MAP 170-1 Theme: East Meets West: Poets from Singapore and U.S. Northwest

1. I am Japanese by Sanjay Kuttan

Allies, friends, and old enemies,

you cut my existence into pieces of insignificance.

After half a century

from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

you throw fragments of my ego

like confetti

after a brilliant road show.

Your political tirade, your economic jealousy,

your long waited parade

of moral victory

on the sidewalks, on the graves,

on the bleeding hearts

of society

tires me.

You crave to blame, to shame

and taint my economic obesity.

You desire the fire of retribution

for all to see.

To hear and cheer

at my apology

for atrocities of war

my parents chose to ignore.

Their transgressions, their aggressions,

their decisions that I must pay for.

You demand from me,

at fifty,

a demand I’m aware and prepared for,

I was born with this burden,

the burden of an apology.

My soul opened

publicly for all to see.

Some seek more than an apology.

Compensation from a crying Nation,

for a crying Nation..

Some thought an apology would heal.

Old wounds have opened,

wounds you and I could not feel,

and could not see.

Some hearts forgive but never forget,

some hearts will never forgive and never forget.

The ruthless, the greedy, will plot to gain

from the hurt, from the pain..

The pain and hurt many never asked,

many never chose.

Finally, with this apology,

with this remorse,

I’ve chartered a brand new course.

Our children, my children are free.


Free them please

from ghosts of atrocities,

from warring possibilities,

from feeling guilty

for mistakes done,

none by you,

nor by me.

© 1995 Sanjay Kuttan


2. True Nobility by Rain Ray Woods

Pines and firs never stop praying

They pray straight up

All the time

They keep their little feet

planted in the ground

but still growing

They point to the sky

and heaven above

They pierce the clouds

It's bold to yearn and reach for the stars

to sway with the winds

trusting self, and God

Trees pray best when rains come

They let tears fall

and nourish within

In my imagination

I see all this clearly

and notice my own solid trunk

I am a pine, I am a fir

I am green and living

I am noble

... And I am grand.


3. Titisee Tour, Schwarzwald 1996 by Aaron Lee

(for Barbara Witek)

So there we were, nineteen in the bus

gasping up the mountain road

into the heart of the black forest,

scraps of rain persisting after us

like children.

There was nothing else in those hours

except the thought of your elbow

touching mine. I watched you

look through the window at

a blank page of sky,

while the hum of people talking

grew around us slender as tendrils.

It's so foggy there's nothing to see,

you said laughing, and I was nineteen again.

My mind grew possibilities faster

than the dull sun could burn.

And later, running out of time

by a lake still as glass,

we sat side by side in silence and

watched the evening shimmer out of the trees,

swallowing one lovely aching moment

after another, beautiful

as sharp fragments of poetry.

© Aaron Lee


4. Goma on the Straits of Juan de Fuca by Gary Blankenship

(Apologies to Roger Zelazny and his Lovecraftian story, Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai.)

Fire in an old tire rim,


scarlet, orange and yellow,

draw me,

pull me into your hot circle,

lost to today,

caring less about tomorrow.

If we feed the flames

with 108 pieces of salt-soaked wood,

dried in the presence

of their future bride,

would the smoke heal our aches

or would it just be the temporary respite

of Absolute or Irish cream?

My colour out of space, gout,

Her shadow out of time, hair of the dog.

When Hokusai painted The View from Dungeness,

did he miss the mountain?

© Gary Blankenship

(Note: Goma is a Shinto ceremony where 108 pieces of wood, representing the illusions of the soul, are burned. Inhaled or massaged into the skin, the smoke is said to heal.)

5. Pocket Change by Janet Buck

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish?"

T.S. Eliot,"The Wasteland" -- 1922

As locust of grief gathers its legs

for the pounce and traffic spins

in its clotted grave,

answer escapes by channel of fog.

I am seized by the question's thrust--

turn toward ways you fanned a purse

and opened it on Christmas Eve.

A man with his face inking a sign

marked homelessness, dotting

your "I" with a tear of having more

than your heart required in wallet clutch,

pushed you to extend your gift.

You dropped $5 in his lap.

He smiled the way a cock must crow

waking up a sleeping farm.

Teeth became a rope of pearls,

real in their soft reward.

Passersby withdrew from slug trail poverty

and the wind raced its breath

toward frost and clung.

"Pocket change, that's all we are

and all we have, trading pennies for a dime."

The song of it all in photograph

rekindled decades hence in water bath

for wisdom's tiny carrot curl.

"One clash with fate, that's all it takes,"

you murmured quietly, as if your vocal chords

had violins in lumpy throat.

That single reach. Rendering a bible's jacket

more than paper babble bound.

Undaunted by his drunkenness and sour cough,

a memory pushes through my hands.

6. Sea Witch's Lament by Cyril Wong

I know what you must be thinking,

that we witches are a sorry lot -

old, spiteful, ugly as sin. Regardless,

every spell will have its price,

the rules not of our making.

Neptune knows I did everything

to stop her, even warned her of

that taste of hell in every widening step,

barb-wire scrape of air against skin,

center of her body clenching

like a fist, hot red tears drooling from

that brand new mouth fixed open. But

she was ready with sacrifice, silver voice

she pressed like a bribe into my webbed,

unwilling hand; so sure she was

of marrying, of her womb filling

to its brim with baby pairs of feet.

The younger ones are like that, tails

bright green and glimmering, shifting

rainbows in every scale. Golden hair

fresh out of water, and already, they

gush about longing, the desire to be loved

like the scissoring of her body into two,

damage, we know, that is also permanent.

© cyril wong

from "Fairy Tales Undone" series

7. arc of desire by Cheryl Latif

candles burned to pools of wax

scent of wet sand, bodies mingled

crescent moon, rising tide

the cry of shorebirds


deserted streets draped in lamplight

words on skin, on paper

fresh-cut flowers, summer berries

jazz ballads, unmade bed

we have journeyed the sacred

shattered mirrors, unfinished letters

leaves rustle against glass

horizon stretched taut sunset to twilight

hearts pierced, bleeding sky


nightstand photos, sunday mornings

poetry books open to random pages

sun-dappled pillows, french lace on satin

coffee cups in the sink

we have yet to know

© Cheryl Latif

8. Isaac by Yong Shu Hoong

I did not want to embark

on a long conversation

but I knew I had launched him

and that it would probably be hard

for him to stop

especially after a beer or two

So I stood beside him

and played the good listener

occasionally nodding agreement

to remind him that I was there

as he rattled on about being a good Marine

ready to embrace uncertain fate

in some battered Third World

He spoke of the glory of sacrifice

priding himself on the warring spirit

inherited from Cherokee forefathers

But looking at how delicately

this freshly shaven head

was pivoted on the beef-fed torso

I thought instead about how young he really was

and how he could very possibly die

lying in the foam of his own blood

while half-dreaming about a wife

he could only remember

touching once or twice

© Yong Shu Hoong

taken from Isaac Revisited, Ethos Books, 2001


9. A Christmas Without A Dad by Kurt Schweigman a/k/a Luke Warm Water

Yes Virginia, they still hunt Indians in South Dakota

This may have not been uncommon

in the 1800’s

But this happened

early morning

December 10th, 1999

A Newcastle, Wyoming patrol officer determined

Albert Six Feathers Jr.

to be driving

in an erratic manner

A 90 minute

high speed chase


Surrounded by police cars

it ended in a pasture

outside of Edgemont, South Dakota

with 3 shot gun shots

fired from the Edgemont Police Chief

through the front windshield

of Six Feathers’ car

2 of those

while he backed his car away

All 3 shots connected

killing Albert Six Feathers Jr. at the scene

at the age of 32

Law enforcement controlled

the story for weeks and

were cleared of any wrong doing

cha-chink BOOM!

Excessive force was used for a crime

which would amount to a misdemeanor

prior to the chase

cha-chink BOOM!

No attempt was made to use

tire spikes or

shoot out his tires

cha-chink BOOM!

Albert Six Feathers Jr.

was unarmed

Yes Virginia, I hope there is a Santa Claus


another Christmas passes


Albert’s 4 young children won’t receive

presents from their Dad

They still hunt Indians

in South Dakota

© Kurt Schweigman a/k/a Luke Warm Water


10., Conscience of Art by Gwee Li Sui

Are you here again

under these words,

my country's boredom,

contentment's failure?

Unable to rouse

yourself, disbelieving

of all ideologues

(and so of words),

you assume poetry

is lazy politics.

You sleep on sheets of

distractive metaphors

laid out by everything

that makes you happy

and a hypocrite

for you can't stop writing.

© Gwee Li Sui