UrbanWire presents the mastery of Desmond Kon’s literary works together with an interesting email interview that reveals the poet’s influences and his opinion on the literary scene in the US and Singapore. An audio recording, poems and a track from the audio book, How to Read a Poem, all for your reading and listening pleasure.

Audio recording of Desmond reading “love song of empress wu

love song of empress wu

{the buds}     {redden pink}    {these titular tips}     {plums}{I upward hurl}
{eunuch these}     {chinoiserie scholars}     {deerweed        roots}{never}
{rot into life}      {I smelt emeralds}       {leaves}       {they don’t money}
{leave me}  {lift me}{lift greenback life beyond}{themselves    overdue seasons}

{when was I here}      {the last time onstage}   {whenever       was he bereft}
{all think           my pickling thoughts}      {love}     {needs}{nouveau needs}
{a love     song}      {that many}      {that wildfires}  {propertied     face}
{flicker ash}   {he’s shivering}   {these high seas      self-made}  {my lilies call}

{on me}     {two by two}     {we surface congress}   {up   on}  {my terms}
{minarets}{they scar    skies}   {tall}      {as heel spike hands}      {needled}
{as him}    {I don’t mind}  {being     unbound}{buckled nature}   {or any other}
{droll buddha man}     {this this   trouble}    {is just}     {just distaste     tossed}

{statute coinage to him}        {I’m the poorer gold}{striking         leggy arms}
{thin twigs}  {I’ll pratfall and break}    {then bend}{now I fracture primal}


{all this} {because      I expect}{stage direct}{precision}   {he has petty wagers}
{like me} {but like me}   {raped beliefs} {trust wrested}     {in the new}

{uptown things     like long tears}      {girlish and bony} {small hopes changed}
{I sink}{feet first}    {my pavilion is wardrobed} {I’m a rose}    {rosewood}
{I close in}     {I like}{cruel sugarcane doors}   {I see}{he lies   outside timbre}
{inside in slivers} {peony light      breaking}  {all over arches}{camber limbs}

{maybe}   {you know}     {what}     {what chic}  {I’ve already become}
{maybe you’ll watch}      {help me}{I scissor this}            {thick chintz}
{silk}    {deadened counterfeit    worming}{my dress     down}{horsehair hoops}
{and I fall}   {crinoline seasons fall}{heavy}  {obedient}  {pomegranate}{pools}

{they too pick my dresses}  {chanteuse envy}  {you’re duty   bristle trouble}
{like me}     {or else}         {I’ll slash}       {hand cream thighs}         {bride red}
{do you see}   {my blood swath} {your slight blood}       {lilies water roses}
{like my lilies}   {like me     arranged}      {my lilies}{like Victoria’s Secret lace}

* Wu Zetian remains the only woman in Chinese history to rule as an emperor. Sometimes excessively criticized for her autocratic rule, Empress Wu ruled between 690-705 AD during the Tang Dynasty. These two sonnets, reflecting off each other, recast and expand the first English translation of the poem by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung, written as an octave. This poem first appeared in The Pinch.

pitcairn hierarchy

imagine its platinum secrets
stripped and searched, flypass naked
hung-out fugitives; floppy lugsails

these are short-lived curios, volcanic ash

these are mud men baring silverfish teeth
leery, jumpy dilettante too; wide gambit grins

effigies tumble and snap like clapboards
boom boom target boards, cutting this dead air;
pembroke tables flapping, breaking sheer

imagine no one finding anyone interesting anymore

all bets off, body bags tagged; into oceans, walk
all skinned on big-bilge water, latex, splints

boom boom woodwinds; tequila statuary adrift
this horizontal, white mast spears, fore-and-aft line
but no one’s playing pirate or daring planks:

our memory games
our ducat stage names

(plotting principalities) pilot our long haul:

aviate / heavy-freight

and everyone flees what’s been situated

but what about the through road today dragging
itself thoroughbred affection, through and through
what makes you stay; sylphlike, my fly-fish lining

what of consensus; what of leeward conversions?

visas to the pitcairn islands are easy;
but the missing are inconsolable
but for the missing, inconsolable

* The word “hierarchy” originated from hierarchia (“ranked division of angels”), first coined by the anonymous Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a 5th Century Christian mystic theologian-philosopher. The term “hierarchy” can also be etymologically traced to ta hiera (“sacred rites”) and archein (“to lead, rule”). Pseudo-Dionysius understood all reality to be hierarchic, believing, as René Roques asserts, that “the totality of this twofold universe, the angelic and the human, constitutes a sacred order, an understanding, and an activity, all regulated by the law of hierarchical mediations, both in the sense of the ‘descent’ of divine illumination and in that of the ‘ascent’ of divinization”. The third choir of the second hierarchy of angels, Principalities remain the guardian angels of the world’s territories. They manifest as rays of light. This poem first appeared in Faultline.

Bulletin D

* This poem first appeared in Seneca Review.

The Trapeze Artist

From the audio book: How to Read a Poem
Inspired Poem by: Peng-Ean Khoo
Pipa by: Samuel Wong Shengmiao

Audio track: “The Trapeze Artist

“The Trapeze Artist” is a track from How to Read a Poem, first published in 2003.The recording features Samuel Wong Shengmiao on the pipa mimicking the theatrics of Peng-Ean Khoo’s “The Trapeze Artist”. The album was created as an audio book for the creative anthology, Dead People, Flying Fishes And The Ones Who Missed Boat, for which Desmond Kon was the editor.


This illustration is reprinted here. It first appeared 20 years ago as a centrefold in My Word, a junior college literary magazine on which Desmond contributed his artwork.