for Caleb Goh, married in San Diego, in December, 2017.
Cries from Within, his father’s text on sex-
change surgery, titled his graduate thesis
on carving out a Singaporean voice
in musical theater, the all-American art.
He had been writing it all of his life,
beginning with a grandfather who toured
Asia with Billy Graham as translator,
and parents who sacrificed their 20s
on campuses crusading hard for Christ.
In DC, where they lived for mother’s studies,
the boy was bullied over his weird lunch,
home-made fried rice in a fat thermos flask,
but tried out Evelyn’s pink hair band, which snapped.
The bullying kept up in Singapore—
eh you talk so angmo pai—the trying too,
jerking off a man at Kallang Theatre
after Ken Hill’s Phantom, his mom going
catchily—you pang sai is it take so long.
Another matriarch would go on to say,
in his first role, in the first English soap,
I’ll crush you like a cockroach! No help needed
in the drugs, drinking, and sex spree that followed,
even as his fame grew with his drag turn
in Forever Fever, which his father watched three times,
and as the nerd in Teenage Textbook, until
on a bad trip he tried to drown himself,
as if it was possible, in a toilet bowl.
He stopped himself in his tracks and backtracked.
Those cries subsided and yet others rose
when Caleb flew to San Diego State.
On stage, as on the site Adam4Adam,
No Asians, please. Sorry! was what he heard,
even from other Asians, so he ate
pizzas and burgers only, eschewing Asia,
and did not go home for three years. So hard
to pass for white it did not last. What changed him?
Catching the teaching bug and the surprise
discovery that he was good at teaching,
so good they named a dance award after him,
although he was not dead, rich, or alumnus.
Every year, still, the top dance student wins
the Caleb Goh Dance Award at La Jolla.
Imagine his disgust, back at La Salle
in Singapore, no Singaporeans, please,
was what he heard, even from Singaporeans,
we think white people are better, white people
who think it cool to set Cabaret in Bugis
as if removing drag queens is the same
as killing Jews; who dress Red Riding Hood
in kimono and Jack of the Beanstalk
in a rice farmer’s hat. And they were not
even Americans, they were Australians!
And then it happened, in a big revival
of Alfian’s Asian Boys, which I caught, not
having seen the original, Caleb stared
into the stands and saw, o god, his future
husband, who had a boyish crush on him
since Textbook. Bitten but not shy, he was ready
to move back home, but Dickson wished to see
America, and so they did, together,
the treasure island of a thousand voices,
the foghorns, the debates on campuses,
the quiet streets, the carousel, the music
of freedom born again in the USA.
They could live here. They could. They could walk down
the aisle in Sandi’s Presidio Park,
even with Caleb’s father praying hard,
in a hotel room next-door to the Day,
for the demons to leave his wayward son.
The wedding went viral and his old church
wrote him, forsake your sin or else we will…
He took or else, and has been taking it
ever since, heeding only God, who says
always, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding,”
in a voice-over like a surfer dude’s.
And when those other noises, scratching hard
behind sideboards or screeching overhead,
from heaving, midnight nests, bare sharp, white teeth,
he thinks of his father’s rat guillotine
and the sink that he proudly showed his son
to coax him into a career in medicine,
the porcelain plugged with the heads of rats.
Too grisly? Yes. Maybe. For PG-13,
he and Dickson are also daddies of kittens.
Jee Leong Koh is the author of Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the UK’s Financial Times and a Finalist by Lambda Literary in the USA. He has published three other books of poems, a volume of essays, and a collection of zuihitsu. His new book of poems Connor and Seal is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press (Little Rock, Arkansas) in March 2020.