Risjwijk 17

Taufiq Ismail


That night we were sitting on the balcony, the moon was up
Traffic was loud, bleating and roaring outside
Cables spread like hair between telegraph poles
We tried to make out the black outlines of the night

A becak hummed on asphalt, crossed a ditch
Then suddenly in the sky, a bright sickle of light
Cut across the row of pines behind the hospital
We got up, looked at each other: Is that the satellite they couldn’t stop talking
The bright star at the tip moved on, slowly like time
The sickle bent its back westward
Across the roofs, skimming the top of the hospital pines
Blinking to the earth below.
We said nothing. We craned our necks to watch the play of lights
Jazz on the radio, ‘Summertime’,
More bending of the sickle, over
The roof of another building, slicing the shadow it cast
Over a house in disorder
As we wrestled with concepts of freedom
And how to make poverty and starvation
History. As the satellite marched on towards the moon
And the next jungle of technological puzzles
And as the house tried again to spell
D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y, starting with the sickle-bend in D.

The moon illuminated the sky and the earth under it, what was dark
And was now light, and children running, laughing, showing teeth,
Over bits and pieces of sloganeering, trampling portraits
Of cult personalities, as they played bandits-and-heroes,
Along the pedestrian strip, the Old Fort’s Wall and King’s Way
Ransacking the offices of the bureaucrats and ushering them
Out. Off they went. A pack of wolves who
Told lies for a living and now looked around for someone to lead them on.
Someone who would bark at the moon. Once. Twice. There’s no point.
He wept over the darkening sky.

Over the red moon, old pines,
His old hunting ground. His hungry dogs.
The marble floor cold on his paws, he craned his head up
Into the sky. Now it’s more than just a matter of “It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry”
More than just a matter of the position of stars in astrology
Computerized numbers, technological experiments, precision!
And here people struggle against anti-logic still
The problem of the four-freedoms, protein deficiency,
No electricity and abandoned blue-prints.
Someone walked off, then tens of them, thousands,
Into the flying discs of fire
Like an old wave, slowly rising
Crashing over the horizon. Then stopped
And shouted: Hey you! You there! Yes you!
Hey………… you
yes: YOU!

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