Special Focus on Justin Chin – “Incontinence”

Part Four of our Special Focus on Justin Chin reprints a poem from his last book of poems Gutted, which was named a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. The title poem is a multivalent, multi-form sequence of 65 parts. “Incontinence” is Section xxiv. It brings to life the love shared between father and son, even as the father loses his grasp on life.

The Justin Chin Memorial Reading in Singapore will be held this Saturday, July 23, 7:30 pm, at Artistry Cafe, 17 Jalan Pinang. A line-up of local writers will read from his various books of poetry, essays, memoir, and performance art. The event is free and open to everyone.


Justin Chin Memorial Reading


Gutted xxiv. Incontinence
by Justin Chin


Looking back on that late morning, when it was just
the two of us in the house, perhaps watching
that meandering and indulgent documentary
on waterslide parks in the Middle East,
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXoil creating such magnificently
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXexcessive unnatural bodies of water
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXin the middle of a blistering desert,
was clearly not the best idea.

Even as we sat there, even before
I heard the faint drip to the floor,
the runoff trickled around the crevices,
the cracks of the sofa, I knew
something was afoot.

I knew what the medications did to the bladder.
I also knew shame, and embarrassment,
and face.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX“natural given the treatment”
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX“no problem cleaning it up”
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX“nothing to be ashamed of”
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX“never mind, it’s okay”

Self-consciousness cloaks itself
with cliches, a fashion victim,
wearing layers upon layers thick
of ill-matched garments,
inappropriate for the present weather.

I know.
There are days, low days
when the meds abrade against my appetites,
and accidents will happen, in spite
of best efforts.

And any dignity that you can hand back
to someone who has just crapped his pants in public
is not a dignity of a kind that anyone can use,
or should want. You’re getting the placebo
in a medical trial for tainted medicine.

I know
to keep watching
the mile-long waterslide that even
lets you slide upwards by virtue of powerful jets
strategically placed.

Now, he’s in the bathroom, quietly changing into fresh clothes.

Now, he’s in the back kitchen
trying to put the soiled clothes
into the washing machine or a wash pail of water,
but the machine is running, there are no available pails.

Now, he’s found the air freshener under the sink; later
he will go to his room to nap, and I will leg in
on my hands and knees and clean up so that not
a smudge will be known when the others get home.

Now, he’s back in the bathroom,
bundling his soiled clothes in a sheaf
of old newspapers and cramming that
into a plastic grocery bag.

And I just again want to be the one
who fell asleep in the stands with his head
in his dad’s lap at the home team’s first game
on home ground to a capacity crowd;

XXXXXXXclose my eyes and lay my head down
XXXXXXXin the swell of boisterous noise and all
XXXXXXXhullabaloo, open them
XXXXXXXin the still quiet of my room,
XXXXXXXtucked into bed.











“Incontinence” from Gutted (Manic D Press: San Francisco) © 2006 by Justin Chin. Used with permission of publisher.

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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