– After visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

What do you expect to find, after trudging
through the cold, some wind, to reach
this outpost: the whole truth and nothing

But the truth? This is, after all, a library -
a repository of accessible information
to be unpacked by inquisitive minds.

If you prefer to take the scenic route,
this is a museum, where artefacts
are assembled, for you, from beginning

To bittersweet end, where after a dark
tunnel, the fires persevere. Is this
also a lighthouse, its guiding principle

Intact within weatherproof glass? For
a moment, you don't know whether to dwell
on your interest in architecture, disdain

For politics (American or otherwise),
or speculation over multiple theories
on the killing of the 35th President.

As Mrs Kennedy gives a tour of the restored
White House on a nearby screen, you want
instead to learn about what's been left out:

Onassis, Monroe, etc. But do blemishes
have any place here, enclosed by starkly
white concrete? This is a temple, dedicated

To the memory of a great leader.
In the end, you allow yourself to ingest
some sympathy: This is a boathouse

Facing the waves he'd sailed and loved.
A framed vista that, in the omission
of details, refines the sky and the sea.

Poet’s note:

Visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston in February made me think, closer to home, about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wish not to have his house preserved as a museum.

I thought it was timely to remember a former United States president like Kennedy, who was also a Democrat, just as President Barack Obama is finishing his term and the campaign for the presidential election is heating up.


Yong Shu Hoong has authored a poetry chapbook, Right Of The Soil (2016), and five poetry collections - including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), both of which won the Singapore Literature Prize. He is the editor of the short story anthology, Passages: Stories Of Unspoken Journeys (2013), and one of the four co-authors of The Adopted: Stories From Angkor (2015). He works as a freelance writer and teaches part-time at Republic Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University.


Frottage (Firstfruits Publications 2005)

A collection of poems inspired by Yong's short trips to Australia, as well as his remembrances of Australian relatives and friends. It also touches on the connections that link Australia back to the much smaller island of Singapore.

The Viewing Party (Ethos Books 2013)

A book about death and cinema: A ghost story serves as the centrepiece from which poems, poetic prose and 100-word ruminations fan out.

The Adopted: Stories From Angkor (Ethos Books 2015)

An intoxicating blend of short stories across multiple genres - the result of a constraints-driven writing game undertaken by four writers after their Siem Reap excursion.

• For an interview with Yong Shu Hoong, with his recorded reading of two poems, visit

•All books are on loan in the National Library or available at Kinokuniya.

•The poem in the Rhyme And Reason series is brought to you in partnership with the National Arts Council.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Shrine'. Print Edition | Subscribe