Sunday, August 22, 2010

Poem by Indonesian Poet Laksmi Pamuntjak

I have now returned from my summer travels and am back to this world of running water, 24-hour electricity—and blogs. Since my husband and I spent six weeks this summer backpacking in Indonesia for our honeymoon, I thought it would be appropriate to open the blog with an Indonesian poet. This idea, however, was not as easy as I thought it would be. Indonesian poetry is relatively new—with many estimates dating it back to the early 1900s. And the poetry for the first few decades was nationalistic. Also, Indonesia is made up of 17,000 different islands—many with their own culture and language. So, there are issues with translation. First one needs to translate a poem into Bahasa Indonesian and then to another language for more world-wide distribution—if more worldwide distribution is wanted. Frankly, I cannot understand most contemporary Indonesian poetry since very few poets are translated and my knowledge of Bahasa Indonesian is quite limited to food and transportation nouns.

The poet I decided to share with you is one who does translate Indonesian poets and who co-founded a bilingual bookstore in Jakarta. I thank her for her efforts.

To My Parents, Who Visited My College Town Twelve Years After I Graduated

By: Laksmi Pamuntjak from her book Ellipsis

So the both of you passed through the

brownstone. Why, it must be something

of a relic now: grimy, petulant, flaccid

around the edges. Did you go to the Bay,

find out whose sitting on my river bench?

But you didn't relate much. Like a French

film, you communicated like you and I

never did: under your breath, in silent

inference, the language of white lies.

The gas station is no more, you wrote.

The Avenue, so grand in your days,

looks like the way to everywhere else.

We tried to look your piano mentor up

but no luck there. The driveway to his

studio no flaxen with rotting lemon trees.

But both of you went to see the dolphins.

You used to laugh when I told you that

I knew them one by one--just like that, from the calm

and the choke of their gazes. You told me they

have not much use of their eyes.


  1. Thanks so much for this. Such an interesting comment on the difficulties of entering a foreign poetry.

    I'm loving "under your breath, in silent / inference, the language of white lies" and "from the calm / and the choke of their gazes. You told me they / have not much use of their eyes."


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