Stories Buried with Earthworms

 

Cloudy day, the air wears dark glasses

The sidewalk buttons its coat to the throat

But truth is colder than wind

Songs heard from the gutter

flow through leaky earphones

Your head’s wet, hair’s drenched, feet are dry

Drowsiness always runs wild on the way

but dwindles at home

I bury you in the earth,

planting you with stories

long dead

buried with earthworms

near dead

chewed up by surly germs

 

 

Breaking Loose

 

What’s disappointment made of?

last seen on the side of a cold road

with motor scooters and bikes

Sondre had the cure

is death the cure for life?

singing Melayu

jazz is too hard

Because the last time she heard jazz

the tinkling piano broke loose

flying away with each of her senses one by one

lifting off from her head

to never land again

Like the little joys

born each time you pee

joys the size of dust

but an abundance of dust

can crowd in on you

 

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

 

The sun sinks below your head

so close the curtains when

the sun is still at two o’clock

 

People isolate themselves in their bodies

shut off the radio

smartphone ash drifting away in the Ciliwung

gets tangled up in fear

before even arriving in Jakarta

 

Siesta

it’s time to close up shop and close your eyes

lock the door joints because

outside there's rain, lightning, arthritis, and ego

 

Was time ever this slow

when Siddhartha sat meditating in the Cave of Hira

and skinned time

with a nail clipper

 

Savor the sunset to its last drop

and go back to hiding

behind our respective astronaut suits

 

 

Take a Load Off, Brothers and Sisters

 

My mom has nothing to be proud of anymore

I don’t memorize the names

of government ministers anymore

 

We don’t have time anymore

to form forty-eight parties

or bold the titles

in our notebooks

 

That afternoon my sister raved to me,

“We can find out everything about Amien Rais!

His origins, his family, all through the Internet!”

 

I could go to Ottawa

with just asl pls

11, F, Bogor

 

My friend is slowly

turning into fourteen inches

I'm starting to learn

how to loathe humanity

 

Everyone’s competing to be Rangga

reading literature

trying to look all hip

mailing lists

packed with the door knocks

of atheist missionaries

 

“Grab some paper and a pen

so I can charm you

but not with poetry

I'm going to explain the theory of relativity”

 

Books are the new flirtation

the new naughty

and ideology becomes the new poetry

the new sweet talk fodder

 

The youth

fill their quotas chasing after

renaissance brothers and sisters

 

Fill up their phone minutes

because there are still plenty

of little brothers and sisters

who need enlightening

 

“But the kids these days are all spoiled

don’t want to take to the streets

nothing at all

like us in our day!”

 

Take a load off, brothers and sisters

 

 

Hungry Caterpillar

 

A caterpillar is starving on a laptop corner. Tries to whip up a meal. The key ingredients are on the bottom right of the screen. Blinking boastfully. The spices lie face up along the keyboard. qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm. The caterpillar starts cooking. Picks its spice mix. Boils, then fries. On the bottom right corner of the screen. Volume-based gas range. The meal fails. Our caterpillar cries. Promises it'll never cook again. Until forever and ever. Maybe until its hunger grows fierce as a forest burning down.



View Original Work ↓

Cerita yang Terkubur Bersama Cacing Tanah

 

Hari yang mendung, udara berkacamata hitam

Trotoar mengancingkan jaketnya sampai ke leher

Tapi kenyataan lebih dingin dari angin

Lagu-lagu terdengar dari got,

mengalir lewat earphone yang bocor

Kepala basah, rambut lepek, kaki kering

Kantuk selalu membuas di perjalanan

namun menciut di dalam kamar

Aku menguburmu dalam tanah,

menanamnya dengan cerita-cerita

yang sempat mati

terkuburu bersama cacing-cacing tanah

yang nyaris mati

dikunyah kuman pemarah

 

 

Lepas-lepas

 

Kecewa terbuat dari apa?

terakhir kali terlihat di pinggir jalan dingin

bersama motor dan sepeda

Sondre punya obatnya

apakah mati obat dari hidup?

bernyanyi Melayu

jazz terlalu sulit

Karena terakhir kali ia dengar jazz

dentingan piano lepas-lepas

terbang membawa kesadarannya satu-satu

lepas landas dari kepalanya

tak pernah mendarat lagi

Seperti bahagia-bahagia kecil

yang lahir setiap habis buang air

bahagia seukuran debu

tapi debu yang banyak

bisa membuatmu sesak

 

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

  

Matahari tenggelam di kepalamu

maka tirai ditutup ketika

matahari masih 14.00

 

Orang-orang menyepi di tubuhnya

menutup peti berbicara

melarung abu smartphone di Ciliwung

dan tersangkut takut

belum juga sampai Jakarta

 

Siesta

waktunya menutup toko dan mata

mengunci pintu sendi karena

di luar hujan, petir, encok, dan ego

 

Pernahkah waktu selambat ini

ketika Siddharta bertapa di Gua Hira

dan menguliti waktu

dengan gunting kuku

 

Nikmati sunset hingga tetes terakhir

dan kembali bersembunyi

di balik seragam astronot masing-masing

 

 

Istirahatlah Kakak-kakak

 

Ibuku tak bisa lagi berbangga hati

Aku tak lagi hafal

nama-nama menteri

 

Kita tak lagi punya waktu

membentuk empat puluh delapan partai

atau menebalkan judul-judul

di buku catatan

 

Sore itu kakakku cerita dengan menggebu,

“Kita bisa tahu semua info tentang Amien Rais!

Asal-usul, keluarganya, lewat internet!”

 

Aku jadi bisa ke Ottawa

hanya dengan asl pls

11, F, Bogor

 

Temanku pelan-pelan

menjadi empat belas inci

aku mulai belajar

cara tidak menyukai manusia

 

Banyak yang berlomba menjadi Rangga

membaca sastra

berwajah senga

milis-milis

dipenuhi ketukan pintu

para misionaris ateis

 

“Coba ambilkan kertas dan pulpen

buat aku merayumu

bukan dengan puisi

aku akan jelaskan teori relativitas.”

 

Buku adalah gombalan baru

kenakalan baru

dan ideologi jadi puisi baru

bahan rayuan baru

 

Muda-mudi

mengisi kuota mengejar

kakak-kakak renaissance

 

Mengisi pulsa

karena masih banyak

dedek-dedek

yang butuh dicerahkan

 

“Tapi anak muda sekarang manja-manja

nggak mau turun ke jalan

nggak kayak kita dulu

total!”

 

Istirahatlah, Kakak-kakak.

 

 

Ulat Lapar 

 

Sepotong ulat kelaparan di pojok laptop. Mencoba-coba meracik makanan. Bahan pokok di monitor kanan bawah. Berkejap-kejap angkuh. Bumbu-bumbu telentang sepanjang papan. qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm. Ulat mulai memasak. Pilih racik bumbu. Rebus lalu goreng. Di pojok monitor kanan bawah. Kompor volume-based. Masakannya gagal. Si ulat menangis. Berjanji takkan pernah memasak lagi. Sampai kapan pun. Mungkin sampai lapar sebuas hutan kebakaran.

Translator Notes

These poems come from Farhanah’s first poetry collection, Masuk Toko Keluar di Tokyo (Enter a Shop, Come Out in Tokyo), published in 2018. Hailing from Bogor, a highland suburban city south of Jakarta, and initially finding herself as a public poet through the free interplay of online poetry communities, Farhanah is one of the defining voices of a new generation of Jakarta-oriented poets. Her work departs from the staid abstraction, watery universalism, and aesthetic conservatism of the Indonesian literary establishment. Farhanah’s work is deeply personal (almost hermetic at times in its references) and full of longing, yet situated in a shared middle-class urban sociality. The poems are rife with intimacies played out across commuter lines and computer screens. Many of them evince a sharp sense of humor coupled with cultural critique. Even in their most ironic or self-reflexive moments, they always retain a certain playfulness.

Farhanah’s lines are full of surprising shifts and elocutions, deft sound-play, and an urgent sense of movement. Puns, word-play and references to social and political life in Jakarta pop up throughout. For me, these elements propose some very interesting translation questions. “Istirahatlah Kakak-Kakak” / “Take a Load Off, Brothers and Sisters” is a poem that addresses the current cultural moment among Farhanah’s generation in Jakarta with great vividness and specificity. Satirizing both the titular kakak-kakak (older siblings) of the Reformasi generation and the adik-adik (younger siblings) of Zaman Now, the poem’s title is a pun on “Istirahatlah Kata-Kata” (usually translated as “Rest, Words”), the title of a 1988 poem by Wiji Thukul (“Istirahatlah Kata-Kata” subsequently became the title of a recent feature film about Thukul as well). Wiji Thukul was a working-class activist and poet who was involved in a variety of people’s struggles against the oppression of Suharto’s militaristic New Order regime and its pro-corporate, CIA-approved policies. Thukul was last seen at a rally in 1998, very likely “disappeared” by government forces. After the end of the New Order and the beginning of the Reformasi period, Thukul became a widely-known figure for those disappeared by the government. Images of his face and lines from his poems are commonly depicted in social media memes and on demonstration posters calling on the current government to investigate the crimes of the past and bring to justice their perpetrators. 

The richness of association in Farhanah’s punning reference consistently confounds me in translating the title. Likewise, the references to Rangga (an angsty teen poet character from the 2002 film Ada Apa Dengan Cinta) and Amien Rais (a complicated and significant player in Indonesian politics from the 1990s to now) are saturated with connotation. In translating Farhanah’s poems, I’ve tried to focus on the immediacy of feeling, the movement of the thoughts and sensations and their evocation of complex sociality, rather than attempting to elucidate the particularities of her references. Without harping too much on ever-insoluble questions of translation, I think it’s important to note that, in literature (as, perhaps, in life) it’s often important—particularly in the face of “world literatures” and “global cultures” that desires to flatten out and appropriate differences—to let knots of meaning be knots, rather than data to be “expertly” unravelled.


Daniel Owen

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In the Classroom


Daniel Owen

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