Singapore’s Favorite Poem: A Valentine

Pooja Nansi, teacher and poet, cannot, for the life of her, decide between two favorites. To spare her the agony, SP will post one first, and then the other later. Of Alvin Pang’s poem “Aubade,” Nansi writes, “The first time I read this poem everything around me went still and when you hear Alvin read it, there’s a melody and grief to it that is stunning.”


“My love, I fear the silence of your hands.” – -Mahmoud Darwish

Overnight, my heart, the forest has grown cold
and every leaf shivers with the sure knowledge of its fall,
shivers yellow and maple-red and mauve, Summer remembered
in vermillion dying. When I walk the river now

it bears merely the lightest press of feet, my body swaying
to keep balance in the whetted breeze. I had to leave you
on the absent shore, a warm bloom nesting in the reeds,
an unfixed, iridescent eye. How we part

only the morning knows, and what we said already dew.
Tomorrow after tomorrow we will find the tongue to
remember our silences, or borrow words from the night’s
vocabulary of sighs. Grief will teach you new names

and I will answer, hollow, in drumbeats and echoes,
in footsteps and softly closed doors, never looking
at you, never back. I place these words now in the vault
of sleep before it comes. Before the burial and the blood.

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

Reprinted 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.

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