Brewed Love

The man had watched her since she was a bud and as she blossomed. He was intoxicated by her fresh fragrance. Every morning, he peeked at her out of the window while smoking his kretek cigarette. The smoke spiraled out of the sides of his mouth as he chanted his mantra. His eyes were wild and filled with an eagerness to pick her when the time came.


That night, he had not been able to fall asleep. Neither his warm pillow nor his soft cotton sarong had been able to soothe him. The chickens kept clucking until daylight broke through the eastern sky and dew rolled off the leaves to the ground.

The man had no patience to wait for the sun to rise. He wrapped his sarong around his neck and hurried to the well. He drew a bucket of water and washed his face to drive away his drowsiness.

Carrying a bamboo basket in one hand and a ladder in the other, he went to check on his coffee tree. Clusters of ripening red berries dotted the branches of the tree, lush with dark green foliage and some yellowing leaves.

He quickly poked his ladder into the tree’s canopy, leaned the ladder against the trunk, and then carefully climbed the rungs. With each step, he inhaled the fresh morning air, scented with the aroma of coffee leaves and berries.

When he reached a big branch, he suddenly stopped.

A pair of dark brown eyes glared at him. The large, marble-size eyes were filled with anger and fear. Threatened, the animal bared a row of sharp, pointed teeth.

The man gasped; blood rushed to his head. He clenched his teeth, restraining his anger.

Their eyes met.

The man’s jealousy made his heart beat so violently that he almost shook the branches of the coffee tree. He seemed to have lost his sensibilities. Fury propelled his hand and he almost struck the head of the wild animal that had beaten him to picking the coffee berries.

But his sense of humanity and love of nature prevailed, and he restrained the movement of his hand.

“I’m human and you’re an animal,” he whispered to the luwak stealing his coffee.

The civet held its ground. It continued to stare at the man with bared teeth. Hissing, the luwak seemed ready to pounce. The cornered luwak would do anything to keep enjoying the red, ripe coffee berries.

“I’m blessed with a heart and the ability to love, while all you have is desire,” the man said softly to the luwak.

The luwak still didn’t move. It glared at the man with a menacing grimace.

“You don’t understand, my friend. You’re just tempted by the beauty of the red, ripe flesh of the coffee berries. You don’t know the essence of coffee.”

The man spoke gently. He did not want to disturb the angry luwak, nor did he want to put himself in danger.

“If the red, ripe, sweet, and juicy berries are all you want, then take them, my friend. Please, help yourself. Eat as many as you want, I don’t need them.” The man smiled at the angry animal.

“I’m willing to wait for you to discard them from your gut. You only chew her flesh, then leave it to break down in your intestinal tract. But that is where the heart is forged. After you have enjoyed the flesh of her body and you discard her, all that remains is her heart. A heart that is as precious as a black pearl.”

The man slowly descended from the ladder. He left the coffee berries for the luwak to feast on.

“If you understood my language,” the man said before leaving, “I’d tell you that the essence of the coffee is in her heart.”

The man rolled a single dark coffee bean in the palm of his hand. “And the heart of a coffee berry, the bean, should be willing to be crushed and brewed in order to release the aroma and taste that captivate the human heart.”

A Flyer

This software will assemble a series of steps that
will guarantee you’ll be happy for the rest of your life.

It was created in response to skewed notions of ‘happiness’
which have caused acute sorrow of pandemic proportions.

To begin, please enter your personal data, including
your real taxable income and passwords. All of your passwords.

The program will compile news stories, laws, cultural norms
and noteworthy social media posts relevant to your current location.

Using the information amassed, it will generate a SWOT matrix
to keep as a basis for further assessment, at which point

under the software’s guidance, you will ascertain what you must do
to exploit your strengths, combat weaknesses, seize opportunities and anticipate

threats, thus providing you with financial, familial, legal,
social, and spiritual fulfilment and security.

Of course, if your tastes and preferences are somewhat unique –
let’s say you’re a lesbian who has a love

for cats and classic poetry
like Inferno or Paradise Lost – more time will be required

to complete the mapping process (solvable
by upgrading your computer’s RAM to 16 GB). Also,

the program may need to ask further questions: is it a must
for you to be with someone who loves reading too?

And how much are you prepared to compromise when it comes to your sexuality –
would you be willing to make out with a man in the dark?

Have you saved enough, are you brave enough to start life afresh
in a place better able to accommodate you:

Antarctica, for instance?

This software also takes other users’ priorities into account.
For example, if 200 would-be college applicants are obsessed

with getting a certain degree at the most prestigious university in country X
and there are only 150 spaces, then the program will be forced

to advise the 50 users with the lowest academic scores
to settle. Failure is a punch in the guts and they have to face facts.

You would derive maximum benefit if your nearest and dearest signed up:
accounting for environmental factors will produce more accurate results.

You see, we believe that an individual’s path to happiness is coextensive,
with the paths of others and is sometimes even at cross-purposes – like a trawl net.

However, if you come across this flyer only after everyone else
is dead: Even better. You can use the program straight          away.

The original, Indonesian-language version of ‘A Flyer’ hails from Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s chapbook Sergius Mencari Bacchus (Sergius Seeks Bacchus) – a ground-breaking collection focusing on contemporary queer life in Indonesia that won first prize in the Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Manuscript Competition in 2015, was shortlisted for the 2016 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for Poetry, and was named one of the best poetry collections of the year by the Indonesian magazine Tempo. Translations from it have appeared in Asymptote, The Asia Literary Review, Cordite Poetry Review, and The Margins, and were a winning entry in the 2017 PEN Presents East and Southeast Asia competition. The English translation is forthcoming with Tilted Axis Press.

Norman wrote this poem in response to the communitarianism pervasive in Indonesia. The division between one’s private life and one’s public life is tenuous, and it is common for co-workers, class-mates, and neighbours to take an interest in one’s personal wellbeing, offering help when one is in need. This strong sense of community brings drawbacks. Heteronormative notions of ‘good’, ‘moral’, and so on – especially those held by the straight, Javanese, Muslim majority – tend to be imposed on individuals who diverge from those norms, with an assumption that the problems that spring from being different can be solved through conformity. Needless to say, this affects one’s prospects for achieving personal happiness, whether one is, in the poem’s words, ‘a lesbian who loves cats and classic poetry’ (the friend for whom it was written) or, in the poet’s case, a queer, Bataknese male from a Christian background.

In short, ‘A Flyer’ is a humorous, biersweet exposé of how stifling the prioritisation of communal harmony can be. The unique individual desperately tries to fit in and, ironically, succumbs to the ‘trawl net’ that precludes him or her from achieving happiness at all.

five from Museum Penghancur Dokumen / Document Shredding Museum


It’s a shame this poem’s already been erased when
I go to read it. Like humid air that tugs
at my arm to catch what will fall, is
falling, and falls. What’s up with erasing? Glue,
scissors, yarn, make a shadow of barbed
wire. I erase the word erase from the documentation,
out from the barbed wire. Return to glue,
scissors, yarn from every word so as to
hide, lose, and erase once again
the word erase. And a knock
that’s never been erased inside a shadow’s
death: a guest from a door’s shadow that’s never
knocked on the door.

The guest suspects I don’t have a chair to
die in, if I don’t have a floor to live on. Waiting.
Waited on. Plans at 7PM. He serves the word
eraser from a book store to his guests,
like a shadow that’ll slip away from its light.
You’re my guest who I wait for from the mistake
of typing the word erase in a story about
a brilliant morning, and birds in flight
drifting away erasing their own chirps.

You don’t have another chance to tidy what
can no longer be erased, after this poem. The eraser
causes 5 o’clock in the evening. Comes through til its
vacancy can no longer be seen.





Let’s go, drink up. No. I’m not contents with es kelapa
muda. Eat up in that case, please. No. I’m
not contents with nasi rames. Come in to my bathroom,
please if you’re not thirsty, if you’re not hungry,
if you’re bored of eating. Allow me to bestow
friendliness on you, for all the longing that
destroys the walls of my ego. How can
I go out if you don’t come in.

You can hear my bathroom bathing
grammar, in the tempter’s hands of a TV poet.
Allow me to lead you by your hand. Come
in here which is over there. Nowadays which are bygone days.
Come in if you don’t like grammar. Please
if it’s like that, exchange your clothes with my clothes.
The washing machine washed them after I got drunk, after
I cried, after I killed myself 12 minutes
ago. Imagine my body in those empty clothes.
Please read your sorrows:

“Yesterday I was bored, today i’m bored, tomorrow
yesterday’s boredom will come again.” What, does grammar
have to change into an ice cream museum so that
you’re not bored. Please. Everything that’s done in
the name of language, it’s a mask of fire. Market
that replaces your body with a document shredding
machine. Please, I’m only a somebody in
proses like this, a tourist erupting
inside a dictionary. A sulky poem
in the corpse craw of a poet.
Please, put me to sleep in your untranslated
silence. Document shredding machine
alone in your sagas.

NOTE: Es kelapa muda is a beverage made from the water and pulp of a young coconut mixed with ice and sweet syrup. Nasi rames is a meal that consists of white rice accompanied by small portions of various meat, egg, vegetable, tempeh, and/or tofu dishes.





Someone comes up and bumps into my back.
Says something, counts something,
like a burning mattress floating away on a river.
Then he puts an ice cube in my mineral water.





I’m not all the leaves on this tree. I’m only
a leaf on this tree. Only this tree and
only a leaf. I’m only a leaf
growing on my neck. Only green li-
ke a leaf. I’m only a leaf that
speaks with my mouth. I mean,
my mouth is a leaf that speaks
with my mouth. I mean, I’m only
a leaf that’s a leaf. Don’t sweet talk me
into being a tree even though you give me
god. Don’t sweet talk me into being all the leaves
on this tree even though you give me the promise
of death. I’m not death’s problem and god’s problem. I’m
similar, I mean similar to a question I live
not for all the things you say after
death. After death I’m not life and de-
ath is not a leaf that represents all
the leaves on this tree.

I’m only a green color on a tree
I don’t know the name of. A tree that makes me
know I’m here, alive here. I mean,
don’t scare me like the kids that
run across death. I remember them,
from time to time, and, look over there, look
at the people walking with their legs, trees
growing, children play feeling happiness
having a laugh, sky made of a woman’s
hair. I am a leaf sewn
onto a tree branch.





And walking. And sleeping. And forgetting. And sweeping. And eating.
And picking up the laundry. And photographing someone else’s wedding
in a cafe in Shanghai. And reading. And cutting your nails. And
photographing cat sex at Lely’s house. And visiting my friend’s
grave in Surabaya. And his kid’s in college. And his kid sends
a text, who is my father? And his kid doesn’t sleep in her mother’s
room. And her name is Dya Ginting. And burning the trash. And
mowing the lawn. And picking up a plastic bag that somebody
threw to the curb. And kissing a puppy. And visiting
a friend who’s crying at his laptop. And wanting to live in
Maria Callas’ voice. And not having money. And waiting for royalties
from poetry. And meeting Caligula’s corpse in language. And bathing. And
wanting to say to you that I’ve already said it.

Patiwangi: Renunciation

this is my new land

a spring guarantees its existence

fish embark on new love affairs

branches bearing budding leaves

fashion a burial ceremony

I can smell all kinds of flowers

and ritual offerings curse the feet I sink into soil

the tinkling of bells arrests the compass

powerless to guide the gods home

In the temples I make a map

to carry my colors to the sun’s family tree

the earth broods, the soil buries its wrath

no fragment of sound remains

to set my colors free

the men who are present challenge the sun

awaiting their chosen woman’s hue

no temple rites exist for them to perform

the officiants can only inhale the incense

required to recognize too many gods

and still the men press their suits for my hand

because of my name

I need to possess a ritual history

of this selection

I will bathe posterity’s children clean


inilah tanah baruku

mata air menentukan hidupnya

ikan-ikan memulai percintaan baru

batang-batang yang menopang daun-daun muda

membuat upacara penguburan

telah kucium beragarn bunga

dan sesajen mengutuk kaki yang kubenamkan di tanah

suara genta menyumbat mata angin

tak mampu mengantar dewa pulang

kubuat peta di Pura-Pura

mengantar warnaku pada silsilah matahari

bumi mengeram, tanah memendam amarah

tak ada pecahan suara

menyelamatkan warnaku

para lelaki menantang matahari

menunggu warna perempuan pilihannya

tak ada upacara untuknya di setiap sudut Pura

para pemangku hanya mencium bangkai dupa

terlalu banyak dewa yang hams diingat

dan para lelaki terus meminang

karena namaku

kuharus punya sejarah upacara


kelak kumandikan dari pilihan ini


English translation by Deborah Cole

‘Patiwangi’ (pati=death; wangi=fragrant) is a Balinese-Hindu rite an upper-caste

women is obliged to perform when she marries a man of a lower caste. In so

doing, she renounces her caste and becomes that of her husband.
Patiwangi: Pati, mati. Wangi, keharuman. Pariwangi adalah upacara yang dilakukan

terhadap perempuan bangsawan di Pura Desa untuk menghilangkan

kebangsawanannya, karena menikahi laki-laki yang berkasta lebih rendah.

Seringkali upacara ini berdampak psikologis bagi para perempuan bangsawan.

The Danarto I knew

He was smiling over there: Danarto. It was 1978. He greeted me first. I had been watching him since I came out of a class in the Cinematography Department at the Lembaga Pendidikan Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta Arts Institute) at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM). Danarto was a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department.

‘What kind of drawing do you want?’ He said.

I had asked him for a drawing for my book of poems.

‘Some of those black, geometric drawings, please.’

I had in mind the cover of Goenawan Mohamad’s book, Interlude (1971). He must have had something else in mind because what he drew for me was a ‘black oblong.’ To me, it looked like a gravestone; there was a black oblong inside of it; and more surrounding it.

I guessed it must have suited the title. The title after all was Bayi Mati, Dead Baby. I also thought at the time, that maybe something like this was good. I wasn’t exactly sure. But, now I understand; that ancient black oblong, that was super-symmetrical, that looked random, was also mathematical. I was embarrassed by the book and I no longer own a copy. The cover though, I’m brave enough to say, was very strong.


That was my first meeting with Danarto. After that meeting I was like a student in search of a teacher. I would always ask him questions. Many of his answers have stayed with me. His modesty and his refusal to take the position of an ‘elder’, ‘senior’ also left a strong impression. For example, he would ask for a piece of my writing to be included in Zaman, even though I was still learning how to write. If we hadn’t seen each other for a while, he would write a letter in his beautiful handwriting to me. His words were encouraging, leading me to continue to write my wayang story. One of the reasons I did so was I because knew that the story would be illustrated by Danarto himself.

Danarto’s drawings, like his stories and he himself, were full of surprises. For example, if I was eating some tengkleng from the warung in front of the Cikini swimming pool, I would go to pay and the seller would say: ‘it’s already been paid for’. Danarto, who was busy talking at the next table, had already paid for it.

His attitude to money was different from that of most people.

‘Earlier, I saw a woman who was robbed on the bus, and I did nothing, when in fact I had Rp.10,000 in my pocket. I should have given it to her immediately. But, by the time I realised this she had already got off. I felt I had failed God’s test. I had failed. Failed.’

He told me this story during the 1980s when Rp.10,000 was about the equivalent of Rp.100,000 in today’s money.

Danarto was being serious about what happened; just as he was serious while making the confession.

‘If I’m about to pray and unable to concentrate properly, I often hear in my ear, “Tengkleng, tengkleng, tengkleng … Tongseng, tongseng, tongseng … Goat sate, goat sate, goat sate…” I’m not yet able to defeat these temptations.’

This doesn’t mean that Danarto interrupted his praying and went off looking for goat sate, but rather shows the strength of Danarto’s belief in God. His conviction was so strong, he never stopped his prayers and defended the beliefs of all religious minorities. I read his two page column in Tempo magazine and the main point of his essay was: if someone has a belief and that belief makes them happy, what is wrong with it?


Many people said that Danarto was a sufi. Danarto himself, however, never said so. But, if the most important attribute of a sufi is asceticism – that is, restraint in all maters – I don’t think it applies to Danarto, especially with regards to his pleasure in food. After an interview with the comedian Asmuni, I told him how Asmuni had opened a warung which specialised in ikan belanak. The following day, Danarto commented upon their cooking. He was a kind of hunter.

Danarto, however, always wanted to share pleasure with others. When I was at Zaman, a meeting had just started when all of a sudden plates of fried goat were brought in.

‘There was a rather kind woman’, said Danarto.

We all knew that Danarto had eaten well, was impressed and had brought some for all of us.

He did these things so often that even though for Danarto money came without him asking (speaking, writing, drawing requests, literary prizes, appreciations, etc), he was never particularly good with money. His costs were always more than his finances allowed. He wouldn’t just shout 30 people a meal, but he would promise scholarships, motorcycles and who knows what else to the people closest to him: ‘if I have the money’.

I had once asked him, ‘because everything comes from God, doesn’t it?’

Danarto replied only with a smile.

Pondok Ranji, 13 April 2018