From 'Prometheus Pinball,' part I, '57: time's dna'

Translated by Daniel Owen

A becak in Jakarta, 1968. Image courtesy of Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, via Wikimedia Commons.

CONTENTS (English / Indonesian)

Tape-Measure 2/3 of JakartaMeteran 2/3 Jakarta
Lesson to Remember Monday / Pelajaran Mengingat Hari Senin

Tape-Measure 2/3 of Jakarta

jakarta left on a becak
     that morning.
becoming the name of a day of the week.

that day.

the year 1957 in the quotient of 2/3.
a day.

            something of a day.
            someone of a day.

            watch a morning walk in, arrive
with the residue of a used ceiling fan’s dreams.
stepping out from above and below. circulating
before going left. knocking on the door before
the firefighters put out the window.
whose back do you see from behind? that city,
jakarta, brings me everywhere in the same
place. sometimes like a river. sometimes like
a flood. crowds of numbers shift continuously
in its limits.

a fishhook wears the river like a mask
between food and death: ripples and the mouth
of a java tilapia inhales oxygen, folds of water
and sound after the hook tugs at its mouth. a
neighborhood of narrow alleys, offering
turns and dead-ends in the buy-and-sell of dreams. someone
with a voice in the scent of clove cigarettes tries
to sun dry their mother’s shadow.

“tell someone who’s already 60
years old about the lost city, the lost generation.”
imagine an illustration of space regarding left,
right, above, below, and the crushing force of words
enters the cardinal directions. Someone
like an alley that leads to a dead-end.

            tanah tinggi
            planet senen
            the angke river
and the story of mat item[2]
these names sway over a potholed road
full of puddles:

            kramat tunggak
            and the last crocodile in the ciliwung river

not a hundred years later cars and trains drift
over the city.

i erect this poem installation as if
demolishing language’s building with a tape-measure
of forgetting. packaging words, putting them
inside a neurotic microbiology. starting to write
between word order and population. the scissors
still kept in their cuttings. a point
lost on language’s ruler. and you know,
no one can change the cardinal directions
outside of that ruler; or the word cut, which
tries to forget the scissors.

turn — go straight — pull a u-turn — keep going — stop
or .2% deadlock

i write this from memories that have
lost their thermometer and tape-measure. city
that spends 2/3 of the national debt. all
the provinces stare at it with black eyes. black.
bankrupt villages. i’m the baby born
as a corpse in mochtar lubis’s novel, twilight
in jakarta
. 1957. the cabinet, unstable
in webs of corruption, turns into a savage insect
in meaning. like kafka in the metamorphosis of an
insurance agent ------ who is the comma, who is
the period, who is everyone that’s been given marks
and erased them.

            “  ,  .  ?  /  !  ()

(the asian flu pandemic, moving from china, singapore,
hong kong, america — kills nearly 2 million

the sirs have vanished into bank accounts
and stocks. a last will and testament among
the distribution networks of imports. a
poem attempts to hold the voice of a cricket in
a museum of city sanitation and to forget
the ways a work of literature is written.

Lesson to Remember Monday

they began learning to remember monday. they liked

finding monday hidden in

saturday. meeting whoever never

remembers as a means to memorize. making

every made thing go away again, as if

their hands were always mistaken for erasers.

to believe and to unbelieve, both

entertain each other and believe and unbelieve

that there’s an eraser living between them.

(isn’t the war over already).


tokyo still suffers the fever of hiroshima’s devastation in

the image of a young girl survivor. her face

is a shadow-stilling museum. her eyes

hold the final white flash. a city

collapsed in the peeled skin of its smile.

eyes that glare at you from their passage

through christer strömholm’s camera. death you

could almost hug in that black and white photo. a century

full of adventure, gambling with unnumbered

dice. plak, they sound against the table.


on a tennis court, the young emperor akihito

is building a romance of the century

with michiko shoda. transforming the boundaries

between the gods and me, between love and a tennis ball.

preparing 12 cameras and tv broadcasts to send

the news to you: “are you alright?” (without

a military base). an industry is being

readied through a love story. transforming an atom

bomb into datsun, honda, toyota … sony.


in amsterdam, tjalie robinson (like edgar

du perron) is still searching for his homeland.

between the company and the natives. the nyais[3] who

carry the children of all nations who have

no homeland. sumatra, java, swamplands: monday

is still on vacation in alpeldoorn.

maybe they believe in those who

dream through a needle’s eye. the threads

make a bridge. become the freed, binding

four book covers: Wim Willems, 'Tjalie Robinson: Biografie Van Een Indo-Schrijver'; Lin Scholte, 'Anak Kompenie'; Roel de Neve, 'Asal Oesoel'; Reggie Baay, 'De njai'

and cutting each other loose again. they believe tomorrow

is monday. a day that makes a bridge for

the arrival of 5 o’clock in the afternoon.


their father will take them to the coffee shop.

carry them on his shoulders like fire

wood. introduce them to the truck drivers, the becak[4]

drivers, the jamu[5] sellers, the furniture store

owner, grilled sticky rice and a soft-boiled egg.

a sprinkle of black pepper on top.


                                    (max dauthendey, a german poet who died

                                    in malang, 1918, wrote a letter from garut. he

                                    found heaven on java. the intoxicating sound

                                    of the gamelan. instruments of the angels,

                                    beyond the senses. “all the colonial rulers are

                                    thieves and tyrants,” he wrote. “they will

                                    perish with their colonies, as did rome

                                    and athens,” he wrote).


they will all say:

“did you know, tomorrow is monday”


a cart will come delivering two gallons of clean

water. they’ll go to the dentist, because there’s always

bika ambon[6] ruining their teeth at night.

buy frog’s eggs to treat their boils:

slimy when wet, absorbent when dry.

little spheres of black eggs, a fishy stink

when they hatch in puddles of water.


                                    what sprouts and what splits sometimes come

                                    from the same slip.





Meteran 2/3 Jakarta


jakarta telah pergi dengan sebuah becak

  pagi itu.

jadi nama sebuah hari dalam seminggu.


hari itu.

tahun 1957 dalam bilangan 2/3.

sebuah hari.


            sesuatu hari.

            seorang hari.


            melihat seorang pagi berjalan, datang,

dengan sisa mimpi dari kipas angin bekas.

melangkah dari atas dan bawah. menyebar

sebelum ke kiri. mengetuk pintu sebelum

pemadam kebakaran memadamkan jendela.

punggung siapa terlihat dari belakang? kota itu,

jakarta, membawaku ke mana-mana di tempat

yang sama. kadang seperti sungai. kadang seperti

banjir. kerumunan angka yang terus berubah

dalam batasnya.


kail mengenakan sungai sebagai topengnya,

antara makanan dan kematian: riak dan mulut

ikan mujair menghirup oksigen, lipatan air dan

suara setelah kail menyeret mulutnya. sebuah

kampung dengan gang-gang sempit, menawarkan

belok dan buntu dalam jual-beli impian. seseorang

dengan suara dalam bau kretek, berusaha

menjemur bayangan ibunya.


“ceritakan pada seseorang yang sudah 60

tahun, tentang kota dan generasi yang hilang.”

membayangkan gambaran ruang tentang kiri,

kanan, atas, bawah, dan kuasa kata melibas

masuk ke dalam arah mata angin. seseorang

seperti sebuah gang pada ujungnya yang buntu.


            tanah tinggi

            planet senen


            kali angke

            dan kisah tentang mat item


nama-nama itu goyang di atas jalan becek






            kramat tunggak

            dan buaya terakhir di kali ciliwung


sebelum 100 tahun mobil dan kereta melayang-layang

di atas kota.


saya membangun instalasi puisi ini seperti

membongkar bangunan bahasa dengan meteran

tentang lupa. membungkus kata, memasukkannya

ke dalam mikrobiologi neurotik. mulai menulis

antara tatakota dan populasi penduduk. gunting

masih tersimpan dalam potongannya. titik yang

tersesat dalam penggaris bahasa. dan kau tahu,

tak seorang pun bisa mengubah arah mata angin

di luar penggaris itu; atau kata potong yang

berusaha melupakan gunting.


belok  lurus  balik  terus  berhenti

atau 0,2% mentok


saya menulisnya dari kenangan yang telah

kehilangan termometer dan meterannya. kota

yang menghabiskan 2/3 hutang negara. seluruh

daerah menatapnya dengan mata hitam. hitam.

desa-desa bangkrut. akulah bayi yang lahir

sebagai mayat dalam novel mochtar lubis, jakarta

dalam senja. 1957. kabinet yang goyah dalam

jaringan korupsi, menjadi serangga buas dalam

makna. seperti kafka dalam metamorfosis seorang

pegawai asuransi ------ siapakah koma, siapakah

titik, siapakah semua yang diberi tanda dan



“ , . ? / ! ()


(wabah flu asia, bergerak dari tiongkok, singapura,

hong kong, amerika — membunuh hampir 2 juta



tuan-tuan telah hilang ke dalam rekening bank

dan saham-saham. sebuah surat warisan di antara

jaringan distribusi barang-barang impor. sebuah

puisi berusaha menyimpan suara jangkrik dalam

museum tentang kebersihan kota, dan melupakan

cara-cara bagaimana karya sastra ditulis.



Pelajaran Mengingat Hari Senin


dia mulai belajar mengingat hari senin. dia senang

menemukan hari senin bersembunyi di dalam

hari sabtu. bertemu siapa pun yang tidak pernah

mengingat sebagai cara menghafal. menjadikan

setiap yang dibuat hilang kembali, seakan-akan

tangannya selalu tertukar dengan penghapus.

percaya dan tidak percaya, keduanya saling

menghibur dan saling percaya dan tidak-percaya

ada penghapus yang menetap antara keduanya.

(bukankah perang telah usai).


tokyo masih demam hancurnya hiroshima dalam

potret penyintas seorang gadis muda. wajahnya

museum yang membekukan bayangan. matanya

menyimpan sinar putih terakhir. sebuah kota

yang runtuh dalam kelupasan kulit senyumnya.

mata yang menatapmu dari dalam melalui

kamera christer strömholm. kematian seperti

bisa dipeluk dalam potret hitam-putihnya. abad

penuh petualangan, bermain judi dengan dadu tak

bernomor. plak, suaranya di atas meja.


di lapangan tenis, kaisar akihito yang muda,

sedang membuat sebuah romansa abad ini

bersama michiko shoda. mengubah batas antara

dewa dan aku, antara cinta dan bola tenis.

menyiapkan 12 kamera dan siaran tv, mengirim

berita kepadamu: “apakah kamu baik?” (tanpa

pangkalan militer). sebuah industri sedang

disiapkan melalui kisah cinta. mengubah bom

atom jadi datsun, honda, toyota … sony.


di amsterdam, tjalie robinson (seperti edgar

du peron) masih mencari tanah airnya.

antara kompeni dan inlander. para nyai yang

menggendong anak semua bangsa yang tidak

punya tanah air. sumatra, jawa, rawa-rawa: hari

senin masih berlibur di apeldoorn.

dia mungkin percaya kepada mereka yang

bermimpi lewat lubang jarum. benang-benangnya

membuat jembatan. menjadi yang lepas, saling

terkait dan meretasnya lagi. dia percaya, besok

hari senin. hari yang membuat jembatan untuk

datangnya jam 5 sore.


ayahnya akan membawanya ke warung kopi.

memanggulnya di atas bahunya seperti kayu

bakar. berkenalan dengan supir-supir truk, tukang

becak, penjual jamu gendong, pemilik toko

furnitur, ketan bakar dan telur setengah matang.

taburan bubuk merica di atasnya.


                        (max dauthendey, penyair jerman yang mati

                        di malang, 1918, menulis surat dari garut. ia

                        menemukan surga di jawa. suara gamelan yang

                        memabukkan. alat musik para malaikat di

                        luar indera. “semua penguasa kolonial adalah

                        perampok dan tiran,” katanya. “mereka akan

                        runtuh bersama koloninya, sebagaimana roma

                        dan athena,” katanya).


mereka semua mengatakan kepadanya:

tahukah engkau, besok adalah hari senin


gerobak akan datang mengirim dua drijen air

bersih. pergi ke dokter gigi, karena selalu ada

bika ambon yang merusak giginya di malam hari.

membeli telur kodok untuk mengobati bisulnya:

berlendir ketika basah menghisap ketika kering.

butir-butir kecil telur berwarna hitam, bau amis

ketika mulai menetas di genangan air.


                        yang tumbuh dan yang tumbang kadang datang

                        dari jatuh yang sama.


1. Tanah Tinggi, Planet Senen, Kwitang, Matraman, Paseban, Cikini, Kramat Tunggak: Areas of Central and East Jakarta, all of which have complex, storied histories.

2. Mat Item: A legendary thief and martial arts master known for his invincibility. Mat Item is said to have terrorized West Jakarta in the mid to late 1940s until the secret to his invincibility was discovered and he was killed by an army squad.

3. Nyai: During the Dutch colonial period, nyai referred to native Indonesian women who were housekeepers and mistresses to European men.

4. Becak: A bicycle rickshaw. While still in use in many areas of Java, becak were made illegal in Jakarta in the late 1980s.

5. Jamu: A general term for various kinds of traditional Indonesian medicine, often made from herbs and rhizomes.

6. Bika Ambon: A sweet, spongy, custardy cake.