A Telegram for the Southern Cross in Sixty-Seven Parts

Khairani Barokka

Illustration by Gianna Meola

Part One: Do You

A telegram for the Southern Cross in sixty-seven parts. Part one in thirty-seven bits.

Pointed stars in a swath of blue sky, Southern Cross, do you know?

(Words “Do you know?” spelled out in background of performance.)

Do you know the kindness and the cold in a bowl of hot noodles?

The hilarity of our slang, the ways we pass the time in the village and on the road, the dominoes played in the dust?

Do you know how much seething in silence and blood it took from the birth of a culling to democracy, whether or not you know we are one, how we are still trying, seventeen years after naming freedom, to cut off the gangsters’ threads at the source?

Do you know the gold running through the veins of Papua, skeined with blood and hunger?

The fast-breaking sessions that are only for men who love men?

About the women who’ve been staring down a cement plant, where there is no need for a watery mess of calcined lime and clay, where there are mouths to water and food to take to mouths?

Do you know that Benoa Bay will crumble at the heels unless it stops a mad slide into shopland, cashier havens, how they plan to dig in deeper into an island at the brink?

That leaders and minions are playing games with necks at the noose and land carved in chunks to keep their children shiny and warm?

Do you know the mass graves in Bali, hidden under Bintang bottles and the smell of sesajen offerings?

Do you know how our grandfathers prayed our grandmothers wouldn’t forget them in a prison they didn’t deserve? Every free day after a love story.

Do you know the names of Javanese mythological figures—the disabled ones, revered? And the girls in twenty-first-century cities they watch over sighing, one whose parents make her take a cold shower in the morning so her difference might go dark? Do you know how unloved we are for our difference, while the gods watch and sigh, and people different in other ways stand and pat our heads, and say it will all be okay?

Do you know which people you follow online played down the rape of young female students, turned their heads? Slowed the courts glacial, slowed the cops?

Do you know our history of movement, our cousins we forget about in South Africa brought there as slaves, the Javanese in Suriname who know more of their language than half the kids in South Jakarta?

Do you know the Bugis’ travels to your land before many of you even arrived?

The multitudes of things we don’t know about you, the multitudes who never give a thought to Australia in a day with a family's mouths to feed?

Do you know it costs fifty thousand rupiah a day for a child to travel by motorcycle taxi to the nearest high school, how his parents make thirty thousand rupiah?

Can you trace the sediment leeching into the rivers with the sweat of newcomers to the city? Do you know how to get there with only your body and the clothes on your back?

Do you know that our maps go browner by the tonne, the stringy, fine line between green and greedy?

Do you know how to feel the spleen of a farmer begging her daughter not to sell their land?

Do you know the guilt that comes with speaking English, when we don’t ask our children to read Kartini’s Letters of a Javanese Princess in school?

Do you know that we’ve always had feminists? That for hundreds of years we’ve had Muslim feminists, always had a false history of feminists, a man-told history of feminists?

Do you know how much false history we were fed as children on September 30 of every year, and all the days until the next September 30, when even as a nine-year-old I was told that communist women cut the genitalia of war-hero men?

Do you know how many deaths we blink and move on from, from a lifetime of blinking and moving on from them, passing trauma down through the veins of the next child to come up for air?

Do you know the food we sustain life with? The glorious rendang, ayam penyet, sagu in dozens of ways served up? The desserts like a song on the tongue. The names of foods we forget, but not their taste like a hand on the chest.

Do you know how a coin with cajuput oil is used to rub red raw into a woman’s back, and this is a way of letting “the wind out,” and this is another form of keeping health, staying alive? Do you know what it feels to touch a longhouse, and hear soft sighs from the next family down, and that this is a form of keeping, of staying?

Southern Cross, do you know all the ways we are wrong? The ways you can be wrong and the ways we can too, the way neither of us know what’s anathema to either of us all of the time, or sometimes at all? “Anathema!” just to say it.

Do you know what is anathema to you? What is anathema to us? What it was to the people who lived on your lands before you could spit on them, your ancestors, whether they lived to be spit on the same land they first came to life upon, refugees, our ancestors humming up trade and faith and strange purpose from Viet Nam, the Middle East, the swords of the Portuguese and the bayonets of the Japanese, the “Dutch East Indies” for 350 years?

Anathema upon anathema, anathema. Each year a different enemy. Each year the same.

Do you know how the Javanese colonise the dreams and homes of the rest, of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of native tongues, how power is rent through the owning of a voice?

Do you know some songs for us, the children’s songs, is “Waltzing Matilda” a children’s song? Do you know that “Topi Saya Bundar” and “Burung Kakatua” are in fact the same melody? Let me show you:

“Topiiiii sayaaaa bundarrrr . . .”
“Burunnnng kakaaaatuaaa . . .”

One is a song about a hat. One is a song about a parrot.

Do you have a song about beef, about boats, about Bali? Is there a song about spying, about the warming of seas, about skins and languages caught up in straits? Are there the same notes in the strain?

We’re told certain things are anathema. Do we live in a different way entirely? By anathema, we live, we live by what’s anathema, survival by keeping something, keeping something else a different tune. That’s how we know ourselves, and what questions to ask and what skills to hone, everyone looking for “anathema,” to help us make sense of the world alone in the pit of the universe, a Southernmost Hemisphere. Go define yourself by an enemy, a door you can’t open, we were taught, you and I. Where do you keep things prisoner? Where do you hold your questions aloft in your arms?

Do you ask us what anathema is? Do we ask you? What do we ask you, and what will you say? Will you say it? Do you know it?

Do you?

Part Two: Will You

A telegram for the Southern Cross in sixty-seven parts. Part two in thirty bits.

(Words “WILL YOU” spelled out in background of performance.)

Will your love for us know no funding cycles?

Will you try to speak our hundreds of languages with the same vigour with which you might try to speak your hundreds of Aboriginal languages?

If we preach at you from a moralistic high ground, will you do the same?

If our hearts ache, will you send over a cuppa, preheated with natural resource disputes?

If our tectonic plates break to weeping at the seams in the year two thousand and fifty-three, will you throw us a blanket of care, as though your actual grassy backyard shook?

Will you learn how to open your mouth to us and let us touch your face?

Will you shut the doors and batten down the hatches, batter up for swinging at heads, barricade the windows, sweep up the sandals from the front of the door and give them away, will you ask us to stay?

Will you listen to our silences and drink our forbidden drinks, know a fraction of our loves, see us kiss the hands of our mothers at Idul Fitri?

Will you cut our aid like a movie scene? Will you send us batik kangaroos?

Will you snap yourselves silly on the beaches strewn with Bintangs, and hug a temple demon you paid enough to get to?

Would you lie down with us on the grass, and watch the fire light up shadow puppets all night long in mythologies?

Will you know rumour and mystery as gospel and stone?

Will you lie down with us in a quiet room that smells of sesajen offerings, while you learn how to massage our feet?

Will you shun the children who don’t know a thing about what all the fire and smoke are about for that ceremony yesterday, who laugh anyway?

Will you support us as we try to protect our churches and Ahmadiyah from harm, ourselves from early marriage, early deaths with early labour?

Will you read of how our sins clash and cleave, of how we want to stand our own ground, of how we treat our own like queens and filth, do you claim the same?

Will you recall your emissaries and send them right back? 

Will we wrap our songs around our backs, and wrap you in ours as well?

Will you face our hijabied hips and dance slow?

Will you doubt our tortured geniuses, and paint them over with a bottlebrush?

Will you sign up to live and die, for one day each, in one of our faiths, the faiths that turn our backs on us and hold us in their arms?

Will you realise how the eyes of a time-softened woman tell of singing a tune about a growing thing, taken for a call to arms—then sudden imprisonment, sudden violation?

Will you learn the names of our medicinal plants, of dead species, of our mothers and fathers without surnames, our sisters and brothers with surnames to fill in bureaucratic forms with, will you learn how to cook our soto dishes, watch our seventies’ comedy films, obsess over our celebrities, will you learn the name of our president and the twists and turns on a throne we watch and try to steer with the balls of our eyes, the balls of our feet as we exhaust them on the way to work?

Will you sit with us at dinner beyond the land of the strategic, order avocado juice spiked with chocolate sauce, help debone our big fish to fry, feel our fingers past the breath of security guards, the starch of immigration officers’ uniforms, taxi windows rolled up to the hilt?

Will you see into the eyes of the cattle and down all wiretapped cables and through the skirts of Eat-Pray-Love ladies in Bali who can’t name the next province over, and under the hulls of the boats of the girls you don’t help ashore, and over all extant anathema?

Will you watch more of our 17,000 islands sink without a trace, just to keep wary?

Will we ever watch over each other with the hairs on our arms just touching?

Will you turn latitude, circumference, longitude, and equatorial orientation to see the sky from where we are, the sea from under our feet half in it, the strange weight of neighbouring a continent, of borders, felt from under our skin?

Will you turn your face up, pour some of your time into the loud, permutating, life-filled dark behind our eyes, behind yours?

Please, take your time. Write back.