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Preview: Song of a Reformed Headhunter

Song of a Reformed Headhunter

a poet's journal: notes, drafts and reactions

Updated: 2018-02-20T17:21:00.651-05:00


The Square


Wrote "The Morning After Trump's Election (Watusi)" from Connor's perspective yesterday. Today added a small section to "Handheld Devices" and refitted the sequence to reflect the aging of both men.

Watched The Square (2017) with MH yesterday, after lunch with LF and JT. Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, it stars Claes Bang as the chief curator of a prestigious Stockholm museum who is trying to promote a controversial new exhibit. As MH confirmed, the film is spot-on in its satire of art institutions and their patrons. What was less expected was how moving it was in illuminating the seemingly obvious, but infinitely complex business of creating a public square of mutual trust and equal rights.

Connor and Seal: "Later, at the Same Dance Party"


Another retro-fit today, with some small revisions to fit it into the overarching narrative.


Later, at the Same Dance Party

Finally he withdraws his sweet body
from the kiss, and the veil descends.

I’m completely involved with someone, 
he says, he’s coming back tomorrow. 

Thrust together by his words, we taste
each other’s mouth through the silk.

Then all the names of the world—
body, kiss, tomorrow, his name Seal—

swaddle in a wet underwear
the things they designate.

When he backs off again, a cry
I cannot recognize passes my lips,

Take me home with you. 
It does not pass the cloth of gold.

He presses through the crushed bodies,
 pulling his tee-shirt down as he goes.

Connor and Seal: Meeting Seal at an 80's Dance Party on Throwback Thursday


Today's offering retrofits an old poem (from "The Book of the Body" sequence") with a new title.

Meeting Seal at an 80’s Dance Party on Throwback Thursday

It is time to bring your face into focus
before this lens moves below the chin to other features harder
to identify as yours.
The best image is that of the cheeks.

The right cheek and the left cheek do not meet.
Like the back of the hand and the palm,
like the head of a silver coin and its tail,
the cheeks do not see each other except in a mirror or a photograph.

This is true of my cheeks
until my right brushes your left when we dance and, in that flash of flesh,
the coin turns up both head and tail,
the back of the hand shakes hands with the palm.

Connor and Seal: Identity House (New York)



Identity House (New York)

Shirtless bartenders
popping the cork.
Drag queens hosting
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Flirtations flit.
Beauty meets.
Grown men deep
kissing on the streets.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

Talk we must about
coming out
in the calmness of
Identity House.
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee,
can such places be?

No more need for
unless we are figures of
speech, yes, us,
Connor, Tom, Alberto, Jee.
Can such places be?

Connor and Seal: A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe



A Tale of Two Cities, Three Maybe

She’s a baby from Vietnam,
from Saigon, if the truth be told.
She’s a girl from Nebraska City
and she’s sixteen years old.
 She’s unusual, that’s for sure.
She asks him out for ice cream
at Nancy’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor
by Dick’s Movie Palace of Dreams.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

First, an ice cream, and then, a movie.
One thing leads to another.
She’s smart, a looker, but he has eyes only
for her quarterback brother.
In the lab, she makes up excuses
to peek at his dissection.
He sneaks his looks in the locker room
at Tommy’s pink ass and Joe’s erection.

She’s in love with the boy
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

He tells her at the Farm Aid show
he’s applyin’ to New York University.
This town’s too small for big dreams,
he explains, to let her down easy.
With her mother’s heart condition,
she knows she’s not going anywhere.
Trisha Yearwood looks so very small
as her voice lifts off into the air:

She’s in love with the boy. 
She’s in love with the boy
but after a whole year of eating pussy
he knows he’s not in love with Katie.

With apologies to singer Trisha Yearwood, and songwriters John Charles Ims and Jon Ims.

Connor and Seal: Art Show at the Center



Art Show at the Center

On a black dummy,
a shawl—not cashmere,
cigarette butts.

Apple seeds arranged
like tea cozies
around the roots of trees next door.

So this is what art is!

You are one thing and you are
used for another.

Slightly built, curly haired,
the Artist-in-Residence
smiles from New Jersey.
 Close enough to New York,
if you ask me.

The star of the show:

3 blocks of yellow soap,
the height of my chest,
to look like—urinals.

Oh, the urge to use them!
To spray them
and be clean.

Connor and Seal




From the bluff
we turned our backs on the river
and opened a trail,
as Lewis and Clark.

We spotted the grizzly,
Tom did, glummer than Meriwether,
and gave him wide berth
slowly on our stomachs.

When I hit
some raccoon shit, Tom changed
my name to Pvt. John Collins
and tied my paws to a tree

and whipped me with the whip
of a branch,
rubbing himself until he let go
gum from the orange.

We hurried home, it was getting dark,
and watched dad slam the boot
on boxes of his stuff
and drive off.

I was the one to break
the silence, kept during the whipping—
Tom, let’s go back
and tie me up.

The Book of Emma Reyes


Given to me by Elda Rotor in a bag full of literary goodies, The Book of Emma Reyes is a revelation. Godmother to Latin American writers and artists in Paris, Emma Reyes was illiterate until her late teens, escaped from grinding poverty and the convent in Columbia, to Buenos Aires and then Paris, to re-invent herself as painter. The memoir, written as a series of letters to Colombian historian and critic Germán Arciniegas, won praise from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As translated by Daniel Alarcón, the style is artfully simple and wholly faithful to the world. No literary flourishes, no imaginative metaphors. Just a sustaining belief that the material itself holds its own interest.



Last night, watched The Toilers and the Wayfarers (1995), written and directed by Keith Froelich, set in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Matt Klemp, who played the beautiful young Dieter, showed real talents as an actor. But he seemed to have acted in one more movie before calling it quits.

This afternoon, watched Ghost in the Shell (2017), directed by Rupert Sanders, and starring Scarlett Johannson as Major, a crime-fighting robot with a human brain. It was more exciting and pleasurable than I thought it would be. I've never seen the anime original, so have nothing to compare the move to. The plot is predictable but the pacing is good.

Also finished this afternoon Kei Miller's third novel Augustown. It is well written but the stock characters, including a flying preacher, a racist teacher, a well-meaning white school principal, a blind old woman who could smell the forthcoming autoclaps (disaster), preclude real emotional engagement.

About two weeks ago, I finished Gershom Scholem's biography Walter Benjamin: The story of a friendship. Respectful and loving, but by no means hagiographic. For Scholem, Benjamin was a mystic, even when he was a materialist. The little I've read of Benjamin suggests that Scholem is right. Scholem takes pains in his biography to list Benjamin's intellectual influences and contacts, the people and the books. Benjamin saw in Scholem "living Judaism."Scholem supported the idea that Benjamin committed suicide.

About Painting


I'm a sucker for movies about writers and artists. Always eager to learn some secret to success, I suppose. As if there is one. Local Color (2006), written and directed by George Gallo, is too simplistic and sentimental to be truly inspirational. The acting by Armin Mueller-Stahl (Nicholi Seroff, the older artist) and Trevor Morgan (John Talia, Jr., the younger artist) makes the film watchable.


I did not know David Hockney started out as an Abstract Expressionist at the Royal Academy. That was probably the greatest revelation of the Met show. In those early works, there was already a keen sense of color. The Room Tarzana (1967) is my favorite of the works on show, beating out all the swimming pools, glass-curtain buildings, Californian landscapes. It has this wonderful sense of coolness about its sexual heat. The most penetrating, psychologically, is "Henry Geldzahler & Christopher Scott" (1969), about the Met curator, ensconced on his throne, and his supplicant, the trench-coated boyfriend and artist.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty


An outrageous satire that skewers race politics in the USA. I have to resort to a cliche: the book is unputdownable. I raced through the book, lapping up all the wonderful set-pieces and snappy one-liners. It made me laugh out loud quite a number of times. And you know what I used for a bookmark, my police report about my lost iPhone in Singapore. The opening sentence of the book: "This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything." Uproarious! Finished it around Jan 3, only now blogging about it.

Conspiracy Theorists


1987: Singapore's Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, edited by Chng Suan Tze, Low Yit Leng and Teo Soh Lung.

A valuable collection of testimonies and memories by the detainees, their family members, their lawyers, the campaigners for their release, and other supporters. This is not the place to obtain a full historical understanding of Operation Spectrum, the detention of 22 people in May 1987 for allegedly conspiring as Marxists to overthrow the state of Singapore; the pieces here are too fragmented and personal to give a steady picture. This is the place, however, where an agonizing silence has been broken, as the different participants of the historical incident recount, explain, and wonder aloud. The two most penetrating insights to emerge are, one, the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew might have ordered the detention to initiate the new generation of government leaders, including his son Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister, into the blood sport of politics. They found themselves having to accede to and explain the draconian and unjust action. The few who could not do so, such as S. Dhanabalan, ultimately quit politics. The second insight, which is also part of hindsight, is that Operation Spectrum set back civil society and social advocacy for 20 years. Singapore was not allowed to grow up.

The Art of Advocacy in Singapore, edited by Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas.

A valuable collection of the experiences of social advocates and activists in trying to change government policies and enlarge the space of civil society in Singapore. The remit of the different individuals representing different organizations is helpfully wide: Ageing, Animal Welfare, Health, Heritage and Environment, Human Rights, Literature and Theatre, Media, Migrant Workers, Sex Workers, and Women. It is clear that the most successful of the organizations have been those who back up their arguments with research, engage the authorities privately and publicly, and soften any confrontational language, in other words, they have abided by the rules of engagement set out by the authorities. This approach works best for issues against which the main forces of resistance are ignorance and prejudice. When the issue has to do with political power - as in the struggle for freedom of expression and other democratic liberties, this approach cannot work, for no amount of research, reasonableness, and outreach will persuade the government to give up its political controls. A sufficient political force must be mustered to contest the present dominance. Lacking such a force, to ask the current regime to give up its overwhelming power is like asking a lion to surrender its teeth.

Living in a Time of Deception


Living in a Time of Deception by Poh Soo Kai (Singapore: Function 8 Ltd, 2016).

Dr. Poh Soo Kai was detained without trial for a total of 17 years on the false charge of being a communist out to subvert the state of Singapore. What he shows convincingly in this historical memoir is that, like many of his fellow detainees under Operation Coldstore, he was not a communist, but an anti-colonialist and socialist, in other words, a patriot. He was detained for so long because he refused to sign any statement that suggested otherwise. Such a powerfully principled person deserves a hearing at the very least. If you read this book and give him a hearing, as I did, you will make astonishing discoveries about Singapore's struggle for independence from the British, and the legacy of that struggle. After reading this book, I am outraged by the political chicanery for personal ends, but I am also inspired by the heroism of a few good men.

Star Attractions of Singapore


Star Attractions of Singapore: when will Parliament reverse the injustice that makes me a second-class citizen in my own country? Leaving Singapore tonight after giving away 33 out of 50 tank tops. Our biggest challenge is our (self-)imposed invisibility. Putting on an equality singlet is a small but significant way of saying, we're here, we're queer, get used to it. Looking forward to coming back for Pink Dot 2018 to join everyone in claiming and celebrating the right to love. #gaybutnotyetequal #singaporeunbound

Gay But Not Yet Equal 2


Gave out 27 tops altogether, yesterday at Artistry Cafe and today at Intermission Bar - at The Projector. Take a gander at these brave souls who wore their gay pride proudly. Thanks, everyone, for coming and taking a risk. Let’s stand up for gay equality! You make a difference.

Bare Life


Submitted three of my Harlem poems to The Bare Life Review, a journal devoted to publishing immigrant and refugee writers.

The Soloist


Yesterday, went for two readings. A reading by four poets at AAWW. Monica Sok's poetry stood out for its formal intelligence. She was also very articulate about her work. Then over to the the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division, at the LGBT Community Center, to hear the contributors to the anthology Our Happy Hour: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bar. Ann Aptaker, who organized and emceed the reader, read with great energy and panache.

Tonight, watched the movie The Soloist (2009) about an LA Times columnist who befriended a homeless man who was trained in cello at Julliard. Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. turned in good performances. Directed by Joe Wright.

Jewish Mysticism


Last Monday, had dinner with Kevin Maxwell at Grand Szechuan, Chelsea. He had been with his friend Fahdi, who was dying of cancer. On Thursday, Kevin posted on FB that Fahdi had died. I met Fahdi only once, at a birthday dinner for Kevin. He was a psychologist or psychiatrist. He was into big biceps.

Tuesday, attended the second session of the Gershom Scholem course at the Center of Jewish History, taught by Izhak Lewis. The readings and discussion turned on Scholem's study of Jewish mysticism. Is there such a thing as mysticism across time and space, or is it constituted as an object by academic study?

Wednesday, had coffee with Matt from Shelf Awareness. Then dinner with Kim and Judy Luo, who was applying to be editorial intern with Gaudy Boy. Flora Chan joined us and showed us her cover designs for Malay Sketches.

Thursday, GH and I watched Annie Hall. Friday, we watched Beach Rats (2017), which suffered from bad writing but had a rather good Harris Dickinson as a druggie Brooklyn teenager who hooks up on-line with older men.



Worked on Snow at 5 PM from 5 am to 12:30 pm, with a break to get the paper and groceries and another break for brunch. Focused on pumping up the language and adding specific details.

Went for Bikram Yoga at Yogacare. Missed only 1 of the poses.

Watched the last episode of Endeavor Season Four, called "Harvest." Shaun Evans as the young constable Endeavor Morse and Roger Allam as his older colleague, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday.

East West Street


Revised the Preface and the Afterword to Snow at 5 PM.

Finished reading East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands, recommended by Henry Abelove. Very well researched, it reads like a detective novel. 

Watched Fire Song (2015), written and directed by Adam Garnet Jones, about a gay Anishinaabe teenager living in North Ontario and trying hard to get out of his small town. Andrew Martin, who plays the protagonist Shane, is a natural actor.

Last Vegas


I'm going to record my daily activities more faithfully on this blog. It is the main on-line repository of my memories.

I've been working on Snow at 5 PM this Thanksgiving break. Yesterday GH and I had brunch with Dan Liu at Maison Harlem. He shared about the way he catalogues his images. One useful tip was to keep hi-res assets on Dropbox, which can be accessed from any device. For Thanksgiving dinner, GH and I went to Barawine. I had good mussels and a passable Sancere. Then we came home and watched Last Vegas, a 2013 comedy starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, and directed by Jon Turteltaub. Good script and acting. The plot is so-so. The movie confirmed our prejudice against Las Vegas.

Philip Roth: the early novels


A colleague said condescendingly that Roth's humor is adolescent. Sure it it, but which of us have grown out of our adolescence so completely that we do not recognize its old growth in our selves? "Portnoy's Complaint" is superb in in its inventive humor. The anti-Nixon satire of "Our Gang" I find rather tiresome. The Kafkaesque "The Breast" is unexpectedly moving. I read the three novels in the Library of America edition.

Vladimir Nabokov's "Ada, or Ardor"


Philip Roth said in an interview that a novel must be read within a fortnight or else the experience would be much dissipated. I think Nabokov's Ada cannot be read so quickly. Each chapter, quite short but so dense with imagery, wordplay, and recondite allusions, must be read slowly, and then savored in the mind's mouth by turning off the spigot of liquid riches, by closing this most unusual family chronicle of incestuous love.

National Coming Out Day


I came out as a gay man 13 years ago. I trace the moment back to my first attending a meeting of GAPIMNY, the Gay Asian Pacific-Islander Men of New York. Since then I've been coming out, again and again, to family, friends, and strangers. Yes, there is such a thing as coming out to oneself, an internal understanding and acceptance of one's own sexual identity, but coming out of the closet is essentially a public act, of saying to others "Hi, I'm here and I'm queer."

Some in the LGBT community have argued that talk of coming-out reinforces the heterosexual norm and marginalizes ourselves. Straight people do not have to come out as straight. This argument has no force in Singapore, where heterosexuality is overpoweringly taken for grant, and so the act of coming out constitutes a challenge to that norm. Our bodies must be seen. Our demands must be heard. Our persons must be respected and treated equally as those of straight people.

It is true that gay liberation began in the US as a liberation movement, in solidarity with other political liberationist movements in the country and around the world, and not as a form of identity politics, which the rhetoric of coming-out seems to underpin. I think of that argument as an important caution that gay equality is not achieved until all other forms of inequality have been eradicated. Gay equality is only, but also, one part of equality for all. So coming out to others is important but is only the beginning of one's political education and action. Drawing strength and wisdom from our own experience, we must join the fight for women's rights, labor protections, and democratic freedoms, to name but a few issues, even as we insist that true equality must include equality for the LGBT community.

Photo by Yoshi Matsuzaki. Art Direction by Jaire Remy W.

Kei Miller's "The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion"


An expertly crafted book of poetry, full of heartfelt knowledge of a place that the author has left to reside elsewhere. The cartographer and the rastaman represent two different ways of knowledge, one rational and calculating, representing an imperialistic perspective, the other mystical and musical, representing a local resistance. If--even in the evidently sincere clash of views, perhaps expressing the conflict in the author--some of the poems feel overly explanatory (the Place Names poems, for instance, even though the explanations may be more invented than real), conceding too much to the ignorant curiosity of Western minds, the collection is still suffused with a strong sense of self-discovery and self-making, which asserts the autonomy of the post-colonial subject. My favorite poem, which does not explain too much, is the extremely moving "My Mother's Atlas of Dolls." Here, the author is not trying to justify himself, but attempting to do justice to one who has never left.