Translation Tuesday: Three Poems by Cyntha Hariadi (UWRF Feature)

you materialize an ocean / and I, a fish inside.

Welcome to the seventh and final installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part collaboration with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival to showcase previously untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. This week, we feature three poems by award-winning Indonesian writer Cyntha Hariadi, translated by Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Indonesia, Norman Erikson Pasaribu.

We suggest reading installments onetwothreefourfive, and six of the series if you haven’t already. We also recommend the final reflection by Festival attendees Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Australia.


they used to paw the sky, squeeze the clouds

they fought the wild crows, bargained with the gatekeeper of heaven


these hands—they took down the moon, put it here to light this bedroom

they tickled the sun, so it shone longer, brighter


now, they cave in every time I raise them up

they squeal in pain at the mere task of tying up my hair


sewn-up to this chest, they can only wait

for the saviour to stop its never-ending sob



Only a white bucket:

round, 15 cm in height, 30 cm in diameter

I fill it with water

full in just a short time


I lift you up

and make you sit inside

your legs bend

as if in a bowl


Six little plastic bowls

all in different colours

with holes under them, on the side

small holes, big holes


You take water, you pour water


you materialize an ocean

and I, a fish inside.


Marker and Paper

I wake up


where are you

who usually move from your room to my room

waiting for my eyes to open

so devoted

after such a long night’s journey.


The ears catch a sound

of scratching on paper

soft, so soft, but stops and then goes silent

then swells, like a crazy violin

it rips through the ears

tears down the morning

which remains in repose.


Your mouth kisses the paper

your long hair sweeps over it

your index and middle finger pinch the marker

and you are at the wheel, pointing where it needs to go

as if all this is a car racing

you don’t look up at me

I’ve become air

so you can find you.


Cyntha Hariadi is an Indonesian writer of poetry and short fiction. A graduate of the New School for Social Research, her first book of poems, Ibu Mendulang Anak Berlari [Mother Feeds, Child Flees], won third prize in the 2015 Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Book Manuscript Competition. She also has a book of short fiction, Manifesto Flora [Flora’s Manifest], and is currently writing a novel.

Norman Erikson Pasaribu is an Indonesian writer, translator, and editor. Tiffany Tsao’s English translation of his first book of poems, Sergius Seeks Bacchus, received a PEN Translates Award and is forthcoming from Tilted Axis Press. This is his first published translation of an Indonesian literary work into English.


Read more translations from the Asymptote blog: