Document Shredding Museum
A paper on which I paint a field of stars,
it’s gray, the place where Tenzin Phuntsok
self-immolated. Making grayer the gray of
the paper. A paper on which I paint the mouth
of a field of fish, it’s gray, the place where
Chakgragunasegaran self-immolated. Making
grayer the gray of the paper. The dictatorship
of gray paper produces a putrid odor that plummets
from the sky. As if there’s carrion perpetually
worshipped in the gray of the sky, a remembrance
between a mung bean and a sunflower. Dragonflies
flutter around, above a tall fence, immeasurable,
between me and all me’s. Make a morning from
a dictionary emptied of names for time. Make a
shrine over fact’s death.
December is a straight ruler, very straight,
and broken in its straightness. A break
hidden in its fracture, a break that
looks out at stillness from its fracture.
And wind, and what groans below a ruler,
and speaking, and tomorrow—January—January—will
come along a past path. A path of scents
of spices, sugar, coffee, tobacco. Tobacco
that makes you cry all the way to the strait of Malacca.
Remember ships without rulers, remember the clop
of a horse carriage measuring your sorrow. About
December’s statement, very straight and broken
in its straightness. And wind. Wind that
embroiders time from its rift.
Recall wind above a ruler and wind
below a ruler. And those that embroider
the rifts from break to break. A soul that changes
when time no longer follows movement: all
you’ve thrown remains in your hands. Break.
Recall above a ruler. All you’ve seen
remains in your eyes. Break. Recall
below a ruler. All you’ve said makes
your tongue like December bounding to
January. Recall pieces of December
that pick themselves up below a ruler
above a ruler. Break away from all
you’ve explained across from today.
December, December, a ruler that’s stillness
That’s straight and that’s broken. That measures
all fractures. That looks out at January
like the ruler measuring your heartbeat.
That’s not itself when it sees, when it sees a ruler
craft fields of stars across from today.
FOR SIR LIFE
I boil rice to feed my
dogs. It reminds me sometimes of hungry moments
—“good evening gentlemen gut wo-
rms”—I pick up each grain of spilled
rice. Gather them one by one to
build a fortress on the tip of my tongue.
Haul in all the feelings about human
life. A hungry ceremony on the list of fears
all gathered together.
Circling round a hungry stove.
BIRTHDAY WITH WIANTA
We always have parties with the gods
here. Swim in a language that always says
good morning to the bathroom. Our gods are made
of enzymes and vitamin C. The smell of coffee when our
dad’s dead body begins to burn. Our prayers don’t cast
aspersions on others. To the joyous
swimming pool, to the honorable electrical pole, to-
day we read aloud the Constitution. 1945 with a state ID card and
a credit card in our hands. The noise of currency from
sundry states, the global gold standard and the global gold standard terrify
our land. We make a carving of the rise and fall
of stock prices. We dance with the gods
here, sing with trees whose roots
break through to recollections of
time and every parting.
To wise and righteous enzymes and vitamin C, to
a bedroom that escapes from a blackout,
today we birthday with our childhoods.
Tomorrow we pick up a guest from Russia, examine
brain vibrations and mask dances. The economy carries on
like a shoe that’s been mistaken for the Japanese language
in a restaurant. Tomorrow, we birthday again,
like kids celebrating . . . our nation
is free. Free to take a holiday from history
and install electrical poles at the bottom of the sea.
VOICES THAT WALK ON MIRRORS
A morning. A road that goes by and comes back, is a
road. On the outskirts of the word, in the membrane separating
looking glass from mirror. The road to morning. An unrecurring
morning. Made of paper cuttings. Waking a
star. A star in your room.
A star that leaves its light on a blank page.
Not working, it dives intensively into idleness. A star. Not mov-
ing. It revolves above a measuring stick of darkness.
Leaving its galaxy among light and seeing. Momentum
in a telescope’s alley. A morning. A morning that goes by,
unable to grasp separation.
A star. A whispering star. Voice caught
in the waves of your history. Waves of dust in the friction
of fire on fire. Your history and a keris stabbing. A shriek from the voices
of freedom and faceless masses. Merchant ships
sinking. Mass graves. A morning. Communication
tools that bring storms of speech. Theories of killing
kept in knife handles.
A star. Light that perpetually wanders in the dark.
Astronomical footprints hidden outside the light. Traversing
streams of gas. Explosions of ice. Explosions of dust behind the hush
of a blank page. Love that goes and comes back with voices on
Field of darkness. Black orbits. A star.
A star taking its own life. Among the hush of
neutrons and protons that keep watch over silence. Among the morning
that’s almost morning again. A humanity on the edge of its own shadow.
Hushed. Alone with the alone.
Nearly there, what goes by and comes back
GUEST OF A TIME
Time’s movement is slowing here. It’s like I’m
waiting for someone to either open the door or
make the door. I can see my breath moving
and my breath inhales fresh air in the yard
in front of time slowing here. But I’m no
longer here and time is no longer moving slowly.
I’m in front of the entrance to the international airport
which is still closed at 3 a.m. not here. Time goes back
to slowing down and I go back to being here,
without the international airport at 3 a.m. I can
see my breath moving to gather my earlier
breath which was made between either slow
time or fast time.
I’m here and then I go out to the street that’s
no longer here. Here I no longer see
when I go out to the street that’s no longer
here. Why do I go out and see here
no longer. Now I’m approached by a cat of
a cat that earlier didn’t approach and wasn’t here
before. That cat, its eyes are like a boar that
wants to take out my intestines and why am I thinking
as if seeing an action that isn’t
enacted, and making time even
I’m already not here, now, here, when time ro-
tates again to the number 2 after the number 2
it passes by. But I’m still here and the number 2 isn’t
going anywhere. Here, where time
makes my body into a cross here,
with a face bowing down to the dirt, yet
looking up to the dirt.
—I’ve been now.
translated from the Indonesian by Daniel Owen
For his outstanding translation of Afrizal Malna's work, Daniel Owen takes first prize—and USD1,000 in prizes!—in the 2019 Close Approximations Translation Contest in the Poetry category. Read judge Eugene Ostashevsky's citation and discover the other contest winners here.