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By Jee Leong Koh

--I speak with the forked tongue of colony.

         Eavan Boland, "The Mother Tongue"

My grandfather said life was better under the British.
He was a man who begrudged his words but he did say this.

I was born after the British left
an alphabet in my house, the same book they left in school.

I was good in English.
I was the only one in class who knew "bedridden" does not mean lazy.

I was so good in English they sent me to England
where I proved my grandfather right

until I was almost sent down for plagiarism I knew was wrong
and did not know was wrong, because where I came from everyone plagiarized.

I learned to attribute everything I wrote.
It is not easy.

Sometimes I cannot find out who first wrote the words I wrote.
Sometimes I think I wrote the words I wrote with such delight.

Often the words I write have confusing beginnings
and none can tell what belongs to the British, my grandfather or me.

Added: Friday, October 7, 2016  /  Used with permission.
Jee Leong Koh
Photo by Guy E. Humphrey.

Jee Leong Koh's book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. Jee is also the author of three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. His work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, he lives in New York City, where he edits the arts magazine Singapore Poetry, and organizes the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

Other poems by this author