Leigh Stein

Travel & Transitioning

Three Poems


To think of gratitude and to think of thank you cards
instead, the small panic of them, the pressure
to buy the ones with black and white Parisian photograph
covers and the blank insides, ready for your profound message,
you writer, you beautiful liar; you are supposed to be good at this.

So you write, Thank you for the flowers. I don’t know
what to call them, but they are pink and I plan
on taking them to bed with me in your absence. You write,
Thank you for the reminder you’re eight hundred miles away.
You draw pictures of hot air balloons and trolley cars and
inaccurate maps of the United States with dash dashed arrow
routes that point from one stick person holding flowers
to another stick person empty handed.

And when it is too hard to be thankful for anything
other than the fact that at least the two of you aren’t dead yet,
you call, despite the time zone difference and impossible hour,
to say, Walk west so that I can hear your footsteps better.


To the cowboy who taught me
to light matches with my teeth,

I say, look at this wind tonight. Look
at the way it snaps the tree trunks can
you teach me to light those? Can you
teach me to build a kite out of them? Something
to fly on from here to there something to measure
the distance of absence with? I say, look:
Velocity impetus alacrity flux. I say, look:
The intrinsic arrowing of our two mouths.

Civil War

I apologize for getting off on danger, but
I can’t tell you any more
about my transitory fantasies involving the two of us
being consumed by prairie fire, because remember
last time? when I said I wanted to take the bones
of your hands and make them into a heart shaped brooch
for my new tweed jacket?

You totally freaked out
and I was just being romantic.

And I’m sorry that
I spent most of last night trying
to crawl inside the spine of my atlas and
I’m also sorry for eskimo kissing the hell out of
the Mason-Dixon line, but globes make
impossible pillows. Pillows make
impossible pillows. I don’t know what to do any more
but ask you to sever and mail me a limb while
I work on memorizing the topography of too far away.

Martina Pfeiler

Travel & Transitioning

The Philippines

Manila International Airport, 1987

“Anything to declare?” she asks,
and I say “Yeah”.
I saw the happiest man on earth, dressed in a potato sack
in the streets of Cagayan de Oro City.
I saw a “girl-boy” on Kalamkam Beach, when I was ten,
half-guessing, half-knowing what that meant.
I saw a card-board figure of Michael Jackson
advertising his new album ‘BAD’ and I thought
that the people here didn’t like his songs.
I saw kids chasing away poisonous snakes and spiders
and me trying to catch geckos (losing their tail) for my biology lesson.
I saw kids (my age) begging for sweets, sticking their
hands (like in a cage) through the gates
of our bungalow camp-site.
I saw “The Octopus Man” with three hands and four feet at a fun-fair,
selling his body in a cabin as a show attraction,
because the doctors had not relieved him
from the limbs of his never developed twin-brother.
I watched two nuns praying on our flight from Hong Kong to Manila,
thinking “if they don’t get saved, who will?”
I saw a stone smash the window of my friend’s car
and our driver stopping
and taking out a gun from the back seat  for our protection.
I saw myself & my friends almost being eaten by sharks
when the anchor of our small boat got stuck
25 feet below the surface of the open sea.
I saw the bays of the Philippine Sea,
from the top of green hills,
watching out for snakes and having a picnic
with native friends  till the sun set down
calmly on the wet horizon.
I saw a hunger-tortured mother,
stealing food for her baby at the local market.
I saw the moon look the same in the Southern Hemisphere,
laying in darkness on a diving board,
hearing the croaking of frogs, joining into beautiful
songs in equally unknown tongues.
I saw a man cutting the throat of a chicken that
then ran in his yard till it dropped dead.
(I refused to watch cock-fights).
I saw us rafting down Cagayan the Oro River in a tire,
passing Carabaus and native people washing their clothes.
I saw a poor family in the jungle,
waving to us on our motorbikes,
shouting in a cheerful voice “Americanos”,
evoking a strange chill running down my spine & my skin.
I saw schools that were so different compared to what I knew
from home – and kids playing the same games as we did.
I saw “Filipino Pesos” handed over the cash desks and
did not  understand how a large bottle of Coke
could only cost 1 Schilling and 20 Groschen.
I saw half-dead, still-squeaking pigs being
transported on the back of Cheepneys and
people roasting and eating them,
almost instantly turning me into a vegetarian.
I saw hand-made wooden items that were
more beautiful than anything you can get
at our toy stores.
I saw a scorpion crawling from underneath
the trunk on which sat to roast
bananas in our little bonfire.
I saw a volcano-heated pool in the mountains
where we went for a swim and a
cold waterfall touch upon a flat surface
of a natural basin, clear enough for a dive.

I see Western Civilization creep into
Manila International Airport
trying to adapt me to my Austrian life at home.
I watch myself weighing my thoughts on a native scale
And I hope for some extra space to fill my
mental suitcase, not yet ready to be taken home.

Gaston Ng

Travel & Transitioning

Next Stop

On the bus,
I realise it’s easy to fall
In love with the train-driver,

Knowing adventure and adrenalin,
Speed and direction,
Knowing both it and its limitations.

We draw all these lines around things we love,
Children in sandboxes marking territories.
Did the sandbox agree to be split?

After rain, after sleep,
The sand will defect, seek asylum,
Form new grooves and return whole.
Will you notice?

You will return, sit
At your usual (aggregated) spot,
Play like you think it’s yours,
Drawing old lines over new sand.

It’s easy to fall in love with the train-driver,
Knowing you will both die
If it derails.
It’s only fair.

But not many get to fall in love with train-drivers.

Where do I go from here?

Peter Murphy

Travel & Transitioning

Two Poems


It’s the largest city square in Europe,
the guide book says.

We sit down.

Lurid posters
(mostly flame and shadow)
advertise a feature on
the Bali bombing.

You take the thermos out and,
as we choose pastries,
a beggar


he keeps on

He won’t
go away.

Our only
to the ground.

Tourist and Beggars

Just inside a church in Würzburg
is a plate of coins and, further in,
an angry face
confronts potential
donors and thieves.

We’re aware of him as we walk around
and of a possible encounter
on leaving – which, luckily,
doesn’t happen.

Some beggars watch you right
from the start,
judging who might respond
and when to speak.

One I remember
wipes his eyes
as if it’s all too much.

Another squats
with his eyes closed,
the state of his mind
and body in doubt.

Those who don’t look
stay in the mind most,
particular one who lies
by his hat

As a tourist who doesn’t give,
I notice elderly locals who do
and wonder about myself.

Dawn Lim

Travel & Transitioning

Quantum Physics

Quantum Physics (extracts)

I have flown through 20
pages of blue in an airplane

to write my name on the window
with wet fingers:

the transparency
of glass
on glass

waiting to be articulated.

Alighting, I shiver
from the lightness of a sky’s foreign touch.

The opening
of a door is this unnoticed;

and irrevocable: Wellingtons and a hat,
wet footsteps on carpet, my shadow
heaving from the weight
of water.

My mother screams to my father.

Her mouth a window
broken by a thrown stone.

Years after, her ability to have travelled
will still take her by surprise.

I have flown through 20
pages of blue in an airplane

to write my name on the window
with wet fingers:

the transparency
of glass
on glass

waiting to be articulated.

Alighting, I shiver
from the lightness of a sky’s foreign touch.

The opening
of a door is this unnoticed;

and irrevocable: Wellingtons and a hat,
wet footsteps on carpet, my shadow
heaving from the weight
of water.

My mother screams to my father.

Her mouth a window
broken by a thrown stone.

Years after, her ability to have travelled
will still take her by surprise.

Koh Beng Liang

Travel & Transitioning

Two Poems


Three things filled the abandoned room – dust, sunlight and the silence. I stood
below the blackened chandelier, hanging from the high ornate ceiling,
fearing the lead from paint specks peeling off the walls. In the adjoining
room I spied through the neglected doors a nude painting, a white bicycle,
tyres flat, and book shelves holding rows and rows of ancient volumes,

but the largest pile of rotting books lay in the room
I was in, on the rusting military metal
desk. Three moth-eaten armchairs must have once been host to
connoisseurs of philosophical conversation, sitting in front
of the torn painting depicting deer outnumbered
by hunting dogs. They must have had debates
about communism, the party and the state.

The floor tried to stay marble despite the bleaching benevolent sun.
I had the feeling I’d find liquor in the little black cabinet.


Clocks had little reason to the strength of daylight.
I bounced on the mossy rocks as I waited outside a geothermal pool
for the bus piped with easy listening. Somehow the sulphur stench
matched the devilish sky. A nice dark-haired girl spoke good English
but turned out Finnish, an exchange student with a positive attitude.
She worked in a greenhouse and found the Icelandic tongue cunning.

The tiny town centre was deserted, the young ones were hungover
from the over-exertion of Saturday night, smashing absinthe bottles, the shards
gleaming blisters catching light from the sun too weak to relieve the cold
of its bitterness. It is on this kind of island, on the edge of the habitable,
where by next week you could be dead, that I felt most alive.

On the drive back to the airport along the black coastal highway,
I could sense the taxi driver, mumbling through his white rough beard,
just starting to warm up to his alien passenger.

Karl Koweski

Travel & Transitioning

Three Poems


if you remain in your car
all you can see
is the breakwater.
ragged chunks of concrete
pieces of rebar jutting out
like mummified fingers.

Lake Michigan lays there
a dead ocean
indistinguishable from
its mortuary slab.
smell the embalming fluid,
a noxious mixture
of detergent and petroleum
byproducts pumped in
by the refinery and
the surrounding mills.

after climbing the breakwater
and finding a smooth boulder
of concrete to perch on
I watch the February storm
approach from the northeast.
the sky and sea seem
to merge creating a
seamless shirt of the world.

ten years gone
and nothing really changes.
Chicago still glimmers to
the west;
the distillation towers
of Amoco refinery sulks
in the east.
and all I ever succeeded
in doing this last decade
was killing time.
I murdered ten years
so cleanly
I didn’t leave so much
as a witness.

Returning Home

I haven’t lived here for so long
the houses seem to have huddled
even closer together as though
comforting each other in my absence

I pass taverns
Cavalier Inn
What About Bob’s
Pudlo’s Tap

I know any bar I walk into
I’ll see someone I haven’t
seen in over ten years
and we’ll act like it’s great
to see each other again

where you been?
what you been up to?

we’ll subtly compare hairlines
and biceps and how many
beers necessitate a trip
to the bathroom and nothing
will have changed though we’ll
pretend everything has changed


the further you drive
the more obvious
the template becomes

every exit
like every other exit

McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell

Cracker Barrel or Steak & Shake
for the affluent traveler

Ramada Inn, Best Western, Econo Lodge

the Ocala, Florida exit no different
from the Demonbreun, Kentucky exit

it’s the Wal-Martyrization of America
diversity excised from the equation
for your traveling convenience
until the land itself possesses
the anonymity of a hotel room
negating the need to journey at all

S. K. Kelen


Travel & Transitioning

Two Poems

A Travellers’ Guide to the East Indies

To arrive anywhere tonight
you travel a road lit only by fireflies
to towns whose names mean
‘tomb of a hundred martyrs’.
Invisible birds sing tinkling vowels
– words from a time
before history invaded.

Frogs roar louder and louder
kickstarting a generator.
Trees, pagoda, the moon
a shaking world in lagoon waters.

Beware the regiments of the kangaroo!
Progress follows without emission controls.
Across, say, the Banda Sea or clouded mountain ranges
a world lost for ten thousand years
soon adjusts to ghetto-blasters and minibuses.

Western airliners overhead: missiles
that deliver foreign exchange.
Banyan trees grow sideways through the air.
Shouts and shrieks of barter and cash
amplify in a packed bazaar.

Crowds ebb and swell, laughing.
Trays of trinkets, batiks, sweets, fruit
and vegetables all laid out on grass mats.
Beggars harangue pointing at their children.

A legendary pickpocket, Dusk, splashes red over the sky.

In Sumatran cities transvestites caterwaul
after visitors’ fair skin.
Bus races over cliffs are a diversion
most prefer to miss, likewise a tiger
loose in a longhouse
though if one wears the brass ring a shaman prescribes
a tiger’s friendship is assured.
Indeed you’ll be invited home to its lair
& there smoke pipes of jungle grass,
receive potent amulets as gifts.

Kalimantan monkeys and wildcats screech like brakes
before a crash. Honey bears and orangutans,
singing laments, carry giant lilies to hideaways
as all the forests are felled
so throwaway teak chopsticks
adorn Japanese bowls.

Whilst animist priests fill an earth station’s dish
with rice, square-rigged ships ply old spice routes.
On deck, gladly corrupted sailors swig arak
and drunk as baboons on durians their minds
swim off to the Roaring Forties.

Mid-West 1

Bathed in unlucky blood­
Bison land is stamped by a bitumen
Web enmeshing sacred ground,
State shields glint blue in the sun

So the free spirit changes gear
Fuel-injected, turbo charged,
Chants the sky’s tyre mantra:
Smile on the State & Interstate
Give us frantic, highway joy
At 90 mph you’re sure, rip roar the night away.
Carburettors breathe the eagle’s country,
There’s no speed limit when oneness is reached
And highways meridian industry and peace.
Engines surge, melt mountain
At dawn the trains whistle like ghosts.

Kris T Kahn

Travel & Transitioning


Travelling, you realise that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents…
– Italo Calvino

Any progression, whether by aeroplane or steam engine, deserves a sense of reflection.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the two words are not quite as dissonant as one might expect, despite their not fulfilling the demanding rigours of poetic form.  When I pass through the tunnel, when all goes black, it is the moment before everything else—it is the moment before language in which I learn that touch (sheltered by shadow) is the primary instinct.  It is the moment in which I mourn you most for the fingers on my own hands are nothing like the calloused ones on yours; the touch is an anachronism, it does not work because we did not work.

At least this is what the sudden delve into blackness tells me.

The sudden lamp-posts emerging; the flicker of life in gas vapours along the sidelines of the track.  There was none of this; there was none of that.  I think of where I once was (wherever it is I happen to be coming from, returning from) and where I belong—which is not the same as my destination but which, things being as they are, I must name as such.

How can I name something as my own when you are no longer mine?

The unsaid cry echoes through the aeroplane or the train, its cabins bustling with what-ifs as though whatever I might cry out in the darkness—those things I cannot say in the light of morning with another body beside me; those things I cannot say to you in the light of day as the dead must always have their rest—seems contagious.  The others, if there happen to be any others, shudder and jolt.  It is not because of the captain or the driver.  There is actually a sudden shift of air; no one can breathe—the sense of drowning becomes close, closer, until we all realise that we’ve moved.

Moving does not imply anything involving possessions.  It is not the scuffling of furniture—this is yours and this is mine—along the already-cracked wainscoting.  Moving is not moving at all, and the aeroplane and the steam engine know this as well as you and I.

Moving is remaining stationary, keeping you harboured in the safety of a travel valise.  Moving is sensing danger, keeping you quiet from my oppressive lover.  Moving is keeping the ashes close to me in case I happen upon a body of water that resembles the one you saw in flames.

There will be no other.  I am not sure what you want me to do but I am absolutely certain of what it is you need.  And so I go on.  The cities change their names, their languages, their symbols, so that everything looks hieroglyphic—except for the sensation of touch: my fingers on your cheap pine box.  My heart wrapped somewhere in that plastic bag even though I carry it through tunnels—of night and of day—to do your bidding.

I always will.  And you will it so.  The sense of place determines how I feel but I promise you, wherever you are, that it is never different from the first moment.  No.  I swear.

Terry Jaensch

Travel & Transitioning

Two Poems


Haggling at Clarke Quay

I keep my humour,
the proprietor his –

jovial but firm.
The joke an antiquity,

punch-line a rumour.
The Quay plainly put:

bent at this juncture.
More aesthete than buyer

the argument’s won
in looking farther

afield. Or flattering
his smoking gun –

drawn from cloth,
dust jacket cracking:

“Singapore boobies,”
jaundiced early eighties

erotica. More aesthete
than buyer I ask after

Mao-ist propaganda.
Despotic kitsch, busts

and pins I should care
less about, nor humour.

He starts at twenty,
I work my way down

– jovial but firm –
something of my taste

for the “early eighties”
in Mao’s receding hair-line.

Karaoke (Babylon)

He’s not exactly speaking my language, eyeing
himself in the side-board mirror. Sticky rice
queen slumming it, not exactly singing – to me.

His face, the choreographed collective of the duo
on screen, signing its availability to already
established markets. Pre-pubescent mandarin

breaking into even more underdeveloped English:
ooh baby, baby. For all his grasp, its perfunction –
open the window. Ooh open the window, aah open

the window. Someone else’s standard in a bar filled
with mirrors, singletted, tank topped, body shirted like
so much peanut flesh encased in shell. He holds the mic

like a phallus, my gaze for like seconds and the room
choruses ad lib to fade: will any of us have a career
over thirty, will any of us have a career over thirty –