Translation Tuesday: Three Poems by Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas (UWRF Feature)

Breaking News. / outside, the universe is dark. it is Real.

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

water bottle


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

plastic boxes

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

to think


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

beware pickpockets

and snacks in plastic wraps


persons, in many shapes, walk

on pavements,

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

old newspapers

the other carries a new newspaper

under an arm

awaited by piles of documents

awaited by assemblages

of people


for lunch

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.

Breaking News.

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.


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