from Sergius Seeks Bacchus

Norman Erikson Pasaribu

He and the Tree

That afternoon he apologized to the only tree in the company parking lot
which sheltered his car from the sun. He wanted to make amends for his grandpa
who owned the palm oil company, for his family who believed a carpenter
was the son of god. The tree began to weep and think of his childhood friend,
ripped from the ground because he was “too close to the foundation.”
From afar they would check on each other and wink and dream about being grownup:
the birds and butterflies would alight on their branches and leafbuds
and would help them send each other messages back and forth.
The tree regretted not telling his friend he loved him.
He wanted to bring him to a church. At the altar they would be joined together
before god, who had three branches—like a tree—and their children would fill
the parking lot, every square inch, so that one day everyone who passed by
would think a forest had sprung up in the middle of the city. The man hugged the tree,
the tree hugged the man.

Sergius Seeks Bacchus

Like a snake shedding a temporary skin
you embark/carry on your quest. Now the light overhead

passes through you. You glow translucent and far away in the west

in the dying city of Rome Galerius doesn’t know his end is near.

You are seeking someone who means the world to you
who came to your prison cell in his silvery body, whispering Don’t give up

I will always be with you. Together you will
ascend to heaven and feel familiarity

for the first time. The two of you will hold hands
and introduce each other in the full sight of all.


what are You looking for in this dark place
                                                                                                   besides the weeping and gnashing of teeth
Your face is so innocent
                                                                                                   there is nothing in You at all
You come here crying Virgil! Virgil!
                                                                                                   You’re in the middle of Your life
young and lost    You want to
                                                                                                   find a way to grow Old
reach an age where the world is no longer mysterious:
                                                                                                   1) give up those who don’t understand You
because You will understand Yourself
                                                                                                   2) give up those who don’t love You
because You will love Yourself
                                                                                                   You want to stop reaching
stop choking on the water of life
                                                                                                   and live a normal life    so short already
You know pretty poems are only found in books
                                                                                                   where the heaven they talk about    Exists
in poems that don’t talk about You


His father was convinced this was His punishment                   after everything that He had done

all the mistakes, obscene acts, and sins    but                               He still loved the man

after everything that had happened to Him                                  how labyrinthine feeling is!

He was sure of His life to come                                                        God would know He wasn’t wrong

it was a blessing from the Tree of Knowledge                               He was just following directions

He could decipher all the hieroglyphs about Himself                 from every cell of his being


He                  is here
is with            all
Those Lost & those never

Curriculum Vitae 2015

                                                                                               The world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.
                                                                                                                                                  —Lisel Mueller

1) Three months before he was born the Romanian dictator and his wife were executed before a firing squad. To this day his mother still talks about it.

2) When he was a boy he fell from a tree. Ever since, his earliest memory of his father was himself in school uniform, squatting on the toilet. The roots lay in his first day of school—he was five and right before they set off he told his father he needed to poop.

3) The first thing he learned at school watching all the girls during recess was that there was a girl inside him. He thought when he grew up his penis would dissolve and her breasts would sprout.

4) He didn’t say much and only learned to read when he was finishing second grade. In front of a friend of his mother’s, the mother of one of his friends called him “the stupid one.” His mother’s friend told his mother and when he was grown up his mother told him.

5) He was bad at making friends and spent most of his time reading and playing Nintendo and Sega. The first book he read was a book of Japanese folktales.

6) Some parents in his neighborhood refused to let their children play with him and his brothers because their family was Bataknese and Christian.

7) He had no friends and didn’t realize how sad this was.

8) His father beat him regularly. One day he eavesdropped on his parents—his father was concerned about the way he acted which he said was girly. He looked in the mirror, to the little girl within, and saw it was good.

9) One time his father kicked him and sprained an ankle. His father didn’t go to work. His mother said he was the source of all the problems in their household.

10) One Sunday morning his father took him and his brothers to jog and play soccer on a badminton court nearby. “You faggot,” his father screamed in front of everyone.

11) He accepted that he was a failure. His first suicide attempt occurred the day before he started middle school.

12) He got into the best high school in the city where all the government officials sent their children. His friends from middle school started avoiding him. The bud of loneliness blossomed into first love.

13) Not long after he graduated from college he discovered the rest of the Bataknese community called him “the faggot” behind his back.

14) When he was twenty-two depression hit. One night he lost his memory. His brother found him at a gas station near the shopping mall.

15) He ran away from home and found a book by Herta Müller in a bookstore in Jakarta. Herta wrote about Ceauşescu’s Securitate. It reminded him of his mother. He then read every English translation of Herta’s books and loved them all.

16) As he approached his twenty-third birthday, for reasons he didn’t understand, he felt he was male. And he saw it wasn’t bad.

17) He moved back in with his parents.

18) He went back to work and began writing again. In a novel-writing class he met you, the man who loves him.

19) His father sold the motorbike he was leasing from his workplace to marry his mother. He hoped to use the royalties from his books to marry you.

20) He will grow old. You will grow old. You both will grow old and be wed before the Three-Branched God—the tree-like God—and have a child named Langit. Your descendants will fill the Earth so that whenever anyone is walking in the dark by themself they will hear, from every window on every building on both sides of the street, voices reaching out—“Salam!” “Salam!” “Salam!”

translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao