Featured Poem

by Aaron Lee Soon Yong

(According to Greek mythology, the three titans Atlas, Epimetheus and Prometheus were brothers.)

Hand on heart,
I can only say I tried my best—
never lauded or coddled
any of them excessively,
only encouraged them to face up to the real world.

If any of them screwed up
they were corrected there and then.
I might have shouted sometimes,
but I don’t think I ever raised my hand, unless
there was something to teach by it.

Atlas the oldest one was strong as an ox.
He wasn’t brilliant but worked hard,
seized the day and made the best of anything.
He is literally a pillar of society.

Prometheus our youngest was always a rebel.
I thought highly of him, and so did he.
Eventually he got into trouble with the authorities,
was detained indefinitely with no prospect of parole.
I visited him once; with the courage of his convictions,
he seems able to bear his punishment.

I worry most about the middle one.
He grew up too sensitive,
too quick to question himself.
I remember how he sometimes said
he did not belong anywhere.
He was even married once, but she was trouble.
It fell apart and he walked out.
I have not seen him since.
Sometimes I wake in the dark, crying
O my son, my son Epimetheus.
I imagine him, Pandora’s box in his hands,
wandering the earth without the courage
that accompanies sacrifice or foresight.
Somewhere perhaps
under the dark cypress trees,
he sits and mutters,
second guessing every future imaginable.


Reprinted with the publisher’s and author’s permissions, “Lament” appeared in Aaron Lee Soon Yong’s Coastlands (Ethos Books, 2014).


Coastlands Cover


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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