May 30, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (5)


In your pale countenance
I read a trace of hints:
the whip of winter wind,
rioters who return
with remnants of the Stasi troops’ rancor
The light is buried in the slumbering town,
children and women from the East
dream of a slice of bread and a gulp of wine
Surely, you served me
that night:
the burst of bones in the crematorium
and the withered buds of wheat
And the rest, a veiled blanket,
as soft and moist as mist
shaken by the struggling thunder
deep in the heart of the pine forest
And so we lie down,
and even our breath is choked
The room becomes as silent as a crematorium chamber
the dissolving moans scorched by the fire of desire
Behind your closed eyes,
a woman. is burning Mein Kampf secretly
The mighty words of the Fuhrer shattered into husks,
like the ember of your body which crackles and dies out
History, crumbs, desire, shrink once more into the earth,
where the first and last steps fuse in one spot
"Even you who walk with imagination
soon will rest in an oriental region:
a cozy soul
in a span of Java.
But my spirit will always wander
looking for the promised land, somewhere."
As wide as you imagine, thousands of miles,
spread between Euphrates and Nile
But your people has been seizing,
but your vow has been snatched
pass through the dimness of the building's shadow,
but you see yourself, perplexed in the darkness
speaking in the language of the Southerner
The sky is like an invert of a winnowing tray
with the shivering of the Saturn’s ray
"I want to return, Mother. Your child is still immature."

(Translated by Daisy Ekowati)


So long
the child is preparing paper and pen
as if there is something to be written,
maybe something secretly desired:
a blister of lament, or of complaint,
from someone who falls
So long watching the twilight
perforating the sandalwood branches,
as if he understands its meaning:
in a moment the atmosphere will be gloomy,
maybe also scary,
because the night is never late
to spread hatred
Pillars of light faded
as a shooting star, the idol whose legs are wide open all the time
will be seized by shadows
Then he will find himself
laying on his back in the grass field,
looking up at the stars
Then he will enter the dream world, which he created
So long!
But he shivers there
and doubts his unusual sight:
a male cow is flying to the Southeast,
falls deep into the belly of the limestone hill
and the crows disperse
towards the crack of the tomb's entrance
For he knows there is no cow, there is no Southeast,
and neither the crows
Only the crushed hill,
where a circus clown is building a sarcophagus
He feels his fingers trembling,
between fear and fervor,
paper and pen are in his hand without a scratch of line, not even a point
Because he is stunned at the crimson sky:
there is no clap of a heron's wing, only cotton lumps
shaping a face:
an executioner who breeds boots and rifles
Instantly he spits snatched by dry wind
thrown to the center of the lake,
perforates into the plants
becomes green, becomes yellow, becomes red, becomes black
becomes restless, becomes risky, becomes curse, becomes vengeance
Then he hears someone cough loudly
overcoming the shriek of the Sphinx,
bursting siren, tear gas, bulldozer,
also rifle and panzer
The air is blackened by smoke,
the smell of burned flesh and goods
And as usual
someone is busy counting numbers, not lives,
because, he said, they are just villains
no more important than ruins
So long
that child is preparing paper and pen
as if there were something to be written,
maybe something secretly desired:
a gasp, or remorse,
from someone who falls
So long the paper and the pen are in his hand,
too full of scratches and crosses,
but he is powerless to write them
Not because of giving up, or fear,
he just feels, not hearing voices:
a scratch of scream, hurried steps,
or the sound of the soldiers' shoes
He doesn't see anything, except dusk and guns
So long!
(Translated by Daisy Ekowati)

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May 28, 2008

Arif B. Prasetyo (3)


The sun,
A yellow tiger groans
Gripping the flesh of a darkening sky
Over the shock of my memory.
At the corner of the peninsula
I see the skin of the sky is peeling
Scratched by your long-soft nails.
The hours of your trembling stare
Carve the shadow of the evening in my eyes
Dragging the aroma of your dying
Which is exhausted with the coral reef
And the leaves that has grown thick and tough
Draining off the time.
Don’t cry sweetie, please do not rave.
I hate being astonished to see the whiskers of your light
Hanging loosely in the space
Begin to dance in a strutting way
And scatter to all directions
Showering with the sand.
My memory slip.

A mile of the last clouds
Sinks in the dark shoulders of the women
Who has been sleeping by the sea
Those who called my nick-name in wonder
And loved the silent sun of the heart :
The stupid stone, the badly wounded one
That insists on looking at you
While you are dying to get me out
Of the crumpled rainy days
Scratching the skin of the waters
As cold as your touch.


Your body:
The little hills
The old Ketapang tree,
The slippery road which is forked at its end
Licked by the smell of the melancholy.
The ponds of salt water,
The humid steam in the clefts
Of the moldy wood.
The huts are falling apart.
The ivory tongue
of the sun
Slits the curve of the earth
With open eyes
And a naked bravado.
At dusk,
Impressed by the pure masculine wind drawing
The tip of the young-green sugar cane,
The neglectful angel descends
To an area not found in the map.
Without wings,
And chased away,
He picks up the wound of the day. And keeps on stumbling
Over the path of an Adam which is stepped on
As long as the black sand,
Among the red clusters,
Halfway dark,
The giant umbrellas,
The lively banners,
And days passed-by
In gray and haze
And the remnant of the skylight
Which is trembling because of the ghost of the martyrs
Who were killed in a huge hole.
The angel
Poorer than a stoned-to-death man
Look at his dying eyes
Sliced by the wild dogs.
Twenty four jaw-knives bark wildly
Drooling rancid mucus.
It rained more than yesterday’s storm
Spiting the sand-ship as free as can be
To the rainbow with seven colours.
And then through a short cry
Which is thrown to the air
From a hiding
In the battle in the bush of the park
On his forehead I find stars
Running around.
The light takes refuge
To the sky,
The spear of spirits that was released
Its sound is like paddy borer
Reddening the rough barch of the trees.
The aroma of the burnt meat,
The wide ditch open wide
Flooded with fragrance
From the cut meat.
The death is like a candle in the middle of a party
And as if the soft hand of the sky
It was awaken to guide you to the gate:
The explosion
Of the birth,
The meeting of the days and night.
“O my sweet pigeon
If later you decide on your return path
Or a route
Taking you to the morning, don’t hesitate!
Remember the ripples that luminescent
In my last cry,
The retina
Which stay under the light of an harbour,
The little hills, the old ketapang tree,
The curling of the snake’s tongue
Embracing it.......

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May 26, 2008

Iwan Simatupang

Blacker than Black

Iwan Simatupang

FROM MY VERY FIRST DAY as a psychiatric patient in the hospital I found the man impossible to ignore. He had a big head with an unusual shape. In fact, you could say that his whole manner was unusual. The way he watched you speak and the way he would start or stop to speak was very disconcerting. And it had an impact; it virtually immobilized the person with whom he was speaking. Was he what one would call an "individual"? I didn't really know.

But even though he had instantly grabbed my attention, communication with him was not quite as rapid. I'm not the sort of person who can easily communicate with strangers. I'm reserved, a trait that people often mistake for arrogance. But, take me or leave me, that's the way I am and I cannot do anything about it, no matter how much I might want to be surrounded by friends.

But one day, there he was, standing in front of me, when suddenly he grabbed the newspaper I was reading. I was so stunned by his impudence that I could neither do or say a thing as he walked off to a bench in the comer of the room and pretended to read. In my anger my first instinct was to go and grab the newspaper back and to twist his ear or punch him in the face, but I quickly took stock of the situation, not only in the room but also of myself. Why was I here? And why was he here?

A certain sensation had rendered me speechless. My anger drained away and my clenched fist extended into fingers. For some reason I was overcome by a feeling of warmth towards the man, of sympathy for him, for Big Head. And sympathy for all the other crazy people who were being cared for here, myself included. My cheeks were wet; the world had entered inside me. And I weighed its weight and found my love for it boundless.

Then suddenly Big Head was standing there in front of me again, with left hand on his waist and his right hand holding a billy club he had fashioned from my newspaper.

"How come you're not angry?" he boomed. "Answer me! Why didn't you get mad?" he roared again when seeing how difficult it was for me to respond.

"Why should I be angry?" I finally replied, embarrassed and confused.

"You have to be angry! You have to!" he screamed, jumping up and down. He then threw himself face down on the floor and began to sob his heart out.

I was now hopelessly confused and struggling in a fog of uncertainty.

"I don't want your pity, you hear?" he cried. "I won't have it! Devil, bastard, son-of-a-bitch!"

I felt guilty without knowing why. Guilt was by no means a new emotion for me; of late I had frequently been suffused with guilt, usually for no apparent reason, as well as overwhelmed by incredible lethargy. I tried to ascertain whether what I was feeling was possibly the so-called "emptiness" that was the theme of so many contemporary novels and plays. But the answer always alluded me. How could the intensity of my thoughts and emotions be described as "empty"? I was a bubbling cauldron of emotions which threatened to overflow. Empty? No! My thoughts were as sharp and clear as silhouettes on a screen.

All the problems of the of the world were there, in sharp relief on that screen. All I had to do was solve them. Was that emptiness?

By this time my newspaper was no longer a newspaper. It was in shreds, bits and pieces of it everywhere. But Big Head had stopped crying, and though his eyes were still wet, he was smiling sweetly at me. He then extended his hand to me and I quickly took it in my own. Hot tears from my eyes fell onto his hands. And as I clutched his hand I felt a warmth, at once familiar and frightening, spread from his fingers through my entire body.

Why I had reacted in such a manner, I didn't know, or even care. Letters blazed in my brain, flashing the words "propriety" and "respect," but I insistently turned my head away and obstinately steered myself forward, not knowing or caring where I would end up.

Caught up in our embrace, the two of us were undoubtedly a spectacle for the other people present there. But our audience consisted of people of our same social standing (i.e., crazies) and some from outside our social circle — nurses, doctors and visitors. On their faces was a look of intense pity. But these people were obviously humanists-till-the-last-gasp type, slaves to their innermost feelings, whose first reaction to any situation is, "What a pity!" Some of them — women, primarily — were so moved by the sight that they were dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs.

The faces of other members of the audience radiated gaiety and fun. These were the humorists-till-the-last-gasp type, slaves of a very basic morality, whose first reaction to every situation is, "Laugh!" For these people the bottom line is that everything under the sun can be a source of fun. Several of them, both men and women, were holding their sides and dabbing their eyes, but their tears were tears of laughter.

There was yet another category of viewing public, and it made my heart pound with fear to see them watching us. These were the type who showed no reaction, no sign of emotion in their features, their skin smooth and unwrinkled by laughter or tears. My heart pounded with fear to look at them. The indifference on their faces caused me to start to hyperventilate. The world around me began to spin and every breath I took added to the tightness I felt in my chest...

I DIDN'T WAKE UP until the next morning, but as soon as I recognized the white walls of my small room, I jumped up and raced outside. Big Head was nowhere to be seen. The head nurse to whom I always gave a big smile seemed to know whom I was looking for.

"He's gone, sir," she told me.

"Where?" I asked.

"Home. Last night out of the blue he asked for his family to come and get him in the morning. He threatened to kill himself if he wasn't taken home this morning. He said that even in an asylum there are ways of doing away with yourself!"

"And what did his family say to that?"

"They came and got him, this morning at 5:30."

"At 5:30 A.M.?" I asked incredulously. "Why did they have to come at that hour of the day?"

"I don't know, sir. That's what he wanted."

"But how can a patient be discharged at 5:30? Surely the office is closed at that hour?" I spoke as if I were the hospital registrar.

"I don't know, sir," she said over her shoulder as she hurried away.

It was peculiar, very peculiar. But suddenly I remembered the face of a member of our audience yesterday; the person had been laughing uproariously. And remembering this I, too, burst into laughter. It was very funny. Who but a madman would discharge himself from the hospital at 5:30 A.M.?

I laughed hysterically until my sides began to hurt. My laughter drew to the room patients, nurses and doctors who stared at me, a collage of fear and astonishment on their faces.
THE SKY WAS VERY CLEAR that evening, a reflection of the clarity I myself felt inside. I managed to read a few more pages of the book that for two days had been lying unopened under my pillow. I felt at peace with the world. The other patients and the day-shift nurses seemed to feel the same. I was overwhelmed by a desire to shout at the world how happy I was at that moment.

Relatives and friends of the patients began to arrive, each one bringing his own character and sound. And the excitement of the patients at the prospect of visitors (along with the parcels of food, drink, cigarettes and, sometimes, the love and kisses that they might bring) was almost tangible, almost an aura with a life of its own, emanating from bodies, whirling and dancing with joy.

Suddenly I heard my name called. I turned and saw a man coming toward me, carrying a parcel in his hand. I didn't know him and, as far as I could tell, he didn't know me.

But then my heart missed a beat. The man's head! His head looked like that of Big Head, my friend. Surely I couldn't be mistaken! I hurried to welcome him. Then I saw from close quarters that his features were of a being from another continent in another world, and I was very disappointed. No, it was not Big Head. My footsteps seemed to slow of their own accord, and then I stopped and turned and rushed away into my room.

"I don't want to see you! I don't want to talk to you! Go away," I begged in tears. "Go away!"

"All right," the man answered calmly from the doorway of my room. "But what about this parcel. There's food in it."

"Take it with you!" I screamed.

He looked at me for what seemed ages. His gaze made my own world start to spin. The man's head, so closely resembling something I held dear, grew larger and larger, eventually becoming so big that it pinned me on my bed.

That feeling of ambivalence came over me again. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but at the same time I wanted to push it away. I wanted to stroke it, to caress it lovingly, but at the same time I wanted to tear it to pieces. I wanted to say the most flattering things to it, but was also ready to assail it with a mouthful of crude and despicable words.

After what must have been about three minutes, I was exhausted. I needed to perspire but felt my perspiration unable to reach beyond the middle layer of my skin: the perspiration refused to come out. The hot fingers that covered my entire body increased my debilitation. This was all part of what I had called "emptiness," an emptiness that more greatly resembled a deafening clamor, an all-consuming denseness. An emptiness which was more like an unchanneled vitality, a wild leap into the unknown.

I became aware of the whiteness of my room's walls and knew I was back in the land of the conscious. But the figure that had been the cause of my anguish was no longer in the doorway. That incomparable big head was gone. I now felt a new sort of emptiness. I got up and hurried outside, but found only the excessively clean, excessively empty corridor. The visitors had gone home and the other patients had gone back to their rooms. I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was 7:30 P.M.!

Suddenly I heard a familiar voice behind me: "He's gone, sir."



She said nothing more. I said nothing either. As she waited for my reaction, I was shocked by my feelings. For the first time ever in my life I wanted to kill. I wanted to grab her by the neck and suck the life-blood from her body. I felt the heat of my own blood coursing through my veins.

But the nurse seemed to apprehend the situation. Her instincts warned her to get away from me. She was afraid, but as a professional nurse of so many years, she had acquired the ability to hide her real thoughts and feelings, all in the name of duty. In the name of and for her career.

Without wanting to I asked her, "What did he say?"

"That his son, your friend, the one who went home yesterday morning, is dead."

Having said that, the nurse made ready to leave.

"Dead?" I wasn't sure if it was my own voice that I was hearing. For the umpteenth time my world had come crashing down. "Why did he die?" I then asked, even as I laughed at myself: as if a person needs a reason to die.

"I don't know. After he got home he suddenly came down with a fever and was dead by the time the doctor arrived."

I was fleetingly aware of that vague feeling of nausea I had experienced earlier, an unobstructed sort of queasiness. Lines whose origins I could not discern were flying about, hither and thither, bouncing off one another, then fusing with one another to form a revolving cluster of embraces. Faster and faster the cluster turned, throwing off a dazzling display of shining, flickering, colors. Suddenly the cluster broke apart, hurling the lines back to their place of origin. As they faded I was blinded by a shining blackness, which left me with the taste of saliva in my mouth.

"And sir..." The nurse was still standing in front of me. She had been watching me the whole time. She took a folded newspaper from her pocket and handed it to me. I accepted it reluctantly.

"Your friend's father gave this to me and asked me to give it to you."

"A newspaper? What newspaper? Whose is it?" I asked, both astonished and confused.

"Your friend's last request was that a newspaper be delivered to you."

"Why?" My astonishment was now complete.

"He said it was to pay a debt."

The sound of the nurse's heels as she walked away made the corridor seem lonelier, slipperier, cleaner. With one hand gripping the newspaper, my other hand sought support from the corridor wall as I staggered back to my room. My little room with its white walls which that night were a black that was blacker than black.
Translated by Pamela Allen

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May 25, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (4)


My child sleeps figuring the moon
and in class her eyes still keep the night
when the teacher speaks of the sun
My child draws a horizon, the ocean,
a ship with no pilot,
and the teacher's skirt is teased by the rising tide,
the teacher is eaten by fish
In bed my child weeps
the tears drop onto the notebook
full of scribbles of red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, indigo, purple
My child says it is a pool!
My child wishes to help the teacher,
so my child draws a small boy fishing
while looking at the moon above that pool
And after that, the fish in the first verse
becomes a snack for the teacher's dog
My child falls asleep again,
figuring the moon
in my child's eyes the night is held
but the dog keeps howling for the fish
My child quickly draws fish
inside eyes which contain the sea
but the fish whine for the teacher
My child quickly draws the teacher
in eyes that still contain the school
but the teacher is again teaching about the sun
My child repeats the drawing of the horizon, the ocean,
the ship without a pilot...
in my child's eyes the world is contained
but the teacher does not like this
and gives my child a score of five
In the following days,
My child fears drawing anything again
except for commemorating the small boy in the second verse
who longs for the moon above the pool

(Translated by Margaret Agusta)


At first I thought you were a wave,
but each time I dived in to swim
you would spin up like a wind storm
The sweat bursts and soul and body are restless
become a prayer of untouched Love
There, I find comfort in your breeze
once a while just before you blow away
I hunt the voice of the flute in the distance,
which I find are the rustling branches
I am dazed by the illusion of your moves,
as silent as the stone within my longing
Now I know there is no need to chase you
You live within and outside me
- there is no distance yet you are so far,
so close yet not touching
if it is true you are the wind
I will breathe you in as I wish
Deep within the heart that beats,
you are the new spirit of my life
Flows the blood, flows
within the vein of my Love
because of you, my Love
1991 (Translated by Margaret Agusta)

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May 22, 2008

Nirwan Dewanto (4)


—after Hiroshi Sekine

Like a handkerchief
with one corner torn away
where it collided with the reef
a handkerchief now transparent
saturated with tears
that seeks eyes of truth
eyes that never ask
where their skeleton has gone
where the redness of their flesh.
In truth eyes like that
are the eyes of a master diver
who also knows that the fringes
of that wounded corner
are only ten in number
like her own fingers
fingers that have never been sharpened

by the thorns of the stars or the hair of the moon.
I think that those two will meet
on the broad expanse of algae
where the diver’s fingers bleed
and all those enemies with knife-sharp teeth
hunt them even to the base of a chasm.
I think that those two are competing
to reach the final line of a conclusion
but no, they are touching each other
even threading themselves together with no sense of shame
so that those twenty fingers
those twenty torn strips of the fringes
grow as wide as a wave
so that the body of the diver
becomes as clear as the morning air
and our little handkerchief no longer
swims, but takes flight
flying high in search of eyes
eyes glistening with tears
because they have no power to distinguish night
from black ink as wide as the sea
that drags the diver away from death.
I think now it is only a squid
that has taken form as a handkerchief
for it is always thirsty
for your eyes, for your tears.

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May 20, 2008

The Creative Writing Class

Seno Gumira Ajidarma Short Story

The Creative Writing Class
(Pelajaran Mengarang)

The creative writing class had begun.

“You have 60 minutes to go,” Teacher Tati said. Kids in the 5th grade began writing with their heads almost touching their desks. Teacher Tati wrote three choices of title on the whiteboard. The first one is “Our Happy Family”, the second “A Holiday in Granny’s Home”, and the third “Mother".

Teacher Tati looked at the kids frowning. The sound of pens scratching against papers was softly heard. The kids were lost in their own worlds, she thought. Through her thick glasses, she was observing the 40 nice kids, their future waiting up ahead, nobody knowing where destiny’s hand would lead them.

Ten minutes passed by. But Sandra, 10 years old, had not written a single word on her paper. She looked out of the window. A tweak was fluttering in the howling wind. She couldn’t hardy resist the urge to escape, leaving the reality at play her head. She was cornered to picture the reality in her mind, because Teacher Tati asked her to think about “Our Happy Family", “A Holiday in Granny’s Home”, and "Mother”. Sandra looked at Teacher Tati with abhorrence.

Every time the creative writing class began, Sandra always got a huge problem, because she had to, in deed, make up stories. Unlike the rest of the class, she could not tell stories about her life. For any title that Teacher Tati offers, her classmates could easily tell stories from their daily life. As for Sandra, she had to make up stories. And now, Sandra had yet all distasteful choices.

When she thought about “Our Happy Family”, Sandra got a vision of a messed up house. Empty drinking bottles and cans were scattered on the coffee table, on the floor, and even on the bed. Beer stain was all over the bed whose cover had been dragged somewhere unknown. Ceaseless pillows are everywhere. The door was ajar and a bunch of men snoring all the time, even when Sandra got home from school.

“Come in through the backdoor, you Bitch, leave Mama’s customers alone,” a voice was heard in her head—a voice she’d kill herself to forget.

Fifteen excruciating minutes had gone by. Sandra was clueless of what to imagine about a happy family.

“Mama, do I have a Papa?”

“Of course you do, Devil Kid! I wish I could tell you! Even if I did, he would be stupid enough to father you! Understood? Learn to live without a Papa! Bullshit with Papas!”

Did she have to write the truth? No, she had to make up stories. However, she didn’t have any idea of something worth writing.

Twenty minutes had gone past. Teacher Tati was moving about deep in thought in front of the class. Sandra tried to think about things similar to “Holliday to Granny’s House” but she got the vision of a woman preening before a mirror. The woman was giving thick strokes of makeup to conceal the wrinkles all over her face. The reds were very thick on her cheeks. The blacks were very thick on her eye brows. And the scent would make her sick.

“Be a good girl, you Devil Kid! I will take you to my workplace. But remember! You won’t tell anybody about what you’ll see, understood? Or else…”

The woman was old and loathsome. Sandra didn‘t know who she was. Her mother would call her Mommy. But she also heard everybody calling her Mommy. Did she have so many kids? Her mother often left her with the Mommy when she was spending her time out of town for days only God knows where.

In the woman’s workplace, despite the darkness, Sandra could still see couples fondling so lustfully. She could hear the blasting music, but Mommy told her not to watch.

“Whose daughter is she?”


“And the daddy, who?”

“It beats me!”

Up to this day, Sandra couldn’t understand. Why were some women sitting in a room of glass observed by several men pointing at them?

“Why did you take a kid to this kind of place?”

“Marti asked me to take care of her. There’s no way I could leave her alone at home. Wouldn’t it be a disaster if someone bangs her?"

Sandra was still looking out of the window. Out there was the blue sky. A bird flew past so graciously.
Thirty dreamy minutes had gone by. Sandra tried to think about “Mother”. Would she write about her mother? She pictured a beautiful woman, an incessant smoker, late riser, who would have her meals using her hand and her right food perched on the chair.

Was she my mother? Once Sandra was awakened in the middle of the night and the woman was weeping quietly.

“Mama, Mama, why are you crying, Mama?"

She didn’t reply, she just cried and embraced her. To this very day she still remembered it, but she had never asked any more. She knew, any questions would be replied with, “Shut up, Devil Kid!" or "It's none of your business, Bastard!" or "You’re quite lucky that I give you healthy food and good education. Don’t make a fuss of it, God damn it!"

One night, she came in crawling, too drunk to walk. In the living room she threw up and lay unconscious. Sandra then mopped the disgusting stuffs, without asking any questions. For the woman she called mommy, it’s kind of a habit to get home drunk.

“What do you do, Mama?”

Sandra never forgot how a single question can trigger so many abusive vocabularies one can find in a language.

Of course, of course Sandra knew that the woman loved her. Every Sunday, the woman would take her to such and such plazas. There Sandra could get dolls, clothes, ice creams, French fries, and fried chicken. And every time Sandra was having them, the woman would look at her endearingly. She would wipe Sandra’s mouth when ice cream stain splattered all over her mouth, saying, "Sandra, Sandra…”

There were times when, before Sandra slept, the woman would read her a story from a colorful picture book in English. After reading the story, the woman would kiss Sandra and ask her to promise to be a good kid.

“Promise me, Sandra, that you will be a good woman.”
“Like you, Mama?”

“No, not like me. Not like me.”

Sandra learned to keep her promise and, as a matter of fact, she was a docile girl. Nonetheless, such sweetness was not the daily attitude. More frequently Sandra saw her in her other self. Then, the ever smoking red lips, the liquor smelling mouth, the lusterless eyes, and the pallid face were flashing in her mind, not to mention her radio pager…

Of course Sandra always remembered what was displayed on the screen of the radio pager. Every time the pager beeped, when she was dressing up before the mirror, she would ask Sandra to read the message.
ROOM: 505. 08.00 PM
Sandra knew, every time the pager mentioned a hotel name, room number, and a time for meeting, her mother would go home very late at night. At times, she wouldn’t be home until the next two days or three. In that case, Sandra would be missing her very much. However, there was nothing she could do; she had learned not to express her longing.
Forty tormenting minutes had passed by.

“Those who have finished can hand it to me,” Teacher Tati Said.

No single character was on Sandra’s paper. It was still very white, clean, not even a single dot. All of the kids who had never faced any serious problems in their life could write very easily. Some of them had finished and after handing their works they would dash out of the class.

Sandra had not decided what title she wanted to take.

“Your paper is still empty, Sandra?” Teacher Tati asked her all of a sudden.
Sandra didn't answer. She started writing the title: Mother. Yet, as soon as Teacher Tati left, Sandra began to imagine again. Mama, Mama, she whispered in her head. Even in the head, she could only whisper.

She had also whispered the other night, when she woke up because somebody moved her under the bed. Probably, the woman thought Sandra had been soundly asleep. She thought, Sandra, whom she thought already asleep, would not hear her moans, the long or short ones. She didn’t realize that Sandra was still awake when she fell down on the bed, powerless, and the man who was hugging her had started snoring loudly. She couldn’t hear any more when Sandra whispered quietly, “Mama, Mama…” and her cheeks were soaked with tears.

“The time is up! Please hand your assignment,” Teacher Tati said.

The students stood up and piled their works on Teacher Tati’s desk. Sandra surreptitiously stashes her work in the middle.
At her home, while watching TV, Teacher Tati, who was still single, checked her student’s works. After reading about half of them, she concluded that her students enjoyed beautiful life.

In fact, she had not read Sandra’s writing, which contained only a single line:

My mother is a prostitute…

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May 19, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (3)


By the bank of the River Amstel, in a cafe,
you shake death off the coat, at dusk
The years gilding the longing,
your hair whitening
The current keeps crushing between the swans
and lines of light
Seventeen teals crowding in the passageway of a cheesecake shop,
seven glasses of alcohol spinning the coarse flannel of drizzle
Then you pry out that bit of exile: a flock of Peking ducks
driven to an alien land south of Nanking
where the sentries' whips
are ready to strip reason, to lash death
Between a tray of cannar meat slices and a pot of green tea
you snort out once more with hate the sacred words of Mao
And as wild as a stray seagull,
you arrange the memories, you follow the dreams, in confusion
to the heights of a whip-driven climb
up the parched cliffs of Manchuria
But at that dusk, Wispi, on the bank of the River Amstel
you shake death, once again, off the coat
For in your shrinking body
there are pulses of the sea soothing bitterness:
ideology, dreams of revolution
-the precarious faith that builds prisons
The dangling red shawl on your neck, Wispi,
is like a desire that never sees the light of day
Perhaps, I can't be sure,
you mention God with a sigh of a vein,
beneath the scattering powder of snow
through trees that withhold silence,
you row your weathering age to heaven-knows
where a crane stands dazed on the roof ridge, waiting for crumbs
Perhaps death has once called on Daltonstraat, one night
whiffing over the memories that you've recorded, blurry books,
traces of nicotine on the pipe, the echoing coughs on coffee grounds,
when you go on vacation to a country of illusions

(Translated by Hasif Amini)


The snake man squats under the bungur tree
gathering a hurricane of dead leaves,
the snake woman bathes mesmerized
by the shadow of paradise at the bottom of the lake
The man closes his eyes to dream of a thousand rapids,
as the woman stays awake for the next moon to come
The roar of rapids breaks the silence of the stone,
as the lake sends out the river to split the ravine,
and the round moon guides the snake in its wanderings
The stones are set into the shape of a mountain, the man climbs
The moons flock together to reach a year, the woman flies
To tear at the mountain for many years, the snake coils
The man ends with rapids starts with stones,
the woman ends with the lake starts with the moon,
the snake man-woman start and end with heads with forked tongues
The man aims a stone at the snake's head,
the snake's tongue calls to the lake
The rowing with the moon runs ashore on the mountain with its rapids,
the anchor is cast into the ravine
where bananas and citronella grass grow
The snake-like instinct emerges at the hips and the woman writhes,
the man's fingers grip the mountain
The snake's glands creep onto the waist and the man tightens,
the women's hands reach for the moon
The man of rapids splashes the bed of the woman lakes,
the snake strikes the moon amidst the stones
The dream of the sleeping Earth becomes you,
when it awakes its consciousness turns into me
(Translated by Margaret Agusta)

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May 18, 2008

Nirwan Dewanto (3)


I let them drink from the still waters of my depths
so that they will be more youthful, and more thirsty.
I block them both at the entryway
each time they make a move to leave this place
for I know that the Countenance, whose place is there so very far away
will turn them into nothing more than a standard mother and father.
They are the most beautiful creatures in this Garden:
more slippery than the tiger pierced with light
more swift than turtledoves the color of blood
more poisonous even than me.
Because I have no face of my own I follow their very movement
and spread over the entire Garden, from corner to corner
so that they will not get separated, or even defeated
by a treasure that appears from time to time
from behind the barrier: perhaps it is the Dead Sea
whose saltiness is not to be found in my source
or Karbala, where clusters of rock and earth
shine more splendidly when sprinkled with blood.
I suckle the breasts of the female so that

I will truly not compete with the male.
I swallow the sperm of the male so that
I will truly have no envy for the female.
I am even more impartial, leading both
to the tree of darkness, yea even unto the tree of light:
Choose for yourselves which fruit will be most fruitful:
when your tongue is wounded, so shall you know language
and when you are satiated, perhaps you will be destroyed.
Such was my advice, but they did not hear
anything but an indistinct hissing
so that in the end they merely drooped
at the edge of the river. Forgive me:
I will drench them with water, even if they
merely thirst, I will set them loose
so that I complete the circle.
Know this: they will awaken in the midst
of rows of mustard and wheat, then will light the fire
that will entice the Countenance to come to us.
Truly, allow me to go on without a visage
for I am only a kind of river
though my current is heard
only as the hiss of a forked tongue.
Believe me, I have nursed
those twins, cleansing them from the clay
and dregs of the creation of the earth and sky.
They are yours now — behold oh Countenance of Fire
but don’t force me to confess
as if to conceal in my depths
a single turn of the Way that leads to you.

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May 17, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (2)


Like a bat
the nocturnal wanderer that you know from pictures,
or the ghostly prince from the dark chamber of Nosferatu's palace
who abducts virgins
into the fog and the howl of invisible dogs
I find peat marshes
in your piercing solitude
I see the desire lurking in the veins of your neck
like the fruit from the tree that has grown before the beginning of time
So bury all intention
to toy with eternity,
soon the bell will toll
from the peak of Anne Frank's tower,
siren's wails slashing the night:
somebody has just committed suicide
Dogs copulate with the cold,
you and I dissolve each other's soul into desire
Until someone with long hair,
who once called upon your dream,
opens the window
The fire in the furnace is out, charcoals crushed
into powder,
you and I
turn into ash
Driven by the winter wind I am cast into the ocean
becoming islands of the equator
you are left in your place, covered with snow
lumped into the past
Someday when the snow melts and the wind stirs the windmills,
you will be carried away by the water,
and at a certain point
will arrive at my side
Maybe embracing each other, then letting go of each other
till heaven knows when
Maybe like a dream
Like a dream

(Translated by Hasif Amini)


Before breath becomes fog
and fog
becomes snow
and on the willow twigs the snow
becomes tears, the fox lying on the bush path
no longer is the silent possession of the oak forest
In the valley of the River Ahr a thought becomes a stone
and the stone
becomes an old coat for the city that hides a wound
and the wound
becomes open fields,
where the veins are shattered
arisen as grape shoots,
children worm over, moaning with trembling lips,
"So cold out here. Open the door, please
don't let us die a frozen death."
Birds with wings of light kindle the stars in the sky
and their twinkling echoes a spectral sound:
Kling! Klingelingeling .... Like a groan from time immemorial,
yet not touching the ears
of the people
crouching with arms folded by the fireside
The wind turbines of winter quiver
driven into the altar
and children lump together like tropical islands
but no longer those of the mother who made the ocean with tears
Like an unexpected dream that makes one falter
during silent nights,
I come from an archipelago
But not one of yours!
(Translated by Hasif Amini)

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May 12, 2008

Gerson Poyk


by Gerson Poyk

Late one evening while I was studying for my end of semester exams, my nimble-fingered father called me from the living room. Without looking up from the old radio he was repairing, he said, "Come and sit here a moment, son." I sat down suspecting that he wanted me to hunt on the cool ceramic-tiled floor of our house for some nut or screw he'd dropped, but I was wrong.

"Since your mother passed away I haven't been able to concentrate, son," said father. "I haven't been doing a very good job on these radios either, and I, well, the customers - they're going other places. My small pension isn't really enough; I'm not making as much as I used to from the radios - and I have no idea how I'm going to pay for your little sister to go to university." Politely I said nothing, as father continued, "What do you think if I take the last of my savings out of the bank and buy a small second-hand motorbike?"

I was puzzled, "A motorbike?"

"A motorbike. You could make a little extra money for us by taking pillion passengers for a fare, by becoming an ojek."

"You mean like all the other ojek who give people rides for money?" I asked.

"If you don't mind spending the time on Friday evenings or in the afternoons, you could get a few fares. Even one or two would be a help with the household finances. Rather than getting a job as a bus driver like some of your friends, it would be better to just become an ojek," said father, screwdriver still inserted surgeon-like into the radio.

"No problems," was my immediate response. Then I got up and went back to my desk next to the kerosene stove at the back room of our 14-tile-wide three-roomed house. There weren't any doors between the rooms so I could talk to father in the living room if he raised his voice slightly. "Could I use the bike to go to university, father?" I asked.

"No, don't do that," was his reply. "What you need to do is stay away from the main roads. Just wait on the bike at the intersection of the main road and the road leading into the kampong. You have to offer to take people where there isn't any public transport," suggested father from our all-purpose living room-cum-electronics workshop.

My younger sister had worn herself out earlier in the day playing volleyball with friends from the neighbourhood and had gone to bed. When she went out to play volleyball in the afternoons she would usually take a couple of thermos flasks full of ice blocks which she would sit by the edge of the court. Once her friends were thirsty, she would shepherd them over to the thermos flasks and sell them the ice blocks. She not only got a little physical exercise, she also made a little money - her own modest contribution to the household. Our tiny house was really a very productive place, serving as both a radio repair workshop and a factory producing the ice blocks that my sister sold to her volleyball-weary neighbours and school friends.

I busied myself, first arranging a motorbike license for myself and then, with the last of father's savings, looking for a second-hand motorbike. After that, I would come home from lectures in the afternoons and wait at the top of the road leading down into the forest-like kampong with its labyrinth of capillary-small lanes and paths impenetrable to public transport.

On the first day I made a fortune - five thousand rupiah! This spurred me on greatly and after a week I had made a tidy little packet, father urging me to put the money into the bank account he had helped my sister open ages ago when she started selling ice blocks.
The money brought its own pleasure, but there were also the pleasures of the strange little things that happened from time to time, not to mention the life-threatening risks. At first I couldn't care less about the passengers, what they looked like, or what state they were in, as long as they handed over the fare. Old, young, clean, dirty, healthy, sick (so long as they were still healthy enough to ride pillion) - I took them all whenever they wanted to go.

But it was the young women I enjoyed the most - and there were plenty, pretty young women wanting a ride to their homes deep in the kampong, far from the main road and public transport. However, as an ojek I knew my place and never tried to start a conversation.

One day a beautiful white woman walked up wanting a ride. The problem was she was so astonishingly tall, and so huge that as we rode along, bike swaying drunkenly, she almost made me loose balance. And it had to happen - my front tire blew out just as we were going down a small hill and just as we went over a hole in the road! I jumped on the brake - and over we went! Diminutive dark-skinned me and the beautiful giant both went sprawling across the road. Fortunately she wasn't hurt. As the bike went over, her vast form landed on scrawny little me - right on my head! And, as my helmet had no chin protector, my chin was driven into the rock-covered road, almost breaking my chin bone and sending dazzling sensations through my jaw bone which was thrust inwards and backwards into the base of my ears. Happily that did not last for too long.

I told the white woman I was sorry, hailed a friend passing on his way home after ferrying someone else, and asked him to drop off my huge white passenger.

It was some time before I saw the white woman again. Then one day while I was waiting for passengers, she went past, this time driving her own car, with an Indonesian woman sitting beside her. I wondered where the beautiful giant and her pretty Indonesian friend with flowing black hair could be going. Dying to know, I turned the ignition key and set off after them. Dismay swept over me when eventually the car pulled into an immense two story house which, compared to my 14-tile-wide abode, was a castle. All I did was ride past, satisfied that I'd found out where the attractive white woman lived.

It was then some time more before I saw the Indonesian woman again and in the meantime I went about my business whisking pillion passengers here and there. I lost count of how many passengers I'd had Ð anyone at all wanting a ride - young or old, male or female, not to mention the children. I took no notice of them - just the money they held out.

At home three things filled my mind: my father, my little sister and my study, while at the university campus I would change back into a hard-working university student.

Several months later I did spot the woman with the flowing, straight, black hair again, as she was crossing the road at the bus stop. This time she was wearing a high-school uniform. I waved and as she headed my way I started the engine. She jumped on and we roared off.

"Who was that pretty white woman you were with?" I ventured, wasting no time.

"Have you ever given her a ride?" she asked, in reply.

"Once. But I got a flat and we both came off. She landed on me and almost crushed me flat!" The high-school girl on the back laughed and said, "She's my after school tutor."

"Ah, well that explains why you were in the car together, doesn't it. And what does she teach?"

"She teaches English," answered the girl.

"Cool. By the time you get to unit, you're English will be great," I said, encouraging her. "What stream are you in at school?"

"I took sciences."

"And what do you want to do at unit?" I asked.


I began to say how wonderful I thought that was but she suddenly roared "Stop!” startling me breathless. Without realizing it we'd reached her castle.

Holding out a ten thousand rupiah note, she said, "This is all I have, sorry." I didn't flinch, and then she went on, "Ah, keep the change." She strode off towards the imposing wrought-iron gates, leaving me clutching the note.

I stopped working as an ojek so I could concentrate on my final major paper at university. In the meantime I lent my bike to a friend whose own motorbike had been repossessed by the owner. We agreed to split the profit fifty-fifty, and even though he had only finished primary school, he turned out to be very honest, dropping in every afternoon to deliver half the day's takings. My friend's honesty made me look on him as a younger brother, and my father too became very fond of him. Orphaned when young, he had no home and slept sometimes on bus interchange benches, sometimes in shop porticos and when my father found out about this, he rented a small room for him in a boarding house.

Late one night he picked up a passenger and that was the last time his friends saw him - his lifeless body was found dumped in a river, my motorbike stolen by his heartless thieving killer. My friend's life was snuffed out for nothing more than a tatty second-hand motorbike. Sorrow settled over our hearts and would remain with us always along with the memory of the friend who had been so good to us.

My friend's death also caused the more mundane problem that we had to deal with the police, but we were satisfied that they had taken his murder seriously.

After so much hard work, I eventually graduated and the day I received my results, a satisfactory-level pass, I was overcome with anguished thoughts of my murdered ojek friend. He had contributed so much to paying my way through my now successfully completed university course and I was overcome with grief and emotion.

In my poverty in that little house with a widowed pensioner scratching out living repairing radios, and my little sister carting ice blocks off to school with her to sell to her friends, the Almighty had granted that I should complete my degree. Me, a university graduate, born of poverty and the faithful friendship of a homeless ojek whose life had been ripped away by a savage robbing killer.

My sister entered university and my father continued repairing his radios. He even surprised us by quietly learning how to repair television sets. My sister and I were amazed one day to find a television in the living room.

Immediately after graduating I was offered a position as a lecturer at the university, and one day while teaching a class of first year students, I caught sight of one of the female students, astonishment written wide across her face. At once I recognized the woman who was gazing not at a lecturer, but at a young ojek, and the question was palpable: how could he be one of my lecturers!

Unfortunately it didn't take her long to fail the semester exam and stop coming to lectures. Before she stopped coming, however, she sent me a letter politely asking whether she could call on me at my home to arrange private tutoring - at whatever price I liked. She was even prepared to become my girlfriend - so long as I faked her results so she passed the exam.

Saddened, I reflected on the fact that my degree had cost the life of my ojek friend and that if I did tamper with her results the reputation of the university would be worthless. The answer was no.

Ojek (Ojek) was published in June 1988 in Kompas

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May 11, 2008

Arif B. Prasetyo (2)


Pitch-black and towering
Birds making nests on the strength of her arms.
Grand castle for red ants and lizards
An architecture growing from its own shadow.
The day is about to collapse. Her weather-beaten joints
Grow weaker and twisted.
With bitter seeds of karma hanging
She learns to love all unworthy of love.
Conversing with ghosts all night
Underworld dwellers, eyes awash with milk
Whose breasts were once full of January rain
And whose nipples erect skyward licked by the sun.
She used to roam abhorring stars
Only walking to kill distance, forgetting directions
Not thinking of arriving anywhere
Not entering anyone’s paradise
And shouting to those who linger, falling
In God:
“Eternal life beheads monuments
or buries itself into underground extinction!”
They’re angry and curse her to vanish
Absorbed into the black tree’s cambium:
The king crowned with a kite-frame
Tree rings and their prophecies.
Tower of prayer-call in the distance. Birds arrive
Pecking the dusk’s last light with their golden warbles.
The peasants hurry home to prepare fire and pray.
A visage, a pattern from a simple surah
I scratch the body that groans in the trunk.


Trembesi: the name of a tree (Pipturus nicanuss).
Surah: a chapter in the Qu’uran.


Dissolve my body in the flame!
Sita screams. Before collapsing
behind the wood smoke soaring up-wards. The heat
and the explosion of burning fat, a canon shooting
fireflies to the sky. A typhoon of flame reddening the azure…
Lips bitter. A million eyes tearing me apart
screaming the curses of the gods.
What sin have I commited?
Strong ash-colored arms. Immoral desire.
Wink of hated destiny. And spring
cleverly teaches me to make love.
There is no more fear. Holy war is in vain.
As is revolution. But why do I still hear
a revolver shot in the ribs. A bitter trickle
is released. Shattered I fall from the embrace
of the rough man who’d achieved what he longed for.
Deadly passion. Later when the eagles from the gulf
flutter wildly clawing at the ghosts of soldiers,
troops who’ve burnt god’s incarnation, scatter
my soul in your pain, Dasamuka.
We reincarnate as a pair of dragons
hunting the moon in the sky.
At the end of the great epoch of Ramayana, after king Rama defeats the tenfaced
demon king Dasamuka (Rahwana) and rescues his kidnapped wife Sita,
his subjects welcome Rama’s return. However there is concern about whether
Sita has been able to remain pure and faithful to Rama. Sita is put to the test of

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May 09, 2008

Nirwan Dewanto (2)


From the other side of darkness
patiently you wait for me.
Listen to me
I must utter the incantations of a thousand holy books
before I take you on
so that I can take hold of clarity
enough cleanse your scorched and burning body
and vacancy enough
to bargain with the echo of your roar.
Page by page
each of my claws will be sharpened
by the bloody footsteps of our forebearers.
On the cover of each volume
I will engrave the image of your face
savage as the race of blind lovers.
Then when my space has grown more open
you will inch closer
No, you will not be brave enough to touch me
you are merely restless passion
at the moment I open my shirt
though your fangs glisten and sparkle
you haven’t the guts to wrestle with me.
Look closely at this trembling body
this body that has not yet completed its incantations
this body thirsty for all the pathways of the world.
Your steps are as light as the tick of a clock
so that now your chasms encircle my peaks.
My cough is high-pitched, like the typhoon of night
may it always bring your fear.
No, I feel that it is always I who approach you
offering myself as bait
because I fear to make you my prey.

Believe me when I say that only you know
whether I am male or female
whether I lust for you, or seek revenge.
When your blood drips on my body
I will know I have wounded you, torn you to shreds.
And in an expanse of mirror
I will no longer be able to see your countenance
for at that moment my lust will be perfect.
Then listen as my steps fade into the distance
light as the tick of a clock.
Then listen to the typhoon of night
as I gaze at you from a corner hidden in the distance
as you sharpen your claws
as you make your body virgin once again
as my mother becomes yours
as you steal light from my body
as I steal darkness from your holy books.

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May 07, 2008

Afrizal Malna

The Stars Make Shells on My Back
by Afrizal Malna

The unbearably hot dry season sun changed everything I looked at, turned everything into a golden green. This was the color which appeared every time I looked at anything illuminated by a light at night.

And golden green was also the color that appeared this evening. A pleasant breeze was blowing from the sea, like a fan whirling refreshingly in my lungs. White clouds also soared above like outstretched blankets billowing in the wind trying to replace the lush foliage of those old trees which remained along the road side. This was Merauke, like the beautiful kindness of Dela Gepze who once sent me a card for the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, like the smile of Bony Mekiuw too, for yes; he had once made the white sand of Anggayo beach move onto the skin of my back Ð where the stars made shells.

That night Marind and Asmat tribe’s folk, civil servants, police and ordinary people all filled the street flanked by the church and the presbytery. My eyes flickered like the fish which were floundering in the drying river, changed into hardening mud by the long drought. Speeches, dances and songs all came and went filling the stage. This was a celebration, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the bishop of Merauke - a silver anniversary, they said. I moved through the throng, through the loftiness of the songs.

And then the throb of tifa drums suddenly started up, coming from off the stage. Over there. Yes. From the main street. My feet began to move seeking out the source of the sound and my golden-green eyes began to make out a group of Asmat tribesmen squatting at the side of the road maintaining a distance from the bright lights. Some of the women were wearing no more than a bra and grass skirt, the white lines adorning their faces and bodies declaring their culture at a glance.

At that moment a small cockroach moved its antennae in my camera, blackish brown and glinting slightly due to the glare of the neon lights shining from the terrace around the church. Five Marind folk were jumping up and down pounding their tifa drums and moving like dogs jumping at a fence. I continued to follow them as they drifted further from the crowd until they stopped at the front of a dark lonely building.

They were not wearing much - none of the brightly coloured woven materials or glittering costumes of the dancers on the stage. Some were wearing tee-shirts bearing the symbol of a political party. Now no more than rags, the yellow tee-shirts had faded to a brownish colour.
They began to collect garbage and set it ablaze at the front of the quiet dark structure. Even here a holy statue caste its shadow from the church yard, separated by a fence with a bicycle resting against it. Then they began to dance again, weaving among the flickering light of the flames of the burning garbage, the shadow of the statue, and the remnants of the harsh glare of the distant shadow-sharpening neon lights.

The throb of the tifa drums in front of the lonely black building altered the night, made it sensitive, while a forest spirit overarched all from the star-filled sky above. One of the dancers suddenly rushed at the flames on one foot, a piece of broken glass implanted in the sole of his foot. Throwing down his drum and sitting next to the fire, he tore the tee-shirt bearing the emblem of the political party from his body and used it to bandage his injured foot. Then once again he started beating his drum and dancing. This was the Enggatzi dance: the Marind people's dance of the dog. They were keeping their distance from the crowd and the majesty of the night's festivities. They had chosen quietness; they did not feel a part of the grandeur. They felt separate from the brightly coloured woven materials and sparkling costumes of the dancers filling the stage.

In the midst of the fan whirling in my breast, in the midst of the outstretched blankets billowing in the sky, suddenly there appeared as it were the figure of Jesus flying from the sky like the trunk of a bus tree, then spearing into the ground not far from where I was watching the dancers. Everything now became whole, complete, golden green; and the sensitive night too became just as whole. The land on which I was standing had changed into a piece of broken glass piercing both my hands and feet; land in search of a different church, in search of a different Freeport. My own tribe, starving Weimena, and Timika, guarded by soldiers, had given me an epic tale to tell.

The night had become golden green - over there. It was like moss on a clump of gold, like the Marind people's land which had been ripped away from them by the newcomers, like a snake suckling a cow.

I couldn't go any further; the forest in the interior was being guarded by soldiers, and I didn't have a permit to enter. In the village of Namen where the road from the centre of the village went past so much scorched black earth, filled with uprooted trees now nothing but burnt charcoal stumps, my steps were halted by a cry from the centre of the village. A man barked, his throat sounding as if it were full of gravel, "Are you with the government!?" It was a scream that once again transformed the tranquility of the village - made it sensitive. The wooden and corrugated-fibro houses transfigured the sun into sheets of hot iron over my head. Gone were the roofs made from the bark of the bus tree.

Bony Mekiuw suddenly arrived, grabbed me and dragged me off, through Wasur forest. He took me deeper into the forest, where the sky was filled with nothing but leaves and stars, and in the middle of that forest of sky I again found the Marind dancing the Enggatzi dance. They smiled at me, with penetrating eyes that reminded me of the rivers drying up because of the drought, turned to thick mud choking the few remaining fish. Death in the river, a meaningless death, and not too far from my own throat.

I joined in and started dancing with them, beating a tifa drum and singing out "Eaaaaaa!” my voice seemingly echoing back at me from the sentinel bus trees. Something was unfolding, like anxiousness repressed for 300 years, since foreign ships had started landing on the island. My skin began to turn black and my bones enlarged and sharpened. My jaw and the skull around my eyes felt larger, harder and sharper.

As I watched, the forest slowly started to change into the disemboweled carcass of a cow dangling in an abattoir. They began to call me by the name "Yowel Mekiuw", and from that day on I lived as they did, - no UNTEA government, and without the great wealth which had been borne away from the land.

Torrential tropical rain had just started falling. Jakarta would flood here and there and the floods would carry garbage from the streets into people's homes. But what did I care. I had no desire to touch the garbage-filled water, slimy and smelling of decaying fish. The next day front yards would be full of all sorts of things drying out.

It was then that I had received Dela Gepza's letter. She wrote in great detail about what had happened to Yowel Mekiuw. He was still living alone in the forest. Refusing to eat rice, Yowel had gone back to cooking sago as his main food Ð the food which had nourished the small bones of his young body. Yowel was also refusing to live in a house with a corrugated-fibro roof because they turned the sun into sheets of hot iron overhead.

He had begun writing poetry, telling the dream-time legends of the birth of his tribe, including the stories of births from dog, boar, coconut and sago. He was now using the small computer he had brought with him from Jakarta as a table and he was writing on bark. These stories were helping him to become one again with the world around him. He no longer felt a sharp ontological gulf with the dog, boar, sago or coconut; they were all part of him.

And towards midnight he would always read out his poems, in the middle of the forest by his camp fire. And as he read, the crashing waves of Anggayo beach seemed to sound out from his voice Ð and the stars made shells on his back. The Marind people began to move in and encircle him. Then one morning in a secluded street a light appeared suddenly, and then the star of the gods fell sprawled out. Following these city officials went on to destroy all the penis-gourds and black clothes. Who else would lead the gods? Suddenly it was morning and the dorang fish gathered up all the grief and held it within their breasts. (*)

Gold, timber, uranium, tin, and coal all surged deep within the bowels of the earth, an earth now laid open - like the disemboweled carcass of a cow hanging in an abattoir.

Dela Gepze had wept in her letter. She told how one day Yowel Mekiuw had been hit in the back by an arrow and no-one knew who had fired it at him. His hair had smelt of kerosene, the white sand and shells falling from his back. He had lost a lot of blood withdrawing the arrow from his back by himself. But the stars had gone on making shells around the protruding arrow, an arrow that held within itself the message that Yowel would not be able to return to the world of his ancestors. The forest had now been buried within the hollow carcass of a suspended disemboweled cow.

Everything still appeared golden green; the conflict raging between the forest and the world of the city - cassowaries, kangaroos and termite nests rising in the forest, all were being cut down to become trophies for people living in the city.

A change was spreading like an epidemic. The Marind surrounding Yowel Mekiuw were also becoming golden green. His body smelling of coal and kerosene, Yowel had started to drag himself along the ground. He had to ease the arrow out of his own back, worsening the bleeding, in order for him to draw closer to the hungry boar. Dela Gepze wept some more. Yowel began to offer his hand to the hungry boar, then other parts of his body, like the exalted songs in the church, like love moving within time, - and then the boar devoured him.

The forest now became quiet again and the sky smelt of fish. I wandered around by myself looking for Yowel Mekiuw, fan spinning in my lungs. The forest was turning golden green; it was becoming foreign, full of the sound of chain saws, liquid gold dripping from clumps of rock.
The night drew on and the forest became a polished pitch-black mirror. I realized that I had trodden on a cassowary egg Ð green in colour and already empty Ð and I could smell the scent of Yowel Mekiuw permeating the shell. I knew, Ð I would never be able to murder Yowel Mekiuw. I was the one who had tried to fire the arrow at him; I was the one who had tried to end his search to rediscover his past, a past now lying in ruins.

As I started to head for the river, a cold wind grabbed me tightly by the throat, just as the darkness had enclosed my head. In the distance I could see a faint light through the golden-green mist. The light was coming from a proa moving slowly over the river in my direction. The fan whirled more quickly in my lungs, becoming like Dela Gepze's weeping. The light, the proa, drew closer and came alongside the river bank. The shells on my back became a multitude.

The golden-green mist blanketed the proa, now nestled among the grass growing along the bank. The sound of water began to reach my ears; then suddenly a hand grabbed me and dragged me into the proa, like the hand of love, like the golden-green mist. In the proa I noticed the smell of Jesus, as pungent as the smell of Yowel Mekiuw's arrow-pierced body, as pungent as the smell of the colour red.

The sun would shine again tomorrow as if recalling the wonderful kindness of Dela Gepze. Dela would be waiting for Yowel Mekiuw to emerge from the forest, but she did not know - Yowel would not be coming home again. He had gone with the forest forever. The proa sped on through the golden-green mist. And the stars went on making shells on my back, as if telling of Yowel's steps from the distant sea.

(Praya 1998 )
* Quoted from the poem by Cannon, a poet from Manokwari prolific in the early 1980’s entitled "That Morning in a Quite Street" (Horison magazine, No. 2, February 1981). Kompas

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May 06, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (1)


I ask the wind,
whence does reverie come,
the wind shakes the tips of leaves
and I see the trees paint the cycle of years
I ask the tree,
whence does time begin,
the tree opens its flower petals
and I see a bee alight down sucking honey
I ask the bee,
whence does the cell that begets my body originate,
the bee hums flying into a cave
and I see a bat shut its ears upon a stonewall
I ask the bat,
whence does sound emerge,
the bat flaps its wings up to the night sky
and I see dew glide down like a river
I ask the river,
whence does the source of milk flow,
the river shows off the mountain
and I see a valley shrouded in mist
I ask the valley,
whence does taboo,
the valley raises its shroud
and I see the naked earth swing in elegance
I ask the earth,
who does give birth to Mother,
the earth blushes, but I hear the sea answer,
"She witnesses upon fact, yet is incapable of utterance!"
I ask the sea,
who does contain her,
the sea roars, yet is drained
before fully breathing the Name

(Translated by HasifAmini)


A kind of warning: a hand squeezing a breast
perhaps that of sinners, dumped. outside a church
In Zeedijk, a dam against the sea,
all that is beautiful seems hooked to death
A pretty city,
a sly hooker,
opening herself but shutting her heart
In her heart a frozen lake,
in its trough I want to reach you, a magic spell from the past
I summon you with love poems,
but the snow won't let them turn to echoes
The weather whizzing around with a myriad of bayonets
and the wind moving stealthily between the poplar trunks
Watching over jobless immigrants
and lunging at them with stabs of hunger
People in a parade, welcoming Santa Claus,
the name and symbol of love, gifts with crimson ribbons
But on the riverbank, where borderlines are fixed to the ground,
an Afro woman collects breadcrumbs
I greet you with poems of sorrow,
but my words clot in air

(Translated by HasifAmini)

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Nirwan Dewanto (1)


For many years, I just passed through on the night train. She sat there peacefully, somewhere between my birthplace to the east and the city in the west where I studied geology. When the train stopped for a moment at the station in the middle of the night, she seemed to stir, as though preparing herself for my arrival at some point in the future. She remained hidden, because she had more history than any other city in the world. And I let myself look out at her precisely so that I could forget her. Or maybe, so that I could take her shadow away in my suitcase.

I took this suitcase with me as I traveled around the world: I believed that it contained my hometown. But every time I opened the suitcase in a white or colored city abroad, what fluttered out were the shadows of the iron pillars and the giant clock at the train station; of the faded white walls of the fortress that believes itself to be young forever; of the pool with its ornate Portuguese gate where the sultans played with their consorts; of the silver rainbow that shone shortly before the Ninth Sultan passed away; of the nine graceful dancers dressed in dark brown moving slowly like the South Sea; of the pair of grand old banyan trees in the square that we passed through without our knowing whether they were asleep or awake; of the pedicab drivers who stop sweating as they pass the bird market; of the soldiers in their striped costumes who have never set eyes on an enemy...

Now, she is a map as vast as my own palm: I never just passed through her, because in fact my train only followed the trail of my sweat and blood. Look, look at the cities along our island in the night, like fireflies drawing closer to her, because she appears as a heart flowing with dazzling dark blood. Now, I live in another city which, they say, is the mother of all the cities of my country, a city that threatens to stretch across the entire planet, a city filled with too many faces in the harsh light of the afternoon, each of which is about to reach out and grab me, as though I were a marble Brancusi egg. But on the map saturated with these fireflies, no one can tell which is the egg and which is the heart. Believe me, I make her heart throb and she disperses me, so that you might imagine we’re twins:

She is a grand andesite statue from the Revolutionary period; I wait patiently to clean the dust and moss from her face. She is Semar and his sons, goading the nobles at court; I am the painter who inscribes the scene onto a glass panel using the bright, vulgar colors of Flying Horse brand paint. She is the gong who sounds shyly in the Grand Mosque; I am the poet who tries to capture that echoes in my clumsy quatrain. I am the marble Brancusi egg that she sculpted into a newborn baby in light, hard wood. I am the whip that is tired of beating the horse; she raises me up and morphs me into a fan that cools the face of a sculptor. I am the mountain of rice and fruit that is taken out to the square on the Prophet’s birthday; leading the procession, she understands the hidden secrets of Mount Merapi. I am the ballad of the Andalusian Gypsy people; she is the children’s songs which robs me of my rhyme and rhythm.

Sometimes we are foes because she tames my friends too calmly. Like me, they have left their home towns behind. Unlike me, they think they own her and her history. When they steal my train, I know that the station, whose name is Tugu,
continues to follow me. When they cover my map with their new homes and studios, I know that I still have the trail of my blood on the planted fence, the bicycle handlebar, or the plain cloth at Langenastran. Sometimes I wear their shoes and clothes so that she recognizes me no longer. At the flea market, or in front of the Central Post Office, or in the edge of the Sitihinggil hall, over and over again I say goodbye to my friends, those who are wearing my face, but, alas, they shout out to me, welcome, welcome, o, ye, our mother’s tongue, the tongue wounded by names...

For years and years, I learned how to say her name so that I would no longer have to praise her. She doesn’t like to compare herself with any other city on earth. From the station, I learnt to forget my own face. I inscribed a map in my own palm where I plotted her many faces and told tales I will never completely comprehend. She let my friends, and probably my enemies as well, possess her so that I would not be bound to her. One morning, one of her limbs was torn apart by a quake. I returned to my study of geology to convince myself that her future was longer than her past. And she described the line of killers that floated gently over Merapi’s peak as dirty old sheep, so I will always be suspicious of all faces and all names.
Translated from the Indonesian by Irfan Kortschak
with the author

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May 02, 2008

Putu Wijaya Maya


IT MUST HAVE BEEN ALMOST DAWN when I heard the knock on the door. My darkened room was pierced, as if by tiny arrows, by the first call to prayer from the mosques in my area of town. But Maya was fast asleep, her mouth hanging open. I rolled over to the edge of the bed and sat up. The knocking became more insistent.

I tried to work out who would have the gall to interrupt my sleep at that time of the morning. Certainly none of my acquaintances; none of them hated me that much! I decided that it had to be someone I didn't know, someone delivering an urgent message.

I went out and peeked over the balcony off the bedroom and I saw standing below a man wearing a blue jacket. The shape of his head was familiar — I was sure it was Silur, an old friend from Singaraja.

I barked out his name, "Silur!"

The man below was thrown by that, but he looked up straight away. It wasn't Silur after all. This person was a stranger to me.

"Excuse me," he began.

"Yes, what is it?" I immediately asked.

"Does Maya live here?"


"Can I see her?"

"She's asleep."

"Well, wake her up."

What bloody cheek, I thought, but then told him, "She's pretty hard to wake up. Can't you come back later?"

"No, I've got to see her now. Right now!"

"It's that urgent?"

"Yes, it is."

"Hang on a minute, will you?"

"Okay, but please hurry."

I nodded an answer. "I'll see what I can do." Then I stepped back so that he couldn't see me from below. I needed a few moments to think. I looked around me. The whole world seemed to be still sleeping. At the same time, each new day brought with it some new oddity. Like this one... I couldn't believe that I had some stranger standing on my doorstep, determined to wake up my wife Maya.

I decided in a flash that this had to be a dream, but when I poked my head outside again to check, he snapped at me: "Well, did you wake her?"

"Hang on a minute, will you?"

"Hurry up!"

I retreated into the room filled with the steady sound of Maya's breathing. I watched her for a while and as she didn't move, I decided against waking her. I lay down beside her again. I listened, and sure enough, the stranger had started to pound on the door again. This time it was louder and more insistent, like a master trying to rouse a snoring servant.

I clamped my eyes shut in anger. If Maya woke up, she could deal with it. I would feign ignorance. But then, I thought, maybe it was urgent: a family matter, for instance, or something completely unexpected. Maybe a shooting call — Maya had just signed on for a film.

I think I then dropped off to sleep. When I opened my eyes it seemed like hours had gone by, but in fact it was only a few minutes. And there it was, that hysterical knocking. This time the man was calling out her name as well.

"Maya! Maya...!"

That was too much. I worried that the neighbors might wake up and wonder what the hell was going on. And so, for the second time, I dragged myself out of bed, even as Maya slept on. She was such a heavy sleeper that even after she awoke she was non compos mentis for a good fifteen minutes.

I went out to the balcony to find him still below and pounding the door as if ready to knock it down.

"Maya! What are you doing in there? Maya!"

Almost without thinking about it, I suddenly grabbed a vase, the heaviest one in the room, and pitched it over the rail. The vase fell right on the bastard's head but I was so mad I didn't care.

Nor did I wait around to see the result. All I needed to know was that he wasn't going to knock on my door and go on shouting "Maya, Maya, Maya!" anymore.

The only thing I could hear now was the low rumble of traffic on the highway. It was still dark and quite humid.

Maya soundly slept on. "Maya...." I called her name gently but got no response. I touched her lips with my finger. She sighed softly but didn't awake. I couldn't resist a smile, for the simple pleasures of a dark room and the comforting ticking of the clock.

For some time I sat on the side of the bed, smiling, before I lay down and fell asleep once more.

When I next awoke Maya was staring at me, straight in the face.

"My God!" she exclaimed. "I had this real scary dream that last night this guy was knocking on the door and you dropped a vase on his head! God, it was weird!"

I said nothing. It was what I had suspected all along.

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