Featured Poem

Public Librarian
by Aaron Lee Soon Yong

Now that he’s decimated, you ask to interview me
so you can write him up even though
you never met him— nor me— before today.
Well, he was forty, barely qualified,
always wore that dewy grin
every time you met him in the hallway, whether four or
five or six times a week. He made his own coffee
at four every afternoon, regular as clockwork—
it’s only slightly worse
than the five-dollar stuff downstairs,
though you have to be your own barista.
The headcount in his department was one.
So he didn’t report to me, not really.

He did try his best, this fellow you’re asking about.
He was sluggish in the morning
and his work, muddy in the evening.
So much of our work is unfulfilling.

Not knowing how long it would take to die,
he sometimes slipped into the copy room
to snatch at some respite, inhaling papery air
and heaving up his fatigue like unwanted breakfast.

All in all, he was just another poor working stiff,
a luckless fugitive from the wheel of fortune.
In the last few weeks it was obvious
that his life was so unfair,
good cheer was obviously out of the question.
He stopped reporting for duty,
we exchanged messages via phone
and I waited to be told of a good time to visit.
That’s all I have to say.
I see you wrote it on a sheet of paper.
No, I won’t put my signature to it.
It’s all fiction, anyway. Life is.
Ask us again tomorrow, see what we have to say.

 

Reprinted with the publisher’s and author’s permissions, “Public Librarian” is collected in Coastlands by Aaron Lee Soon Yong (Ethos Books, 2014). The book will be launched at the Singapore Writers Festival, Singapore, Sunday, November 9.

 

Aaron Lee photo_edited

Aaron Lee Soon Yong is a prize- winning poet, writing mentor, community organiser and banking lawyer. His first poetry collection, A Visitation of Sunlight (1997), was voted one of the year’s best books by The Straits Times. His second collection Five Right Angles was a finalist in the 2008 Singapore Literature Prize awards. He has co-edited several poetry anthologies including the best-selling No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (2000). Lee’s work has been published internationally and performed at international festivals and conferences. He is married to Namiko Chan Takahashi, a multi-disciplinary artist, and they live in Singapore.

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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