in the empty forest, i am enchained by words of trash.
the world is weary and confused. the paths go round in circles
in the dishonest confusion of truth and deceit.
the land in the distance is fertile.
i have no way of growing.
i am like a snail with no trail to follow.
searching for the home
it carries on its back.
from one unnamed land to another,
i am unable to see the most imaginary oasis:
i am imprisoned in words of trash
i build a world set on cranes’ legs
this is a land of dwarfs, shrunken and foolish.
they weave fear with their long tongues.
lies turn into yes.
and truth turns into no. words soar
to the top of the tower
of babel. desires and force
aimed at nothing in particular
whistle through the air, day by day,
like a sheaf of arrows hunting the wind.
i am lost in a land where words are trash.
in my poetry, i build myself a small house
where my conscience can live.
The Leaders of a
the baby grew into an adult
and became a giant.
became bigger day by day, then
puffed itself up with beautiful lies.
it grew and became strong.
and finally turned into a giant eagle,
digging deep with long, sharp claws.
behold! the power
the longest possible river flows through my dreams:
with the mystery and wildness of the amazon,
or the grayness of jakarta’s ciliwung,
vomiting waste and thousands of piranha.
— the longest possible river flows through my wakefulness.
silent tears gush in a thundering waterfall of words.
the most bitter and boring sorrow
is born from the sour reality of a speechless society.
poured out across the noisy cesspool of humanity
in songs which have no music
a piercing disaster steals away my wonder
at the reality of life.
like the flood which tossed about noah’s ark.
or a storm in the desert which carries away
pilgrims, their tents and their camels.
or the most exciting restlessness and uncertainty.
the longest possible river drowns everything in my dreams:
the reefs of conscience and the trash of humanity,
flows throughout the whole of life.
carries away my conscience day after day.
the longest possible river flows through my life.
it becomes the blood which stirs my deepest energy.
an old age of lies written in the notes of sailors
who cheat the fish.
drugging the water and throwing dynamite.
flows in my songs and the delirium of my desire
the ancient desire to unblock the frozen ice.
the old man, frail and weak, still eagerly searches
and runs, he writes legends and epics, old
poems, full of sorrow and hope,
composes long cold melodies.
he drew a very bad picture of the sun
on top of my house. and he painted the sky
yellow, not blue!
he made the leaves old and forgot to colour the rainbow,
sent the birds home
and the insects too
to decorate their nests and spend their nights
surrounded by symphonies.
the old man, rubs his failing eyes,
and pants as he endlessly pursues mirages.
he paints my life, as i am blown from one direction and another.
he blows through the garbage dumps and is the storm in the gobi desert.
i am a snail, carrying my restless shell from one swamp to another.
searching for the beach where worried pilgrims camp.
making my own way forward,
trying to follow humanity’s path home.
The Winding Road to Nowhere
i have travelled this road for centuries:
the days on the calendar roll forward
from one disappointment to another.
i search for a mirror in which to record my life
and find nothing.
only an emptiness which slips through my hands:
searching for questions
within myself, somewhere.
is it life, or something else,
which fades with my shadow.
i have travelled the various feelings
gathered on my restless tongue.
i have searched for the bitterness of sweat
squeezed from nothing, for nothing.
from the emptiness of the wind.
from one stupid statement after another.
and have smelled nothing.
only black, endless emptiness.
by its own light.
the conscience slowly grows
or quietly gasps and dies.
days swell with tears
drawn from trivial sorrows.
when will i ever be mature.
perhaps i will die completely
or remain a dwarf
squeezed by the lush weeds and bushes
spreading in the vacant yard of my mind.
i have heard dozens of traditional songs and dances
but i cannot quote from any of the poets
the people love so much.
the crazy images
which roar inside my mind and heart
are my desire
to read my own confusion.
The World moves towards its Death Throes
the world moves towards its death throes
a bleeding road
where the bend smashes into your wrinkled brow
and your soul is piled high
like a group of old men
waiting for the leaves to fall, their bones grow old,
their fading sight slicing away one year after another
the world moves towards its final agony: death,
a dazed civilisation and a barren morality
look into your own heart
screaming like worn brakes
polishing the asphalt with the misery of your soul
the world moves towards its death throes:
the signs obscure your conscience.
and dissolve into secrets.
which no language can decipher.
A Surrealist Painting
for you, life crystallises
in frozen moments of time:
there is no spiritual connection
between the broken bodies you see and those you sense.
my dark red heart does not exist,
reflected in the scarlet sky
between the days faded by death
— dark red death —
i mourn my own death.
search for a place among my ancestors.
count my own prayers.
hear some distant voice!
perhaps it is the ticking of a clock on the wall
falling to earth for no reason at all
digging into the virgin ground.
purified by the footsteps and shreds
of the mischievous wind.
you carry your corpse
on your shoulders. going
who knows where. while busy fingers
ount the time remaining on your forehead,
search for the answers to your crazy questions.
scattered from the tongue of time.
where will the leaves of your heart
finally rest? worms
smell your decaying stench.
they will never turn into butterflies.
because i always know the answers
to all your questions.
except those you turn into a pile of books
to spread false truths.
three good friends
with three broken hearts
waiting for memories
to turn into hope. the sun grown old,
setting on their dreams.
timeaftertime grinds down their memories
and their past
as they seek for lost poems:
the debris of a civilisation
climbing unbelievable weariness.
three good friends
with three broken hearts
count the day’s hard breathing,
sweat and spurting blood.
One Day in July
— July 27, Jakarta
suddenly i was drowning
among thousands of people
i ran in every direction
caught by sorrow, trembling each moment,
feeling silent and empty inside
i couldn’t do anything: i should
have wept but couldn’t,
grief wound its chains
tightly around me
i couldn’t say how sorry i felt
i couldn’t sing
i could only pray
among the anxious houses of fear and hope.
taman ismail marzuki, 1996
The Great Imagination
the old man staggers
along a city street
searching for part of his life
lost among the gutters and shop-windows
the movie-theatres and the markets
the shabby houses and the narrow lanes
century after century searching for a home and a land
where he might harvest the empty hopes of his old age
(his old thoughts fly to a strange corner,
where the feet of restless young prostitutes stand,
teased by the mischievous wind)
the old man finds his past
—a poetic tattoo he once painted
on a small part of a beautiful body:
an alien district in an obscure civilisation
inhabited by hundreds of tramps.
A Poem of Tears
— a letter for M
so things have come to this,
it no longer matters whether we weep or laugh,
it is all the same. we live among thousands
of fossils, clowns from an age long gone,
the death of the past is hidden
by this century’s jokes.
surely you can say nothing,
but it wouldn’t matter anyway,
the air is full of nonsense,
we can only choose to listen in silence,
and stammer, to forget our convictions,
no longer trust the language of our hearts,
to hate the foolishness we see in our mirrors
and in the pictures of ourselves.
surely there is nothing to weep for.
why should you? it is clear
we no longer believe
taman ismail marzuki, july 1996
An Obsession in Black and White
i am trapped by the rain singing
among the tall grass: so is the moon
as it rises over my shining sorrow.
the hills and rivers of the heart
depict his fear.
the mist encircles him
through the waves of screaming insects
in the distant forest.
a drop of black sky comforts me
among the flying leaves. geese and
a pair of cranes search for the tranquillity
which floods shabby grief
in a spark of red light.
the sun turns to mist in the damp moon
hanging over the heart’s emptiness.
how can we ever reunite
everything which has been torn apart?
i can read nothing
in the old thoughts which search
for all that has vanished. except the fear
arising from someone somewhere, “My beloved,
the night trembles with the screams
of strange wild beasts!”
march 1997 - january 1998
i write on the land
with my blood
speak with my mouth locked shut
a thousand changing silent languages
century after century
the years crawl across weary and frightened bodies
the sky gathers futile loves
and buried consciences
i write on the water
with my frozen tears
sorrow bows down
in empty hope
like a weary old man
longing for a space free of sky
singing hymns to thousands of arrows
hunting old moons
and whistling through the air
day by day
trembling with old hatreds
i raise my flag high
and bind my heart
which has been bruised
by old hatreds
A Pilgrimage to a Rocky Place
— to our orators
stones speak in silence,
hard in the roaring, aimless currents,
wounds form in the air, blood flows,
dripping for hundreds of years, sweeping away
the sweat of our silent consciences
rocks speak in cold words,
squeezing thousands of years of longing
into hard shapes, searching for room
in the emptiness filled with the harsh breathing
of wild animals,
searching for land
in a small space within the soul.
i choose the language of rocks
as away of breaking
the arrogance of your being.
you do not have enough fingers
to count how old you are
so why shouldn’t poetry speak on your behalf?
words will never be knives
in a land of orators. our ears relax
on rocking chairs. while their mouths and hands
speak for us. no one
reads books. the radio and television spew out
meaningless codes carry our emptiness.
their poisonous spittle lulls us to sleep.
in silence there is no poetry
slowly shifting we move away.
because the edges of our world
have been eroded by rivers
filled with tears.
our feet perch on tiny spaces.
our houses have been divided into chessboard squares:
we can only move one small step at a time.
so there is no need to speak.
count your remaining years. forget the alphabet.
i will copy your poems
onto my weeping soul.
A House of Rock
in hundreds of years time, perhaps, my house will remain
a rock. floors of mud drown
our naked, sore feet.
writing-desks are wedged
into our mouths. our hands
are locked in handcuffs.
our thoughts could be fields of flowers: as beautiful
as the rainbow!
we enter doors to cross rivers.
the sun is glued over our roofs: arrogance
will not melt away. it will mix
with the mud
clever people draw letters
in our souls.
clever people write sick poems
in our minds.
clever people type them
on the rippling wind. tape them
onto their fat bellies.
my house: will be a house of rock.
— for a third-rate movie
these are cardboard houses: here
people wave at you.
they want us to look at them.
see. they don’t suffer very much
when those who are well off weep for them
it is only an act, the first step
towards a discussion of profit
and the problems caused by monopolies
cardboard houses: just temporary
no one cares about the stories
etched inside them. fear grows
like flowers. hunger and uncertainty
welcome each day, wrapped around
their shivering nakedness
like the cold morning air.
we briefly enjoy them. shapeless
in artistic lies.
“we are commercial objects
turned into victims
by your conscience!”
it is like walking in a shopping centre,
past the store-fronts and the walkways
everything tempts us: look at me, i am real!
they are only glass cases and windows, unless
we are old and frail, and can hardly see
or a blindman with a stick,
everything seems so real!
unless we are babies, barely able to crawl
or children who would rather play.
there is so much to see.
and there are the restless voices of people walking down the street
the whining cries of hungry beggars.
the shrill sounds of the buskers, or even, if they could only speak
the sad whisper of the goods on sale ...
but we see nothing. it is like walking
through a dark room. even bombs exploding
and cannons roaring pass unnoticed.
There are Many Paths in the Old City of Melancholy
each time, each anxious journey we take,
you never want to arrive. in the coach you
continually wonder which one of us is the driver.
you never want to arrive. at each corner
you check the direction of the wind
and the names of each street.
each person, each day, begins a new journey,
setting out and returning, in a hurry, without knowing
whether we are the hunter or the hunted.
we walk along anxious roads.
and never know which way the wind is blowing.
something accompanies you wherever you go,
through one village and the next, but in the end
you are always alone with your record of sorrow
one day after another. why do you continually turn to your diary:
memory is poison, you’ve said so yourself.
today: i study your face,
and am reminded of the clay statues in Kasongan.
then i laugh, mocking reality.
the past is poison, today
we will enjoy ourselves, despite our sorrow.
so, if you feel nostalgic, go back to the hotel
and draw a picture of the houses and
the proud confusion of the town you came from.
i will wait for you at the station, waste a few hours of my life,
i will wait beside the iron rails and the empty benches.
you like Yogya, it is easy to relax there.
you like to measure your life one drop of sweat at a time.
there must be some better reason for me to shed
one second of my life after another in this way.
i will wait for you at the station, watching
the seconds turn into years.
i imagine Joan Sutherland singing Mozart’s Die Zauberflote
but it is a tiny woman begging for coins,
keening on the sticky asphalt, telling
of hard sorrows under the hot sun.
there is no end to her song. no end.
her mouth moves outside the window
and her voice strangles Joan Sutherland.
Yogyakarta grows older, and everywhere
i hear the same sad stories.
but at the market in Ngasem, you
can buy a bird which sings all the time
until you take it home, then
it will never sing again.
i found a letter in the main street, Malioboro,
obviously written by a girl with a broken heart.
who was looking for her boyfriend in every shop
and among the goods displayed on the footpath.
she never found him. not the slightest sign or shadow
even though she searched all over town.
i found the letter and sent it back to her, though
i didn’t know where she lived. one day we’ll meet
and you’ll be carrying a bunch of letters written in black,
though you won’t know where i live either.
because you won’t have read my letters.
i wrote you one letter after another, not knowing your address,
and never sent them to you.
sometimes melancholy hurts.
even if there is nothing to hide in this old city.
no one wants to leave
and live in a snail’s shell.
no one wants to leave
and write about different events
to see them turn into nothing more
The Road Home
there are rows of dead trees
along the edge of the road.
it is autumn in some empty city:
you leave the television on.
soon the slaughter will begin.
blood and pain in the shape of a poem
while the music plays.
this is what life is really like, you say.
outside, the children shout and laugh.
“i’m the sheriff, you’re the baddy.
i hit you in the head.
i hit you in the heart.
i’m the best shot!”
the children fight
while we amuse ourselves
outside the door: the roads are absolutely empty.
you enjoy the wind as it runs through the stalks of rice
and slips from your hands.
the smell of the fields brings you home
from your world of dreams.
you planted flowers
on your tongue.
each day your spittle
and stinking breath
made the garden grow.
dead men and sludge
made speeches through megaphones
and over the radio.
tiny rivers flowed into sentences
(and finally into the sea ...)
overturning small boats,
fish and sailors:
a secret conversation
(endlessly shifting sludge)
you planted flowers,
you planted butterflies,
you planted bees
and even the sun.
“take care of my garden”, you said.
take care ...
About Two Old Men
late last night, two old men came to see me.
one was frail and coughed a lot. he had been a guerilla
and told me of many battles. thirty years ago.
this country was rebuilt from shattered bones and dried blood.
we ran across the stage, barefoot through the coarse grass,
clapping our hands and laughing loudly at each other.
but you wouldn’t understand how hard it was
to win back our freedom.
over thirty years ago we renewed our independence.
a long time to tell lies. but he, the frail old man
who coughed a lot, stood proudly with his many pages of notes
in a dusty old book which no one could read.
the other man was thin and stooped. he was deaf and dumb. but
i could see that his eyes still shone. thousands of arrows rained down
on my silent heart. but he was protected by his cover of velvet mist.
the two old men walked together, side by side. the roads
led in many directions. they walked into the fog. the dark. reaching
for the sky. i felt sorry for the thin, stooped man,
who was deaf and dumb, because i knew he could see
other winding roads filled with sunlight. he was silent
and used the grass of his restlessness to mend his patience.
i waited for them to come back.
to leave their friends. to forget their allegiances.
to forsake the mist and the empty sky.
One Day in Indonesia
a radio broadcast, middle of the morning, newspapers on the table:
i heard nothing, read nothing. the telephone rang
the postman came.
then i broke all my mirrors
i burnt my address books and my business cards.
life moved from sunshine to shadow.
from wakefulness to the world of dreams.
forming boring lines of notes.
pages of trash not worth keeping.
life was a simple, plain dream.
short and filled with troubles. strange
fears, foolish deeds.
you were aware of almost nothing
in the world where you lived
your life was a brief tale
which interested no one.