emergency… that’s you, my dear (kitten got bitten)

don’t read if you don’t have the heart.

it’s sunday. no schedule on my calendar. we were just relaxing. i was in the room. two of our three kittens were with me. for information, we have a total of six cats. Madrid, the male, black and white with amazing fur; Liverpool, female, all yellow and very easily frightened (i always call her ‘bontot’, the youngest); and Milan, female, three colors and very adventurous. If I am to tell you all about them, it will take a week, though they are only about 3 or 4 months old.

So this is about Milan, my favorite cat, as she always sleeps with me, every night. In the morning, Madrid and Liverpool were in the room. Another cat, Untung, was also there, sleeping. I was just typing, browsing with my laptop. I missed her. Then I heard it was raining. If she was upstairs–in the garden, she would have gone down. Yep, she came. Running and meowing… into the room. To me. I petted her. Her fur is not as thick and soft as her siblings, but her eyes are so captivating.

Then, back to work. Suddenly I heard my mom yelled and ran to outside the house. I smelled something is wrong. My mom was still screaming, she was shooing the dogs! There were the neighbor’s Five Big Ugly Evil Ferocious Dogs! And Milan! My love! She was lying on the street! I picked her and brought her inside, put her on a mat. She bit me. I let her. Maybe she was trying to show her effort to survive, or her last power. She was gasping. Thank God there was no… large bloody too-visible wound. There were some furs lost, patches of white skin visible. There was a drop of blood on the floor, but it was mine.

My mom came in, and most probably was kinda shocked by the blood. She was screaming. I could understand her. She has been a savior for our cats several times. This is even the second time for Milan. She saw when Milan was… attacked.. with her own eyes. Then she swore to herself she would never keep a cat again. I tried to stay in focus. I had to get her to the doctor. But this is Sunday, clinics are closed. I called my brother, maybe because of my mom. She blamed him for always adopting kittens, so this is a part of his responsibility. But he said this has already happened before, several times. I felt like crying, losing myself. But then to calm the situation, and to save Milan, I changed my clothes and told my brother to take us to a clinic that, hopefully, would be open.

In the car, I sat in the back with her. She was in the cage, still silent, her mouth was gaping, there was blood in her mouth and nose. I felt sick. But then she moved a bit. With her back showed, I saw the wound, with blood. I also saw the scar on the other side of the body, no blood. That’s good news. Very little blood on the mat. But my brother said there might be internal injury. We managed to find the clinic. Fortunately the clinic was open, though it says « Sunday by appointments ». I thought my tone–when I talked to a guy who was washing his bike–was like begging. I came in while my brother parked the car.

Then the assistant weighted her on the scale. « Only for animals, » a text says. 1.98 kg. Hmm. Then there she was, lying on the operating table. Her limbs looked misplaced, wrong. I petted her, calling her name,while he measured her temperature. Then the vet came in. « When was she bitten? » she asked I after I told her what happened. « Just now, » I replied. Do you really think I could wait and just see her look like this?? I showed her the open wound. She touched her, feeling her bones. I had a bad feeling, and it came true. The vet told me that the rib was broken, and told me to touch it, to feel the ‘gap’, the difference from the other side. « The broken rib may push her lungs, that’s why she is gasping ». It broke my heart. Further, to conclude, she said, « Let’s see, the crisis period is three days. »

Crisis period. It sounded like she was dying. Like a fifty-fifty chance. She may die. *Sigh.

The assistant cleaned the wound, cut the surrounding furs. The vet took over. She dipped the wound curet, and circled it, checking the wound. Yaiks. I could see the hole, and what’s beneath the skin. She gave me two options, just applying ointment for the medication, or stitching the wound. I realized that the decision was completely up to me. I felt being responsible for this lovely little creature, perhaps like being a parent. I chose the second. Then she put out a needle, gave her an anesthetic injection on her thigh. She reminded that the internal injury actually caused higher risk for the drug. I thought the operation would be simple, just a few stitches, considering the hole of around 2mm of diameter. But NO. Beyond my expectation, she cut the wound, making it larger… to really really check the inside part. What an ugly view to see. I saw white… the bone. She stuffed Penicillin powder with the curet (the first time I saw this). Then she stitched the flesh. The curved needle went to and fro, the black thread tied and closed the wound bit by bit as the vet was making knots with the scissors. Then she did the skin. After it’s done, she was given infusion. The vet told me that Milan’s body temperature dropped, so she must be ‘heated’ by putting yellow bulb while she’s sleeping –like chicks. She was to eat soft food, like baby food. Milan is half-conscious, surrendered, the adventurous adventurous Milan was brought down. 

She was put back to the cage. My brother came. We brought her home. On the way, even I couldn’t explain him what I saw. I was afraid that he was afraid to hear it. I saw the patient’s card, with the timing. Monday to Saturday, some vet surgeon. Sunday, emergency, two female vets. Thank God. At home, my mom was already calm. But there are things I couldn’t, or mustn’t tell my mother. Even my sister, after she found out about the incident from my mother, didn’t dare to see her.

Its 6.45pm. I went up to check on her. I decided to put her out of the cage. She was angry, but I knew she just felt pain. Again I offered her food. No response. But I poured some water, she approached the saucer and drank. I felt so relieved. I tried to put the food in her mouth, but she refused, and drank water again instead. Oh, Milan, when you get better, I will give you 50 fish, for you alone!

I checked on her every now and then. I put her out of the cage. She sleeps most of the time. Whenever I went up to check her, from afar, I saw whether she was breathing or not. Once I took Liverpool, to see whether the sister wanted to lick her, kinda empathize with her… (once they were licking each other for 4 minutes! I have the video)

My thumb is throbbing with pain. Such a small bite could cause such pain, let alone what she is suffering from. Why didn’t the vet give something to soothe the pain, painkiller??

Well, this is just the first of three days of crisis.

Day I. Please stay with me, Milan, I pray to God.

Publicités

Music and Black Movement in Three Biographical Movies Lady Sings the Blues, Bird and Ray

By Indah Lestari

This paper attempts to look at the importance of music as part of Black identity. The movies chosen for this purpose are based on the biography of black singer and musicians. Lady Sings the Blues (1972) is about Billie Holiday, Bird (1988) Charlie Parker and Ray (2004) Ray Charles. The artists lived in relatively the same period and in some points of time in their life had tensions with their race. Their life is inseparable from music and a probe into music would allow us to see the social life in American Jim Crow era. Music has the capacity to reveal the contradictions within society by communicating to the listeners a connection to the real world.

The three artists discussed in this paper are active in Black music genres, particularly jazz and blues. Blues is deeply rooted in American history, especially African American history. It is originated in Southern plantations in the 19th century. It was invented by slaves, ex-slaves and their descendants. They sang in the cotton fields while working. It is mostly regarded as evolving from American spiritual songs, work songs and field hollers, blending rural life and percussion. They improvised the call-and-response method and put it in American context.

Black music in 20th century is an appropriation of Western music elements. Blues and jazz are interconnected. Blues nourished in Mississippi Delta, near the birth town of jazz, New Orleans, which was then the center of American slave trade. Blues then grew into Rhythm ‘n Blues (R&B) and rock ‘n roll, while jazz has cause a lot of subgenres to spring from it, such as bebop, Bossa nova and acid jazz.

One of the foremost female jazz singers in American music history is Billie Holiday or Lady Day. She was born by a real name of Eleanora Fagan on April 17, 1915 and died in 1959 of drug overdose. In relation to black movement, Holiday is mainly identified with her song “Strange Fruit”. The song bitterly tells about a black body hanging in a tree as if it is the tree’s fruit. It was premiered in a New York club in 1938. The lyric goes the following:

Southern trees bear strange fruits
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouthd
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
 

The song was brought about when she was on a big-band bus tour and witnessed a lynching of two blacks, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. The lyric was adapted from a 1937 poem by Jewish schoolteacher and poet in New York, Abel Meeropol (pen name, Lewis Allan). The image of a person hanging in a tree in the poem is literally depicted in the movie. Holiday herself (starred by famous black singer Diana Ross) sees this person, though there is no sufficient data to tell whether this happened in her real life. So we can see the politics of the movie—which is based on the book by Holiday and William Dufty—by blending facts and fiction in highlighting black struggle.

The song « Strange Fruit » is difficult to categorize, either by the music or the lyric. It is “too artsy to be folk music, too explicitly political and polemical to be jazz”[i]. At that time the civil rights movement was not at its peak. As the song was then regarded controversial, Holiday’s record company Columbia did not release it, and a smaller label Commodore took it. It is now one of Holiday’s signature songs.

Around the same time as the premiere of “Strange Fruit”, Holiday joined swing pianist Count Basie in 1937 and clarinetist Artie Shaw a year later, becoming one of the first black singer featured with a white orchestra. In the movie, among all the band members, all white, Holiday did not face racial discrimination. In fact she is treated like a lady. When a band member is complaining about not being featured by some radio station and started cursing, Harry says, “Watch your mouth. Can’t you see there’s a lady present?” This means she is respected, not as a black, or merely a woman, but a (white) lady. There is also an interesting line when Harry  says « let’s face it Billie, you are the cream in our coffee.” So the logic of the colors is reversed, Billie is the ‘white’ while the men are the ‘(black) coffee’.

The movie starts in New York in 1936 when Holiday is jailed on drug charge. In black and white picture and horror music, the audience can see how Holiday was ill-treated by the white (female) officers, for example her hair pulled and she is pushed into a cushion-walled chamber. As the movie shows the credits, the picture stops repeatedly and depicts the photography of the violence. This scene goes in film noir mood, strong contrast of black and white, and horror-jazz soundtrack. Certainly the black-and-white color can be interpreted as the juxtaposition of the blacks and whites of America, how they interact, clash, and mingle with each other.

From one club to another the viewers can see how Holiday’s career in singing is rising. In her first job in a cheap club, like any other singer, she is supposed to take the tip from the guests with her thighs or keep it in her cleavage. Her costume is as if designed for that, bright red with high cut in the middle to her thighs. The guests are mocking her because she could not take the money, not until a man, Louis McKay, whom she seems to have a crush on, puts forth a bill. Although her stretch of voice is limited, she sings like a jazz instrumentalist, lengthening and shortening phrases. With warm voice she equips the lyrics with sadness, sensuality and irony. She is also famous for singing a little behind the beat, which was followed by later generations of vocalists. The journey of a year of her career in that club is represented in the movie by some sepia pictures, of which in some she stands in front of the club with a poster by her name.

Then Holiday is approached by two white men, Harry and Reg, requesting her to join their band in a tour. She thinks they are joking, saying “a colored singer with a white band?” She joined them and their first destination is ‘the South’. On their stop to have lunch, the music is country music. Country music or Western music or cowboy songs was found in Southern United States. Here we can see the application of Jim Crow laws, where the bar does not allow blacks to enter. Holiday just stands outside while the other band members are eating. Reg goes outside and shouts that she “ain’t missing a thing” as if to soothe her. Here the discrimination is not shown full frontal in the movie, not a subtext. In Bird, Charlie Parker plans to go on tour with his band to the South—Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. But the band’s comment is, “Deep south with a mixed band? We’ll get lynched!” Mixed band refers to one of the band’s members, who is a Jew. Parker undercuts the whole system of race and takes it for his own advantage.

Still in the South in the trip they meet Ku Klux Klan rallying in the street, bearing white supremacy and pro-slavery posters saying, for example ‘Free Passage to Africa’. This is one of the scariest moments, when the white-hooded people see Holiday, a negro, in the bus, break the glasses and try to hurt or even kill her. Meanwhile, she refuses to hide and instead keeps cursing them. We can read her anger as a representation of the black people in America who are oppressed by racial discrimination. She does not care of risking her life, under the threat of the dangerous organization. She could only spontaneously and emotionally convey her hatred against KKK, or racists in general. She is not featured in a Network Radio program either, she missed the slot because of two white ladies. Holiday only comments that the reason must be because the radio people want them to sell soaps, while black people, with no “bright complexion… [or] pretty white hands” do not use it. She could have been featured in the radio because skin color would not be seen, in the radio people only listen to the voice. But a man in the station is arguing with the stakeholder about her. So to be featured in a radio, although your skin color is not mention, will have a direct impact on your career.

But skin color does not matter in terms of taking drugs. Drugs did not choose its victim by the skin color. Harry finally influences Holiday to take shots and she becomes an addict. This is shown in her performance, for example she almost faints on stage, or she forgets some lyrics. She could also lose the love of McKay, who warns her since the beginning. After singing the song “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, she is faced with a dilemma between taking a shot of drugs and visiting her sick mother at the hospital. Taking drugs may be her free choice, not to say that she cannot control it, but she is not there with her mother when the latter dies. It is a similar scene in Bird when Parker’s daughter, Pree, is really sick, and he is very intoxicated. He is with another woman and cannot be at his wife’s side. He can only send telegram of his condolences.

And skin color does not mean anything for Holiday in order to perform at the “top spot” prestigious Carnegie Hall. It is a concert hall in Midtown Manhattan. Although as her agent says, she does not sing operas, she would perform there with her own style, and that is jazz. The movie finishes with the Carnegie Hall scene where the audience is clapping loudly for the lady who sings her blues. A happy ending. The movie does not tell the viewers that the real Billie Holiday died at the age of 44 because of her drug addiction problem.

Drug is also a central theme in the other two movies. Charles Parker also died of overdose, even younger than Holiday. Not only drugs, both Bird and Ray, also portray Parker’s and Ray Charles’ relation with many women. As a biographical film, Bird also depicts three-dimensional view of the character, Charles Parker both on- and off-stage. But unlike LSTB, this movie shows the growth of the artist’s skill—his failures, his experiments, and his success with his horn. In LSTB, the songs sung by Holiday are not chronological. They merely stand for the theme of her life story at certain points of time. In Ray, drug is Ray Charles’ temporary means to escape from his physical disability. He feels that hiss life is “null and void”. Being blind, Ray Charles can actually manage to survive without the help of a walking stick or a dog because he has a good memory and sharp senses. He trains himself, due to his mother’s teachings, and he does not want to be pitied. Toward the end of the movie, he realizes his mother’s advice, “never let nobody or nothing turn [him] into no cripple”. Taking drugs actually makes him a cripple, so he finally stops doing it.

Another aspect to be compared among the movies is the artists’ close relationship with the whites: Holiday and the white band, while Parker and his wife Chan as well as his colleague ‘Albino Red’. Chan could understand the creativity within Parker as her childhood was spent in Westchester, where her father owned a club. Red Rodney, the Albino, is actually not completely ‘white’ because he is a Jew, a minority in American society. Ray portrays the artist’s encounters with white people, some are racists and some not. In the beginning of the movie, Ray enters a building where a country band is rehearsing. He is not deliberately insulted for being blind, but a white man supposes that he can only play “boogie-woogie”, or dance music.

But Ray Charles’ most significant encounter with the Jim Crow laws is in 1961 in Augusta, Georgia. In the state, negroes were persecuted everyday. When he and the band arrive, there are people carrying posters demanding segregation abolishment. A journalist tells Ray Charles that the dance floor is only for the whites while the negroes have to stay in the balcony. He replies that he is merely an entertainer. But after being convinced that he can make a difference, he decides to leave the place. This is a victory for all blacks in America. Music is indeed for everybody, but the audience must be able to enjoy it freely, without any boundary. Eighteen years later, in 1979, at Georgia State Capitol, “Georgia on My Mind” is declared the official song of the State. Ray Charles “changed American culture by touching people’s hearts”. The American people accept the fact that black people is part of their society. They live on the same land and they are all equal citizens.

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker is known as the icon of jazz subgenre Bebop, as he collaborated with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Parker is an alto saxophonist born on August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas. Parker’s peak of career was in mid ‘40s. In the early 1940s, jazz musicians were looking for new directions to explore. Bebop is characterized with its “complicated chord patterns, dazzling phrases, difficult intervals and unexpected breaks.”[ii] Big bands of swing music shifted to bebop, from dance music to an art form. No longer were there huge big bands, but smaller groups that did not play for dancing audiences but for listening audiences. Parker experimented with chord progressions, faster tempos, higher notes and more dissonant tones. The movie Bird (starring Forest Whitaker) shows the ups and downs of Parker’s career. He is struggling with inventing his music while his lifestyle, especially drug abuse, is clouding him. For example, in winter 1946 in California, he had to be hospitalized due to unfamiliar surrounding; audience response to new sounds; and police crackdown on narcotics, as the report says.

From cinematic perspective, I would say that Bird is better compared to LSTB. Besides acting, Bird is also better in terms of narrative technique. Unlike LSTB which has linear plot in general, Bird utilizes non-linear plot. There are also devices of repetition to show Parker’s dark imagination. For example, a recurring image in the movie is a cymbal being thrown to the floor. This refers to when young Parker who never plays with somebody famous, does badly and the drummer has to throw a cymbal in order to stop him. This embarrassing moment is repressed in his subconscious and may be one of the causes of his self-destruction. Another depressive image evoked in the movie is a dream when young Parker is in a morgue. A man who looks like a doctor, who claims to be “worse than a prophet” pulls a drawer and shows him a dead body. He gives him, based on his experience, only 18 to 20 years of living considering Parker’s drug habit.

But among the three movies, I find Ray, directed by Taylor Hackford, more entertaining and less gloomy. It also employs repetition of scene especially to evoke the trauma Ray Charles (starred by Jamie Foxx) of witnessing his brother’s death. This trauma causes him to suffer from glaucoma and further lose his sight. The plot goes back and forth in time. The distinctive quality between the present and the past of Ray Charles is the color. In the present time, the colors are natural, while for Ray’s childhood, very vivid. This method works well as we bear in mind that he becomes blind at the age of seven. So everything that he sees in the past is as if more memorable, especially the image of colorful bottles hanging in some twigs, which occurs twice in the movie.

« If you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom, » says pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Bebop is identical to freedom as its core is improvisation, freedom to play tunes. Parker became the first modern jazz soloist by November 1949. Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Christian are called bebop or proto-bebop musicians. Parker’s blowing is very fast, and he has the sense to appropriate other kinds music into jazz. He is best known for his ability to play rests (an interval of silence in a specific duration). He could suspend the time by making tantalizing statements. Playing with silence was one of his great skills. Yet, he never overplayed it. Only sometimes he overdid astonishing cadenza runs, almost like 100 notes to a bar[iii]. Jazz gives identity for black Americans. Parker and Gillespie in the early 1940s were a rupture in the society. Gillespie says in the movie that he is a reformer. They invented something for the young, yet a disturbance for the old, or those who danced over jazz. Moreover, bebop’s relation with international world is dialectic. It draws upon European art music tradition and Parker, among others, took freely this tradition. He brings jazz to the level of European art music through appropriation and assimilation of modernist European art music[iv]. On concerts in Europe and other countries, Parker does not only bring the name of black Americans, but Americans in general.

However, as we have already seen Holiday’s bound with drugs, Parker’s self destruction leads to his grave. In the movie, Parker is not only addicted to drugs, but also takes poison to kill himself, and involves himself in a fight. His attitude can be interpreted as, Gillespie says, “trying to be a martyr”. This theme of being a martyr is also supported by the movie’s ending, that is the death of Parker. The denouement of the movie is the decline of Parker’s existence. He has to drive to a gig in Chicago as nobody would pay for his air tickets. He is infamous for his lack of reliability as he often misses gigs. Back in New York, the neighborhood has changed, all jazz bars have been turned into strip joints. R&B has changed into rock ‘n roll. Parker goes to Baroness Nica’s place, heavily intoxicated. When he dies, a reporter says Parker has a heart attack and his age is 65 (he was actually 34). So the movie romanticizes the figure of Charlie Parker, turning him into a symbolic figure. He becomes a martyr of bebop.

In LSTB, Billie Holiday has become a cult figure. This is because the last song in the movie is “God Bless the Child”. The lyric implies that the child is a separate entity, not depending on the father or the mother. But in the context of Holiday’s life, the song shows a mixture of innocence and guilt. She is like confessing her sins. On the other hand, there is a tone of being grateful to God for her talent. She was finally at the top. Black music is also a marker of blackness, it has become a cultural product that is linked to African tradition especially slavery era. Black music is affiliated with “its soulfulness, its depth of feeling or ‘realness,’ its emotional and rhythmic energy, its vocally informed instrumental inflections”[v] are born out of the pain of social life that is formed as an urge to end racial discrimination. So it speaks in two voices: creative and political.

In Seattle in 1947, in a club, “a place where the sophisti-cats and hipsters hang their bebop hats,” we meet Ray Charles. Ray is both a musician and a singer. His music comprises many genres, but he is mostly associated with soul music. Soul became enormously popular among both black and white audiences beginning in the late ’50s. It evolved until the 1970s. Some view soul as merely a new term for rhythm and blues. Actually a new generation reinterpreted the sounds of R&B, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Sam Cooke. Later James Brown became the ‘Godfather of Soul’. In 1955 Ray Charles’s breakthrough in soul music is the song “I’ve Got a Woman”. He invented this new genre by secularizing certain aspects of gospel music (chord changes, song structures, call and response techniques, and vocal screams, wails, and moans) and adding blues-based lyrics[vi]. Soul then transformed into what became known as rock and roll. The power and personality of Soul were taken by disco, funk and hip-hop styles[vii]. In the movie, we can see how controversial soul is then when Ray Charles is accused of “turning god’s music into sex” when performing “Hallelujah I Love Her So”.

Ray Charles emerged as a blues and jazz pianist, but his character was indebted to Nat King Cole in the late 1940s, as we can hear in “Mess Around”. After “I’ve Got a Woman”, his song “What’d I Say” topped the R&B sale charts in 1959. He also became popular among jazz fans, performing a set at the 1958 Newport Jazz festival in 1959. He also entered the pop market with best-sellers “Georgia on My Mind”, “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road, Jack” (1961). He even tried country music and recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962), which was sold for more than one million copies.

All the movies are not just about music. They depict the artists’ struggle with life, of which race is an inherent part. Each artist had his or her own way to cope with racialism while pursuing their career. Music becomes a means to convey their feelings and thoughts, and in the end also influences larger society. Music as Black identity is a vehicle for the Black Movement in its greater sense. The movies to a certain level also promote this through cinematic devices.


[i] Margolick, David. “Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights” in Nytimes.com

[ii] Dyson, Michael Eric, “What would America be like without 60 years of Black contributions” , EBONY Nov 2005 p. 175

[iii] Ulanov, Barry. “Jazz: Issues of Identity” in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Apr. 1979), p. 253

[iv] Smethurst, James Edward. The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.2005. University of North Carolina Press, p. 271.

[v] Radano, Ronald Michael. Lying Up a Nation: Race and Black Music. 2003. University of Chicago Press, p. xii.

[vii] “soul music.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010.

Zaim Rofiqi’s poem

MALIN KUNDANG

 

Recognizing the desert, without meet, without landing

— the only possible non-stop flight

Not having

Chairil Anwar

Do you feel safe?

Or feel there’s no way out?

 

In the hometown

everything neat is indeed still stretched

gracefully

like it used to:

The road’s bends that he has known closely

the alleys that fail to scare him

the faces that do not sow threats

indeed, sometimes, hesitation flashes

when the earth, faces, homes

as if luring:

“Please stay, Sir.

Don’t you want tranquility?”

Yet he already adventured

and the worry he brought from the next harbor

had dispersed, hot

like smallpox

he wanted to keep going

as the worsening hot smallpox

has made him understand:

“This village is not the way back

I’ve traded my dreams

thrown everything that is neat

and flew – perhaps alone – stopping by a land by land

for something I myself don’t understand.”

 

2004


 

ICARUS 

I.

Let’s do it, it’s time

to reshape everything,

also our faces.

It’s time

to flap our wings,

slowly soar

high, and higher

here, high in the air

I know

the labyrinth is just an old story

scattered chaos

no longer

unnerve us

now

I know

with these wings

the sky is revealed

with these wings

the tempest doesn’t terrify us

with these wings

even the azure will shut

 

II.

No, no need to ask

where to?

In the sky

with these twin wings

the wings of dream and hope

I know

I’m not a kite

there won’t be a thread anymore

that drags us

to the left, to the right

with these twin wings

the horizon is no more frightening

with these twin wings

even Olympia is conquered

 

III.

No, Father, you don’t need to come back

crawling, creeping

in the old labyrinth

here, up above the sky

there will be a palace

here

we will build a palace

grander

than Olympia’s ridge

now, let me fly swiftly

high, higher

although I know

these wings

are not as strong as the sun

now, let me be

higher

although I know

this dream

will be ablaze

burned

by the sun

2005


 

KALI 

I found you in every face of a shudra

affectionate, your eyes didn’t say a word

warm, still same

–in my body a tomb lies.

wildly black. flashy frangipanis, scattered.

an unknown tomb. twin headstones.

pleasures radiates. the pleasures of bushes. eternal—

(she lost the east

for after the dawn

you kept on meditating)

I touched you in every hug of a kshatriya

your nipples, your breasts, your body hair, your sighs, your twists,

your navel, your embrace, your lips, your bites,

your testicles, your moan, your sweats, your odor

and thus I love you

–in my body there is a hermit temple. a garden lies.

The scent of grass spreading around.

And there, you can tame your wild thoughts—

(you left her
crawling, sobbing
groping the south
when in the peak of the day,
you still meditate, ignoring the streets)

I saw you in every lick of a vaisya
your eyes, eclipses
burned the wild lusts
your voices, earthquakes
muffled the passions of Eva

–in my body stands a hut of exile.

encircles, the rural breeze. scent radiates

from two splitting rivers—

(tired.

the light tells of dusk

yet she has not found the north)

I felt you in every kiss of a Brahmin

your praising chant pumps my bloodstream

but your silence shrivels my nipples

–in my body there is a purgatory. burns the pious’ sins.

the original sins—

(she felt the west

when everything came close

to the dusk

the robe’s color of the being)

1999


WANG FO 

I.

Between the ripe orange and drunken people’s faces

Ling, there are something we manage to seize:

the colors, the tastes, the forms that feel fresh in the lids,

that make us refuse to lose

although outside, the storm enrages.

So

through canvas,

Ling, through shellac and brush

together we soar and voyage, fly or float

catching vapors in the face of a stall guest in anguish

painting dusk and hills

dragonflies, flowers, or flock of birds

let’s go, Ling, let’s wade

while your age, body, and mind are still buds

before the sunrise turns sunset and sunset shuts

while birds and dragonflies are still hanging

and darkness comes whispering death

let’s profuse and kiss life

as now, Ling, we finally understand

among the colors of noon, the cherries, and the face of the jealous Emperor

something is in fact eternal

like the bright sun, the parrot’s cheer and the lily’s splendor

in the painting we manage to enter

II.

No, no, this isn’t hell,

Ling, just an interval

a moment when the canvas and the sketch, the brush and Chinese ink

must fight against King’s eyes

to dissolve or immortalize, to eliminate or exalt the colors

dusk and women, flowers or ocean’s waves.

And we know, Ling, thus, the King is furious:

“The world only pile of stain!

Thrown into vacuum room

by a mad painter.”

So, Ling, before everything is gone

before the King’s fury burns all the colors

let’s go, we both spread the ark

gone swallowed by colors, sketches and forms

in the canvas that is now perfect

2002

 

 

Translated by Indah Lestari

Joko Pinurbo

Here are some of the translated poems of Indonesian poet Joko Pinurbo.

For the Indonesian version, click here.

ON THE WAY

On the way between the bedroom and the bathroom

We met after waiting for each other long.

She came back from bath, I was going to bath.

Her steps suddenly stopped, her sight hesitated

And I was astonished between nervous and crave.

“Hi, how are you?” we said in chorus.

We bumped into each other, hugging under faint lights.

It was midnight. The house was like a grave.

Dogs were barking. Clock was trembling, terrified.

“Don’t go to the bathroom. You’ll be skinned there.

Follow me to the bedroom. Your pain I will devour.”

“But the bedroom has fallen apart. You will be ruined there.

Join me cruising to the bathroom. Your pain I will devour.”

We were squabbling like foes wanting to beat the other.

“You bastard. I waited long in the bedroom,

you were having great time meditating in the bathroom.”

“Damn you. I waited long in the bathroom,

you were having great time crouching in the bedroom.”

“What if we wrestle in the bedroom?”

“It’s more fun to fight in the bathroom.”

On the way between the bedroom and the bathroom

We did not know who would die first.

(2001)

OR

When I was about to enter the bathroom, from behind the door

a pretty lady in white suddenly appeared

thrusting a knife to my throat.

“Love or life?” she threatened.

“Give me a chance to bath first, Lady,”

I begged her, “to cleanse myself from sin.

Then, you can rape me.”

After I took bath, the lady vanished.

She’s nowhere to see. I came back anxious:

Could she be waiting on the way to ambush me?

What sin did I commit? I never hurt a woman

except when I was born.

When I was about to enter the bedroom, from behind the door

a bald lady in white suddenly appeared

thrusting a knife to my throat.

“Rape or life?” she threatened.

I panicked, I replied randomly, “I choose OR!”

She cackled. “You’re smart,” she said. Then

She kissed my neck and said, “Sleep tight,

my joy and sorrow. I will return to your dreams.”

(2001)

LAY EGGS

With a lot of struggles, finally I

could lay egg. It came out safe,

pitch black.

I am a farmer: everyday

I breed words, and I have not found the word

that could say us.

The word I was looking for, they said, was inside this egg.

I sat on my egg on the bed of words that long had not

given birth to words. I sat on it every night

until I was feverish and my mouth full of babble.

When I sit on my egg, it quietly

jumps, springs on the floor,

then slowly rolls over to the toilet,

and when it almost plunges into the drain

I quickly snatch it and bring it back to the bed.

Where’s my egg? Suddenly a lot of people felt

having lost their egg and thought I stole it

from their bed.

Ah, the egg of words, the egg of woes, finally you hatch.

You bulge, hatch, spill blood.

That’s not my egg! They said.

(2001)

EID HOMECOMING

This May I will come over to my house.

As Father said, “Grandma is missing you, come home!”

Time is so plain and simple sometimes:

Mother was putting dusk on the window.

Grandfather was pouring rain in the yard.

Father was picking me up at some station.

Who’s in the bathroom?

Children were singing, blaring.

Grandmother is dying.

Her body laid peacefully in the pray room,

her cute favorite dolls standing next to her.

“Hey, our bastard is home!” said the lion doll

who still looked sturdy, and she only shivered

when I stroke her hair.

Father had not yet come, while the taxi

that picked me up was waiting by the door.

Farewell, Grandma, goodbye everybody.

Take care of yourself. My regards to beloved father.

On the way to the station I saw father

looking around in the rickshaw, his face

looked older; the rickshaw drove in great haste.

From the taxi’s window I waved at father,

I kissed my palm once, I waved;

he also kissed his palm then waved at me

advising me to be safe in the trip.

So plain and simple, that I did not realize

drops of time were shed off my eyes.

“Your late grandmother took

this taxi yesterday,” said the quiet driver,

who turned out to be my ex-teacher.

(2001)

THE LAST PASSENGER

For Joni Ariadinata

 

Every time I go to my hometown, I always meet the rickshaw puller

who stands by under that banyan tree and ask him

To take me to the places I like.

I don’t know why I really like roaming with his rickshaw.

Maybe because the pedaling is smooth, so the pace is steady.

That night I asked him to take me to a cemetery.

I would strew flowers on the grave of ancestor.

The grave’s location was quite far and I worried that the rickshaw puller

Would be exhausted, but the old man said relax relax.

All the way the rickshaw puller kept telling stories

about his children who travelled to Jakarta

and now thankfully have been successful.

They were busy sought by money and came home only occasionally.

Even if they did, they might not sleep at home

as they were busy with this and that, including seeking loan

for transport fare to go back to the capital.

Only halfway, he was already losing his breath,

his cough bombarded, his head was spinning,

poor him. “Let me pedal, Sir.

You just sit properly, pretending you’re the passenger.”

I put myself out pedaling the old rickshaw to the cemetery,

while the rickshaw puller was sleeping comfortably, maybe even

dreaming, in his own rickshaw.

Reaching the cemetery, I yelled, “Come on, wake up, Sir!”

but the passenger master was just still, even slept more deeply.

I did not know whether I would strew the flowers I brought

on my ancestor’s grave or over the dead body

of the lonely rickshaw puller.

(2002)

MIDNIGHT PHONE CALL

The phone was ringing persistently, I let it.

I had received the call many times and asked

“Who’s speaking?” the reply was only “Who’s this?”

There was a phone call, long and loud,

inside my chest.

“Who’s this, calling in the middle of the night?

Disturbing people.”

“It’s mother, my child. How are you?”

“Mother! Where are you?”

“In here.”

“Inside the phone?”

“Inside your pain.”

Ah, it seems my sleep would be tight.

Tonight my pain will sleep tight.

(2004)

IN OTHER WORDS

Arriving at the railway station, I instantly took a motorbike-taxi.

Maybe it’s good luck, maybe it’s bad luck, I got

a motorbike-taxi rider who, gosh, was my school history teacher.

“Oh, the master from Jakarta comes back to hometown,”

he said. I was embarrassed and felt awkward.

“You don’t mind taking me to my house?”

It was very comfortable being taken home by him

in no time the motorbike stopped in front of my house.

Ah, I wanted to give him some remarkable amount.

Not my luck. I had not opened my wallet, he already

excused himself and vanished just like that.

In the terrace Father was reading the newspaper attentively.

The newspaper looked so tired being reach by him that the letters

came off and fell to the ground, scattered on the yard.

Out of the clear blue sky, Father suddenly

stood up and shouted at me, “In other words,

you will never be able to pay your teacher.”

(2004)

NEW YEAR’S TRUMPET

Mother and I walked around down town

to celebrate on new year’s eve.

Father preferred staying at home alone

as he had to accompany the calendar

in its last moments.

Ay, I found a purple trumpet

lying on the side of the street.

I picked it up

and cleaned it with the bottom of my shirt.

I blew it repeatedly, yet it didn’t make a sound.

Why this trumpet is mute, Mother?

Maybe because it’s made of calendar paper, my child.

(2006)

Translated by Indah Lestari