The Singapore Poetry Contest – Third Prize Winner

by Ellen Redbird


“Don’t you have city planners?” she asked.
Los Angeles sprawl was not built all in one go.
She told me of parks and gardens in Singapore,
school uniforms, and diving
to study the coral reef: barrel sponges, colorful nudibranchs.
I wanted to make her a Halloween costume.
“I don’t know. Maybe I could be a water bear?”

Unlike me, she enjoyed roller coasters.
“It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.”
I responded that, because of my chronic pain,
I’m already out of my comfort zone—so any time I’m
comfortable, I get excited. She laughed but
said she guessed it made sense.

When I was dizzy and scared to walk up a
steep spine of sandstone at Arches National Park,
she told me I could do it, and I did.
We sat under the cool shadow of an arch
and stared out at the desert plain.
Swallows swooped up to holes in rock.
On the trail, she spoke Mandarin to some people
who needed directions. I liked the way it sounded.

Was it in my own country that
she held me (July snow
in the Rocky Mountains),
sitting up in bed to look out the window—lightning
pulsed the night’s nervous system.

The last time I saw her, we perched on a California bluff
overlooking the Pacific, across the great inconceivable
arc of which was her well-planned island. She said,
“You were a good first girlfriend.”


Ellen Redbird

Ellen Redbird is a California poet and playwright with an MFA in Writing & Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa University. She runs Pyriform Press ( and edits the journal Nerve Lantern: Axon of Performance Literature. Her poems and performance texts have appeared in journals, including Tarpaulin SkyChainBombay Gin, For Immediate Release, and Score. She wrote and directed Verve of Verge: a puzzle play (2010), and an excerpt from her manuscript Unrequited Symbiosis: a Mitochondrial Mistranslation & Underwater Opera was performed in New York City as part of the poets theater night of the eighth annual Welcome to Boog City Poetry, Music, and Theater Festival (2014).


For details of The Singapore Poetry Contest, see here.


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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