Featured Poem

What It Means To Be Landless

When I look out the window I can only see cloud
and the top of other people’s roofs. Gardens
are out of reach, even the smallest blade of grass.
In stormy weather rain dashes right past me
on the way to somewhere thirsty.
It means shade. It means the herbs and spices
I try to cultivate wilt under fluorescent lighting
and air conditioning. It means safety. It means
clean hands. It means I taste old tin,
sodium benzoate, vacuum sealed meats
when the market is closed. I can have
whatever I want as long as it’s something on offer.
I can give you an address that in fifty years
will not even be memories of a lost childhood.
When I travel, I look for floodpoints and unscalable
mountains, for the small scruffed kittens
scratching at litter and soil and fresh greens
we eat later not knowing where they came from.
It means I will be burned, not buried. It means I am
the son of no soil. It means I have no fear of
droughts and bandits, of hard work, and children
at play have earth brushed away from their knees
in case it makes them sick. It means enough,
and nothing and smiling, every morning as I rise,
the puzzled smile of the long asleep.

by Alvin Pang, from When the Barbarians Arrive (Arc Publications)

Used with the author’s permission.


About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.


  1. Guess

    “I can have/whatever I want as long as it’s something on offer.” Thats all of it really isn’t it. This is one of those poems that could have at the hands of a lesser servant wandered off somewhere but it is instead restrained, which is a good thing http://creative.verbosity.net/printable.asp?id=106


  2. hls

    A lovely poem, with an especially vivid beginning. “The rain rain dashes right past me
    on the way to somewhere thirsty” is a great line!


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