Welcome to the third installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—our Translation Tuesday series showcasing Indonesian literature, brought to you in partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This week’s feature: poetry by festival guest Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, translated by past Asymptote contributor Mikael Johani. If you are joining these amazing writers and translators, don’t forget that you can save 20% on the 4-Day Pass by entering the code MPAS at the online checkout!
soap bubbles float in the air explode
on the tip of my toes
a scavenger collects rubbish from tiny barrels crams them into oversized
plastic hessian bags
washes his hands with water from a half-empty mineral
mums run around, carry hello kitty backpacks, ben ten water bottles,
an extra change of clothes, a tiny towel
kids scream and shriek they want to buy baby turtles kept in colourful transparent
a tourist photographer presses the shutter on his camera
ten thousand rupiahs per photo
and always you forget to smile
little girls up on a stage their hands their feet move
to the rhythm
pink cheeks drops of sweat on their round noses
teachers raise their hands the kids are winning
brass plated trophies, you can get your own copy forty thousand rupiahs each
you rub sweat off the back of your neck and pat your daughter on the head
or is that a hard-boiled egg
suddenly the world feels so new
the sun boils the ocean the foam of the waves chases
tire floats brown feet on blackened sand
which feet were once the tail of a fish? no one has time
buses crowd the parking lot the drivers sleep
in luggage compartments
take out, wait, put back in
dreams drenched in sweat
you nod, as a way of greetings or saying sorry,
you never know
one day everything will become a long lost radio signal from a boat that has sunk to the bottom of a fairytale too monstrous for children’s ears
there’s a long line for balloons
fried chicken and rice in boxes
oily hands cradling mobile phones
and snacks in plastic wraps
persons, in many shapes, walk
one follows the other
one overtakes the other
the other sits on the marbled front of an office
the other slips fritters
into a paper bag made from
the other carries a new newspaper
under an arm
awaited by piles of documents
awaited by assemblages
there is no lunch
there is no dinner
tomorrow wake up early
there is no breakfast
The God of Small Things
a Surreal Afternoon. when Sunlight falls like a see-through
shawl—Lipstick and Fuchsia Nail Paints,
my Mother’s. Strawberry Ice Cream. her Tutu. and your Kisses, of course. hot
on my lips, cheeks. Wet, Sweet like Lollipops.
i miss you. it feels like someone is pumping a Birthday Balloon slowly
right next to my heart. i’m trying to paint you a picture, but i can’t: it’s like
Hope is walking down the street, with a limp—i’m torn between Happy
the Balloon is nearly, fully pumped, and Worried what if it explodes before it’s
perfectly, beautifully, a Balloon.
Something is Wrong. as if the world and its
overactive volcanoes can hear your thoughts: in a conspiracy
to work out what’s going to happen to you
next. that makes you helpless, like a Feather
Floating in the wind.
but What Really Gets Under My Skin is knowing that no one,
not even you, can hear the Electrical Storm in my Mind and the endless
chant of the I-Love-You mantra in my Head.
i wonder, do you ever feel like this. i wonder
even, if there’s the tiniest bit of Possibility that you have ever felt
The Same Thing for me. oh i know, i know, all this is just a Cheap
i give up. i put away the things i Want. i put You away.
i’m locking you out of the Cells
of my Brain.
i turn on the TV.
outside, the universe is dark. it is Real.
Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas was born in Jakarta on 19 August 1979. She received her master’s degree in the Gothic Imagination from the University of Stirling in Scotland in 2005. She co-founded Komunitas BungaMatahari in 2000, one of the first online poetry communities in Indonesia, famous for its motto “Semua bisa berpuisi” (“Poetry for all”). A translation of one of her poems, “one by one the bodies died”, by Mikael Johani, received Honourable Mention from the 2018 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry. She received the 2018 WrICE fellowship from RMIT University.
Mikael Johani is a poet, critic, and translator from Jakarta, Indonesia. His works have been published in Asymptote, The Johannesburg Review of Books, Ajar (Hanoi), Vice Indonesia, Kerja Tangan (Kuala Lumpur), Murmur, Selatan, Popteori, Vita Traductiva (Toronto), What’s Poetry?, Bung!, and others. His poetry book, “We Are Nowhere And It’s Wow”, was published by Post Press in 2017. He’s working on “mongrel kampung”, his second poetry collection, which will feature mostly codeswitching poems. He is one of the winners of the 2018-19 Emerging Translator Mentorships Programme from the UK’s National Centre for Writing.
Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:
- Translation Tuesdays: An Excerpt from Nayla by Djenar Maesa Ayu (UWRF Feature)
- Translation Tuesdays: “Searching for Herman” by Dee Lestari (UWRF Feature)
- Translation Tuesdays: An Excerpt from “The Memory Artist” by Katherine Brabon