Jee Leong Koh: “Bethlehem”


Starting 2010 off right, this well-crafted lyric by Jee Leong Koh addresses one of my favorite themes, the relationship between eros and the sacred. Koh is the author of the poetry collections Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth. He’s kindly permitted me to share this poem, first posted on his blog, with the understanding that “it’s a draft”. We should all have such good first drafts!

Bethlehem

You come home to be counted but no room
is to be had at a cost you can afford,
having silenced the lathe and stilled the loom,
paying the hours with your heart toward
a vast accumulating sense of doom
that counts the certain end its own reward.
The journey stops, not in Jerusalem,
but backward, dirty, crowded Bethlehem.

Go into this unwholesome stable where,
before the beastly eye picks out its blank,
a stench of piss has stenciled in the air
muscular curve, bold stroke, animal flank;
hands, filling in detail of flesh, declare
the body a deposit and a bank,
care less what cock has shafted home what ass,
mad with desire and mad with disease.

The kings, they come with their gold offering,
to bless the body’s lust with frankincense,
and bitter myrrh the body’s lingering.
The shepherds are astonished by its presence.
And you, unkept, soon to be undone, sing
of the swift massacre of innocence,
sing of the body’s torture on the thorn,
keep singing of the place where love is born.

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