is how everywhere you go you see people trying to make a living, people trying to live and you look around them and all you see is death. there, an empty plastic garuda peanuts wrapper glazed in rain water like a bright yellow accidental donut, a broken bicycle wheel with the tyre still on it though a section is peeling off like a band-aid on its second day, the rain’s made the black rubber shine like a leather patch on your elbow—right on the sharp angle where someone had tried to make a square out of the shiny circle of the wheel it looks exactly like that, then there is always the puddles of water like temporary lakes that reflect the big city lights like a prostitute’s polished nails and the bigger one that will stand the test of time and the evening’s heat and greet tomorrow’s sun like the mirror in your bathroom. death. death. death. and life inside and between the spaces inside and around the letters. as i walked on i kept thinking, “someone should give these people a break,” then i saw them, two blind men swinging their white canes over me on the transjakarta ramp. they walked closely together, as if happy for the audio support when the canes hit the metal railings and for the jolt that must run up their arms when the canes hit each other in mid-air. and then i knew, there will be no break in the cruel play of life for these people.
The moon above
I am a swamp
Heat blurs the white walls
Everything has a meaning, man and malaria.
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!
Mh. Rustandi Kartakusuma
The tram screams&screams!
barks!&snakes along the river.
I don’t care anymore
a man’s making faces at me on the other side of the banks.
I’ve run out of breath
Going against the current of morning traffic.
A pickpocket went for my wallet
and I’m sweating, like a horse.
All for nothing?
I am so stupid, in this city of millions
that couldn’t be the last available tram.
Once his body has been stretchered
‘Leaves are Falling’
Takes off his beret and wipes
Tears none of us can hold back
At the top of the Gajatri
A flag hangs limp
Behind it: a roll of clouds
morning jogs in in the city
no need for a map, won’t do me any good—
they’ve changed the names of the streets
again. they’ll soon run out of names of war heroes
streets and alleys, the veins of the city
messages and promises
that never go anywhere, aortas passing over the heart—
old routes in an old city painted
a deserted brown.
the streets are empty
people running, lifting
deadweights on old shoulders
a tanjung petal falls, crushed beneath heavy feet
rare plants, sweet-smelling, dew on tips of leaves, everywhere
the city wakes to morning’s embrace
lights break through branches, streetlamps
put out, cars
one by one, break rules
traffic lights and one way signs.
Get off the street!
Becak, piled high with this morning’s
produce, quick feet pedalling
quick sales at the morning market
at Five Ways people deep-fry
bananas and cassavas for the builders
the progress of development, acceleration
and continuity, maintained as long as commissions are paid—
Clean Up Jakarta: the motto:
No Cigarette Butts! The basket-wielding
troops leave nothing to chance
even their own slow shadows, in the trees
trashbins, green gutters
face down, and quick as a flash
a cigarette butt at the end a mechanical arm.
it will be light soon, must make
something of my day—a deserted map
Monas, the fountain, the bridge to
Kebayoran or Kuningan
an old map, like a dying heart
dark corners everywhere, the flow
will soon clog, then stop—
Karet, Menteng, Pulo, Tanah Kusir, wherever
as long as I can lie down, and not sleep
I know gravesites are getting too expensive these days.
the worst thing is, if say for some reason
they won’t bury me here
and one morning, like this one,
or whenever I let my guard down, my soul
will go looking around
for nostalgia in a city it doesn’t recognise—
where’s the deserted map of Jakarta, where the Xs
that mark the spots, notes, scribbles, and the lines
that mark the scars of life?
A motel in Kampung Bali
a little upmarket, the sign says “Wisma”
a woman nearly fifty, waiting for his lover
inside a room, three-thousand rupiah a night. Stuffy.
The ceiling fan’s broken again
grey mold inside the bathtub, but the water is clean.
Yellow plastic ladle, blue bedsheet,
grimes on the wall next to the lamp switch, dust everywhere,
under it in permanent marker, “Romeo and Julia”
under that, “Cicih and Iman”, the picture of a heart
and two arrows striking through.
She doesn’t mind waiting, but is a little bothered
by the motel owner who let her
run upstairs with a big question mark on his face:
“This rich woman, she must be waiting for his man again,
why is she always hurrying?”
From outside, the sounds of the street,
bajaj, baso, the welding man,
rise and fall and creep in. She listens
to a grandmother swearing at grandchildren
throwing dirt on her laundry.
She doesn’t mind waiting, though he’s late again
what is it this time?
She sits down, throws herself into bed, grabs a pillow,
bites it. In her mind everything she doesn’t need:
“My love, I miss you, I need you,
don’t betray me this time
I know you’ve grown used to
betraying your wife—
this is not just an affair, we’ve been doing this
far too long—this is the only thing
that makes me happy, ah,
this is as good as it gets!
But what if he’s woken up to his senses
and gone back to his wife, he’s still got things
to sort out there too:
“I’ve been faithful, I’ve been good,
raise the kids, a pay rise every semester
pay back the mortgage earlier,
I get on well with my in-laws—though not the cousin in-laws
they’ve forced me to take in!
Sundays, Lebarans, Thanksgivings, Tupperware dinners,
once in a while a movie for two, exchanging gossips
about the neighbours, listening between the lines,
that means something too…”
“Why am I still here?
—why am I being so pathetic?—he must’ve gone back to his wife!
What am I doing? I shouldn’t be waiting
for someone else’s husband—”
She gets up, ah, no, the bed has swallowed her
as the door creaks and he comes in
puts down his Echolac and: no more waiting,
no more thinking of unnecessary things, no greetings,
hugs, kisses. Stop wasting time, these two are already
past the prime of their lives, and they still have to go the length between
the north and south poles to meet
in this bed, amongst the sleaze of dust, these silent witnesses,
to taste the honey of life.
No longer young, they wear scars like proud epaulettes,
they caress, kiss each other, where thorns, a blade or two,
whatever life has thrown at them, have drawn blood,
and in an hour or two, they will be gone again
as if by magic—
never for very long.
Then someone knocks on the door:
“The room is paid for, here’s your change,
and your towels,
you want to order any drinks?”
“Sepanjang malam, Pesta!”
long cracks like my grandmother’s hair
No one needs a riot.
like dead snakes.
The wind carries everything, my maid said.
under the fly-over: a policeman sits cross-legged on a thin bench balanced by two boys playing cards at the other end. sometimes, patience is just a game you play while you wait. and wait. then the black river starts. little ships of plastic aqua glasses float fast—all the captains had jumped the lifeboats—on its surface. the ripped blue plastic lids stick out like broken sails. a woman steps into the heavy rain, the water falling like cold pebbles, lifts her batik sarong, and puts one foot in the rushing black water. an aqua ship hits her instep. she lets it run around her ankle like a reconnoitring pirate ship. a cendol man opens a tweed-patterned parasol and puts it over, not his head, but his clay cendol jar. big sweats of rain already on its brown-black surface. no, the rain doesn’t fall, it blows horizontally and hits your face like a cavalry of angry trains. and the smell of dead chickens, dried fish and rotting vegetables, picked at 3 a.m. this morning, floats up to the grunts of slowing cars on wet asphalt above.