Three poems translated from the Indonesian by Daniel Owen
A Policy Proposal for the Police
“Gentlemen, I can guarantee you that our governance is no longer popular, either with the peasants or with the native officials, large and small . . . A feeling of dissatisfaction is spreading, both among the noblemen and the commoners, regarding the way the government is managed and justice up- held. Since the end of 1900, a kind of terrorist movement has appeared . . . or even a resistance movement against the government. It seems the central government bureaucracy doesn’t understand the meaning of all this.”
—P. J. F. Van Heutsz, 1904–06
I’m inflicted with my own arrival there and here. Looking
at the failure that, to be honest, is in everything I make. Amidst
machines and systems in a hole of silence, buying and
selling throw each other away. Entertainment and things bought here
and there. Memories in the rubble
of change. Leftover debt in an unlocked casket. Rainy season speeches
in every drowned channel of justice. Dirt
and the crackling of fire on the dinner table. You and I stand here. But we
never stand together.
I photograph the palm of my hand, as if photographing an
archipelago made of paper pulp. Perpetual expenditure there and
here, longer than the road I walk forward
and back. The sound of rice grains scraping against a pan like
economic data that’s lost its adding machine. My heart drowns in
history’s games and clothes fit for going to heaven. Financial
statements that stroll along the year’s end. Vitality that turns to
rubble in the commerce of data science
there and here. Health prophesied by vitamin C
and a toothbrush. I’m inflicted with my own arrival,
buying silence, clean air, and employment rates.
Gentlemen, can failure be photographed, so we can see how we
laugh and smile?
Can we photograph a toothbrush in the middle of vitality’s ruins
chronically raped and pillaged from there and
from here? Vitality that becomes a toy for the use
capacity of violence. Population growth reports that turn to fire at dinnertime.
Gentlemen, can we read anew, from
the pointless alphabet. And they fashion
a language from each failure, from each wound’s history there and
here, from a Saturday night farewell
dance. Here we stand, like plants waiting for
a gardener. Not letting an
archipelago become a collective sewage ditch.
Gentlemen. There and here. The rainy season’s gone blue
in your city.
Rock in a Shoe
Good morning Kamsudi, good morning Busro, good morning
Remy and angry Aidil. We’re still here,
at yesterday’s oxtail soup warung, yesterday’s cup of coffee,
yesterday’s ashtray and plastic chair. We’re still tending to
a rock that we’ve kept in our shoes.
We take a picture of our bodies in front of the coffee shop, next
to the dumpster. White hair falls
from our heads after holding back laughter, and
yesterday’s still here.
Good morning, time. Good morning all that’s replaced our
night with little
stories. Time that wears away our bedroom
ceiling, before we have the chance to sleep soundly, peeking in at dreams
through moldy walls. Almost fifty
years we’ve waited for our shoes to come back
changed into leather. Time, like
uncanny beings whose offspring inhabit
our bodies. Poems that even now don’t know how
they were written: twelve blankets for
my friends from Makassar, twelve blankets for my
friends from Padang and Lampung.
And tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll come back to yesterday’s warung, to
yesterday’s Jalan Cikini that’s
rendered our bodies as time’s attempt
at waiting, waiting’s attempt to be capable of
seeing, seeing’s attempt to recognize
your unexpected arrival. The governors in this city come
and go, like playthings in
colonial cities. Make egg cartons for poetry and
theater. Yesterday. We—we never know
about today and tomorrow. And the rock is ever deeper,
ever harder, between the shoe and the leather. A rock—for
all the nations too suspicious of freedom, of poverty, and the
keep on walking with their feet.
Chinese ID Card
for Lan Zhenghui
I’ve prepared a backpack, beard trimmer and a
nationality photographed at
the district office. Every time I fly, I’m afraid I’ll
miss the plane. Or find myself
falling in love with Mandarin in someone else’s room. Last
Tuesday hasn’t arrived. Tomorrow’s still tomorrow. Who knows
where yesterday’ll go before Sunday. Tuesday is still waiting for
the yesterday that hasn’t arrived.
Tuesday isn’t Tuesday if it isn’t yet Tuesday.
Tomorrow, Tuesday will start hollowing out my fantasies, to hear
Mandarin from my narrow eyes.
Tomorrow’s still tomorrow before yesterday. Tuesday doesn’t
keep 100 years of each generation’s
fear of state ID cards and employment rates.
People make a house to
tell lies in. Scream a generation scattered on an
escalator’s steps. And scream again their fears
atop the Great Wall.
Are you from Indonesia? the taxi driver asks. Yeah, I
answer. Like answering the cries of the shops razed in
Jakarta. The women
stripped naked and raped. Bodies turned into
burnt charcoal. History that grabs our hands
them over and over again into the same wound. The wound that
comes back asking: Are you from Indonesia?
That morning the electrical wires along the street still held back the cold,
shaking off remnants of night, grease, and
Olympic fireworks. A friend ordered a
Mao hat. What I remember about this country
from the Great Wall, weasel fur hats from Mongolia, political
reproofs from Tibet, waterfalls of humanity spilling from a
hole in the sky—to the communist management that regulates
the residents’ income arriving in my hotel room.
Zhenghui, I admire your paintings, that return to
rice paper pulp and China ink. The wind
approaching winter starts to greet your neck.