loneliness?

Or did you hear both voices,

sometimes in competition

like car horns, sometimes

in counterpoint, when you

signed the divorce papers,

when the Senior Minister

in an interview regretted

sending women to school,

when you lectured on the

Romantics, remembering

the bean plant cast away

in its plastic mould, when

your daughter shifted on

your hip, when you wrote,

the home airconditioning

clicking, humming, raising

goose bumps, a poem?





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


Reversi, Also Called Othello


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.





To see for the first time a thing other / than the mire of food
          Lee Tzu Pheng, ‘Neanderthal Bone Flute: A Discovery’




When she was sucking the bone clean of marrow

at a feast thrown by him for his now woman,

when his now woman snuggled close up to him,

smacking her lips over the bone he’d picked for her,

when everyone agreed what a great feast it was

and congratulated her for being the birth reason,

when she said, in reply, that just four days ago

they had celebrated their third together year,


the once woman put her bone away. For two months

he lay with his now woman before he left her.

She had no words for this useless discovery.

The whole night the marrow bubbled in her mouth.