Yew Leong Lee

This piece of cloth
tightened over my arm
reminds me of T.
He used to wear
this kind of thing
to stop dirt
from getting
on to his sleeves.
He said this
in one of our rarer
moments of peace,
when I wondered aloud
about the garment
worn by the vendor
we passed
on the way
to the restaurant
that day. Then,
in deference
to my weakness
for bland
he told the waiter
we wanted the broth
clear instead of
When lunch ended,
I paid for the both
of us,
a gesture
he had over time learnt
to stop protesting
just as
a week later,
he would give in
to my heavy sadness—
so completely
I was to see
on his back
a pimple
by a diet
with the chilies
he refused
in my presence.
I saw at once
that he would
one day
his body over
to someone
he didn’t
And because
I didn’t want
to be
that dry run
before the actual
I asked with
even heavier sadness
that he dress






In 2008, I embarked on a road trip with a Taiwanese friend. We took turns driving the car. It was hot in the Florida sun, so my friend would produce a tubular garment and thread his arm through it. Stretching from elbow to wrist, this piece of cloth shielded the lower arm from the sun's heat. I had come across the garment in China—where I lived for a year and met T. (It's also where, goes an unofficial statistic, 80% of gay men end up getting married—to women.) To see the same thing appropriated for a completely different use by another culture was amazing to me. When it was my turn to take over the wheel, my friend asked me if I wanted to wear his "sleeveguard." The dérive of recollection that makes up this poem comes out of the moment I wrapped my arm in it.

Click [here] to see the myriad manifestations of a sleeveguard.