Featured Poem

String Theory
by Alvin Pang


Scientists are still trying to find out what makes the cosmos tick.
I don’t even know what makes my dad work, bright thwarted man
that he is; would have outdone us all had he the funds at eighteen,
not been sucked instead into the singularity of the rest of his life,
all that space and nothing to fill it with, no choice but to walk
from here to there the long way round. One theory suggests
there are several secret dimensions curled up in every particle of nature,
these incredible long vibrating strings at the heart of everything.
Everything: an endless, restless riff, a violent concerto in a minor key
beyond the range of hearing, a song that pulls at the world, is gravity.
Staying still was never an option for beings made of such manic stuff.
I read this in a paper, but dad doesn’t; he falls into orbit between the TV
and the fridge, a satellite relaying any kind of noise but hope. Give or take
a few decades, he’ll fall back into the quantum soup lab-coats go on about,
the kind without any memory of what it once might have been. I think of
what’s wound in him, in us, tighter than DNA, less understood than that
which impels us one slow day forward at a time. The old yarn about
sons worshipping fathers, the way folks thought the sun
revolved around the earth, not vice versa? Well it ended the day he wrote
Do what I couldn’t on my birthday card. I was in college. Outside
my bay window the world was a wide unstudied sky, not these
small coiled realities we now think is all we have. I’d not even grasped
the dynamics of colliding lives, fissive trails I wander blindly down.
Dark matter clouds the universe and uncertainty rules it? Could’ve said that
years ago. I have a theory we become our fathers, however hard we try,
as if this would explain everything. It’ll be a while yet before I arrive
at the way he’s letting himself loose now, though not quite the same way
time unspools from the reel of physics; more like a shedding of paths,
all possible futures fusing into a grand unified inevitability.
I couldn’t either, I’d tell him, when I catch up finally, out of breath,
as we stand laughing, wonder why we ever bothered, on some
long and distant shore on the other side of nowhere else to go.


Reprinted with the author’s permission, the poem appeared in Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill Books), edited by Alvin Pang and funded by Singapore’s National Arts Council, and in Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W. W. Norton & Company), edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar.





Alvin Pang is a poet, writer, editor, translator and literary activist from the island city-state of Singapore in equatorial Southeast Asia, at the confluence of the world’s great trade routes and cultural traditions. He appears regularly in major festivals and publications worldwide and his writing has been translated into over fifteen languages.

A Board Member of the University of Canberra’s International Poetry Studies Institute and a 2002 Fellow of the Iowa International Writing Program, he also directs The Literary Centre (Singapore), a non-profit inter-cultural initiative. Named Singapore’s Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2005, he received the Singapore Youth Award for Arts and Culture in 2007.

His recent publications include the Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill, USA: 2010), What Gives Us Our Names (Math Paper Press: 2011), Other Things and Other Poems (Brutal, Croatia: 2012) and When The Barbarians Arrive (Arc Publications,UK: 2012).


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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