Once, when I struck a boy, my father raised a belt
in the small smelly bedroom my grandfather slept in.
The studded leather strap snapped, and snapped, and the welts
answered in a stinging song to the strong silent man.

Not so when my angry mother rubbed my tongue
with fresh cut chili for inventing fine new lies.
The fruit stung me to blubber volubly my wrong
and beg her face to stop. That sissy I despise

and wonder whether the red chili’s hot dry mouth
or the dark gleaming length of the worn leather strap
poisoned far more the part of man the child would be.
I confess, Father, I worship a man’s brute strength,
and in the massive words I start, stutter, and stop
have too little regard, Mother, for honesty.

Jee Leong Koh is the author of Payday Loans. His poetry has appeared in the Best New Poets 2007 and Best Gay Poetry 2008 anthologies, and was nominated in 2008 for the Pushcart Prize. Born in Singapore, he now lives in New York City, and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter. He hopes to write, some day, as good a poem as "The Four Quartets." 
*Childhood Punishments was nominated for the 2008 Pushcart Prize. It first appeared in Kartika Review*

Copyright 2009