Singapore’s Favorite Poem

Jerrold Yam, a poet and law undergraduate, nominates Zhuang Yusa’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Yam writes, “This poem by Zhuang Yusa has always been one of my favourites, for its prosaic description of the mundane, and that surprising repetition at the end which makes the reader reassess the poem from the beginning. For me, these are the two challenges in writing poetry: turning the ordinary beautiful, and ending unpredictably in a way which elevates the poem into greater complexity and meaning.”

Every Time We Say Goodbye

Jason’s turning on his side of the bed
as I leave the room with my suitcase
packed for the weekend: not a long trip this time.

I flick on the kitchen light. The cat’s used to this: he doesn’t
spring out back into the dark.

I pour ground beans into the percolator,
stroke Damien’s back as I wait for the coffee to fix.
He hasn’t slept all night,
not because he worries he would miss me again
because the hunter’s nature
is insomniac.

He seems to like the way I brush my fingers through his fur;
perhaps it’s just the scent of my eau de toilette
and he wants to get a little closer: a pet’s fetish.

There is cereal on the counter, still sealed in its box.

I always forget I do not want breakfast
this early; or when I do eat, I turn to
other forms of sustenance –

The coffee is ready; I drink a cup.
And as I do I turn up my watch to catch the time.
There is still time before the cab arrives.

I place the cup into the sink, thinking:
maybe I’ll grab a burger at the airport
if I grew hungry by then.
I flick off the light.
Damien has since jumped off the counter
to explore a new interest, so he does not follow me.

In the hallway’s mirror I check my reflection one last time
by the faint light of the altar: a routine
in mustering confidence. I smile.
Then I slip on my leather pumps at the door
and close it gently behind me.
I press for the lift; I wait for it to bring me down.

I tell myself I am leaving for work
so there is nothing sad in any of this.
There is nothing sad in any of this.

by Zhuang Yusa, in nth position

Reprinted with permission from nth position.

Other poems by Zhuang Yusa.


Photograph courtesy of Marc Nair

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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