for Mei Ann Teo (Pershing Square, Grand Central Terminal, June 19, 2019)
Seven years near Boston, from nine to fifteen,
while daddy pondered math education
and wrote his thesis, she was bitch-slapped
right back to Singapore by RGS.
She slipped from top of the class to the arse,
from popular to pariah in one step.
Stupid she was, untalented, and fat.
Much later, Buddhism would teach Mei Ann
the lesson to be drawn from suffering—
the pain dismissed by adults themselves in pain—
to be crushed is a gift and an entrance
to the more horrific pain of others,
Madeline Sayet, for instance, whom Mei Ann
directed at the Globe, whose mother tongue
died facing Shakespeare’s, who dared to ask
what if Caliban spoke Mohegan, and
pursued into the plays that New World question.
At VJC, Mei Ann was Caliban
studying Singlish from the secret notes
passed by Christine. The obscenities she learned!
Caliban too she was when she could not
rehearse or perform in her school theatrics
on Saturdays because the day was sacred
to Seventh-day Adventists. At NUS,
she could not take her final Soci exam
and so she took an F. The way was open
to Pacific Union College, Napa Valley,
where, irony, she let go of her faith.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,
and at that time and place, in the guise of
a scholar of five languages, the change
was no decision, but discovery.
Here to refract the white man’s grubby view
to cheery faith’s vast, rainbow coalition
is now her aim—in dating or directing—
or, rather, to the heart she leads us there,
Mohegan, Maddy translated, for directing,
and when collaboration fails, or falters,
as it will from time to testing time,
to dare to say to all, “Let me ask myself.”
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 US. His latest book is a work of hybrid fiction titled Snow at 5 PM: Translations of an insignificant Japanese poet. Originally from Singapore, Koh lives in New York City, where he heads the literary non-profit Singapore Unbound and the indie press Gaudy Boy.