No Bones To Carry

by James Penha
New Sins Press
Copyright © 2007 by James Penha

All rights reserved.

All inquiries and permission requests should be addressed
to New Sins Press, Rane Arroyo and Glenn Sheldon,
Publishers, 3925 Watson Avenue, Toledo OH, 43612

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Penha, James
No Bones to Carry
2007935909 2007
ISBN 978-0-9796956-0-5

First Edition

Cover Art by Wiktor Szostalo
"Two Wise Men Arguing How It All Started"

Distributed by New Sins Press


The author gratefully acknowledges the following print and
online publications in whose pages these poems first

Apples and Oranges International Poetry Magazine, Bay
Windows, Bristlecone, Calapooya Collage, Hawaii Pacific
Review, Heliotrope, The Hiss Quarterly, Lynx, Muse
Apprentice Guild, The New Verse News, On the Back of the
Dragon (Omega Cat Press, 1992), Only the Sea Keeps
(Bayeux Arts, Press, 2005), Pacific International, Phoebe:
The George Mason Review, The Plymouth Writers Group
Anthologies, Poemeleon,, Prayers to
Protest (Pudding House Publications, 1998),, River Walk Journal, Thema, Verve,
Waterways, and Wired Art from Wired Hearts.


To one Indonesia, tanah airmu;
to one Indonesian, buah hatiku.

No Bones To Carry

Sumatra Morning 7
Magma 9
Road Maps 10
Kamoro Creation Myth 12
Perne In A Gyre 13
Archipelago 15
The Next Wave 16
Universitas Jalanan 18
Tiger Hill's Thousand-Man Rock: Two Etymologies 20
Song Of The Siamangs 22
One Village Waits 23
Halftone 26
Sic Transit Gloria 27
Clay, Ever Clay 29
Sentence 31
The War Cemetery At Kanchanaburi, Thailand 32
Evapoetry 34
The Fossil Knower 35
Sun Flowers And Dry Paint 36
Bars Poetica 39
Chu Yuan In Exile 40
Impressionists Face East 43
Japanese Calligraph 44
Son Of Borneo 45
The Fighter 47
Setia 49
Santri Boy 52
Essential Gesture 53
Tadpole On A Lily Pad 55

On The Raya Road 56
Ibu 58
Because Few Morning Gales Fly Through 60
Red and White: Can the Blues be Far Behind? 62
Strategy For Victory 65
After The Fall The Fall 67
Lessons From A Chinese Painter 68
No Bones To Carry 69
Rimbaud's Revisions 70

No Bones To Carry

Sumatra Morning
26 December 2004

Palms at sunrise:
The wiser trees torture
with their soaring.

Beached . . .
Borne . . . Petrified
“Have you the time?”

The face I turn to the sun
takes darkness for beauty, and we are

One thousand stripes of fish
wrap a ribbon round the reef;
a zebra grazes.

Riptide of will
reminds the womb
of was.

I don’t know the turtle’s name
who mutters man
as he dives.

I splay and founder,
lean upon
the salt to reach
the shore,
hold fast against prologue.

Sailboats sit
in the eyes of the breeze.
I cannot
the start.


The pluck of an ancient archipelago
and islands resound
the rumble of fire at birth.

In molten essence
are the secrets
of life and death,
Dr. Frankenstein.

But time has come;
its circumlocutory hands tremble and stutter
and dread the wind-down.

So for those I’ve known with love and silence,
I seize the pen and write
all I dreamed when young.

Road Maps

Whenever my mother felt she needed
a break from home, hearth, housewifery,
she demanded my father take her to, oh,
San Francisco or San Diego
or Chicago
or to her cousin Densy’s in Toledo
and Dad loudly thrilled to the prospect of a holiday
for himself
not to mention a break
for his wife. He and I walked determinedly
down to the Gulf station on the boulevard
for the right map (free for the asking
in those days) and, once returned,
the whole family gathered round the dinner table
to watch Dad blaze the trail with a red china marker
from our town round cities and through mountains
and deserts to nirvana.

On the ensuing Sunday,
from the fat travel section in the paper
we cut out reply coupons
to request brochures from the resorts and attractions
along the road map. Thick envelopes came dropping
through our front door’s mail slot,
with totem poles and carved mountains,
orange groves and petrified wood,
canyons and chasms and caves
for days
until my brother had a big game coming,

I a little part in a play,
and my mother added up the prices in the pamphlets.

My father marked the destination boldly
atop a manila folder
big enough to hold the road map
and the guides. He filed it
alphabetically in his den desk drawer.

After my father died, I counted eighty-three road maps,
eighty-three untaken trips
fading in their folders in the drawer.
My mother smiled at my recollection of them
and pointed to the dumpster.

Kamoro Creation Myth
Papua, Indonesia

upon myself
like a concertina
in spiration
within the great crocodile
I play
my hands and hum
to tickle the inner belly
of the beast until it laughs
me straight out into the river
where I am born
to think of you.

Perne In A Gyre
News Of A Day In The Third Millennium

A skull
found in New York
where it had rolled
amidst gray bones for decades
in a fossil shop
near the Natural History Museum
authorities say is a Java hominid
with news of our evolution
perhaps one
million years old
in his late twenties
crushed at its base
from a rock perhaps
or a club that killed
him whose skull this was.

The skull
wanting now its jaws
authorities will remove with care
to its home in Indonesia

where skulls
with larger brains
no less crushed
on posts round pyres
of the afterbirth
of civilization’s newest
nation swaddled suddenly

by its authorities
who had watched timorously a generation’s labor
until water broke
and jaws dropped.

Yet all may not be lost
for the dead
of thirty years
and more:

with the sperm
preserved these many thousand years
inside the iced corpus
of a Siberian mammoth
just found beneath a hush of snow
authorities will inseminate
an eager female elephant

one from Sumatra perhaps
in fertile Indonesia
where a living fossil
mammoth infant will be born
to return to Russia where
authorities make room
even now
for the undead.


We live on islands that move

with mountains’ trembles
smoking since they rose from the sea
from which we crawled to them

our living mothers

who embrace and inspire
warm and nourish us refugees
and dread the inevitable


mourn their children; they keen
in perfect pitch.

The Next Wave

Finally, after hours
it seemed like hours
of colliding into bricks
and bodies, wires
and trucks below the water
and on the surface somehow
a tree grabbed me
and I held on
because it didn’t move.
I hid in its branches as the remains
of my village floated forth
and back and forth. I held on
until the swirling stopped,
the roaring ebbed.

I found my daughter in the hospital
later; my sons I never saw

When yesterday we walked
to the shore
where we had lived
in our house
where I was born
they said I could not cross the line:
they said the land was never mine
they said I had no deed
they said I could see

from the sign
this shore
belonged to the corporation.
Some day they said
I could apply for a job as a poolboy
or a porter. My little girl
they said would find work for sure.

Universitas Jalanan (University Of The Streets)
Jakarta, Friday, 13 November 1998.

Twelve people died and dozens were injured as
parts of the Indonesian capital turned into
a virtual battlefield on Friday pitting students,
supported by the masses, against heavily armed
police and soldiers.
—The Jakarta Post

When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a
bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I
discover that I have been defrauding myself all
this time in letting others do for me what I should
have done with my own hands.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Teachers dangle the present
like the short answer
to a semester’s mesmerizing query
and dare
their pupils to seize
the day from the posers
of the question. A test.
Every day. A pop quiz.
A simulation. A mock
until the children hatch
their plan to force a day
to dawn on the world
outside black-and-whiteboards.

Sons and daughters
face the citadel; they taunt
the politicians; they stick
their pointer fingers in the barrels
of guns. The soldiers:

a. know enemies when they see them.
b. remain in control.
c. are theoretical.
d. fire.
e. none of the above.
f. all of the above.

This is the final examination.

Tiger Hill’s Thousand-Man Rock:
Two Etymologies

It would be a pity if you had been to
Suzhou, but didn’t get to visit Tiger Hill.
—Su Shi (Song Dynasty)

Summer sun incarnadines the Rock in Suzhou
as blood evaporates from where it has reigned
since King Wu was entombed
with one thousand artisans
who sculpted his mausoleum on Tiger Hill
but might not keep its secrets . . .

or . . .

Sheng Gong, the banished monk
who would not bow to Beijing,
found refuge in the rockery
of Tiger Hill.

Suzhou turned away its eyes and ears
from the apostate
so Sheng Gong preached
to Tiger Hill, its stones and trees.
Branches assented noisily;
boulders nodded
and one by one the men
of Suzhou dared
to join a miracle.

They were uplifted

a thousand of them
from the Rock
no one knew
hid the tomb of Wu.

Sheng Gong stood his ground.

Atop Tiger Hill
the brick pagoda
also stands tall . . .
or . . .
depending on one’s

Song Of The Siamangs
in South Sumatra

Before the gamelan
the siamang monkeys sang
and do today in the jungle,
their chords everywhere:
whoops and yelps and odes
to their joy and mystery
everywhere invisible.
Like the tiger that stalks them,
the siamangs mean to be unseen.
Like music, the siamangs play
with substance.

One Village Waits

At the bridge above the bend
of Batang Toru, the lower river,
in the Sumatran village
since 1965 called Si Pette—
—One Waits

At the bridge
above the Batang Toru rapids
the neighborhood children
tiered in trees
like spider monkeys in their jungle
heard their fathers
called Kommunist as
the word came to the village
to mean men hammered
and hacked by the new order
of things. Ding
dong the witch is
dead in Batang Toru.

Divided they fell
like afternoon showers
usually do into the lower river.

Now when the children bathe
at dusk in Batang Toru,
they hear voices in the babble:
one waits.

No, spider monkeys would have objected
in striking discords.

Now when the children walk
the jungle at night,
they hear voices in the breezes:
one waits.

The children gaped silently,
retreated more surreptitiously than simians
and whispered screams
to those they found at home
alive. Their aunties held the stories
as tightly as crackers
in old cookie cans
lined with newspaper.

Now when the aunties care
for the ill and the orphaned,
they hear voices in deliria:
one waits.

Nor did these survivors open their mouths again
to eat the fish of the Batang Toru.
Strings and hooks hung

Now when the aunties beat
the grain at dawn,
they hear voices in the threshes:
one waits.

One waits
as it watches
those who net in the gorge
and dine on the fish
that fed on its guts
and hearts.

One waits
for the souls of its selves devoured
to rise against their hosts
to be devoured again
by time

and the rapid river

of one village waits.

Kurdistan, Between Iraq and Turkey, 1991

From shivering lines of refugees
trembling patterns
as ants after a popsicle stick
threaten perimeters,
one woman darted toward Western eyes
surveying with a Hasselblad.
It framed her face,
furrows filled
with filth and despair.
She came too close to focus;
the chronicler dropped the camera
against his chest where he received
her delivery wrapped in laundry
wet and stinking.
“Doctor?” she said.
His right hand advanced
the story, parted briefly
rags round a breathless baby
he cradled.
The reporter told her
what he knew. “No.”
And with her life back in her arms
again the pointillistic nightmare
absorbed her.
“. . . a world from which life and movement
are banished and all is fixed forever
in the rigid frame of its geometry.”
—Roger Fry, 1926, on the paintings of Georges Seurat.

Sic Transit Gloria
The Voyage of Captain Cook 1768-1791

Cook’s Endeavor, perhaps for ever,
was to reach Tahiti to see Venus
slide among sunspot atolls
like a ship across the same star
that would never set on the Empire.

Cook would observe, and thus measure
the scope of His Majesty’s universe
according to the imperial
principles of parallax.

Eight months he sailed
as Venus neared its source
against scurvy and storms,
with sour krout and a sextant.

But the south sea isle so
peaceful and arcadian shocked
Cook who had experienced
nothing like this in England.

“Not a clowd was to be seen
and Air was perfectly clear
and we had all we desire
of the passage of Venus”

after a breakfast with the King
and the company of his consort

and a dessert of succulent local
fruits and princesses.

“To them all then we shewed
the planet upon the sun
and made them know we came
on purpose to see it”

until the black of space absorbed
Venus to resume her revolution.
And Cook moved on to meet Maori
and other islanders soon absorbed

by other European Endeavors
perhaps for ever to reach
and slide among sunspot atolls
like a planet across the same star
that would never set on the Empire.

Clay, Ever Clay
Embedded with the terracotta army in Xi’an, China

A king
of perfect practicality
uniting a wall to build
one empire in his name, Qin
was certain to construct eternity
for himself.

Emperor Qin climbed
every legendary peak,
swam any long river
said to grant the wish of forever;
he commissioned marvelous marble turtles and bronze
cranes and
dragon horses of purple jade he stroked more than Lisi who
bore him children important
only to a mortal man.

No war left Qin with more
inspiration or less breath.

He exiled the very character of Death:
Death unuttered in his presence;
transgressors spoke
their own sentences.

So Qin’s concubines held their own
as did the doctors

when they smelled soil
in the presence of the emperor.

And Qin’s body was buried
with one more wall
of warriors
to guard his life in death.

But a subterranean emperor,
a god entombed in time,
struggles to put his finger
on a moment

when salivarous children
devouring each other
leave their father’s tomb
open to the rebels who crush
a dynasty of one
as easily as they crack
an army of clay.


The banished poet Li He Qing
mourned bitterly
the death of his beloved crane
for no man’s exile
should outlast
the symbol of longevity itself.

The War Cemetery At Kanchanaburi, Thailand

We stroll safely across the railroad bridge
on the River Kwai—not of course
The Bridge
on the River Kwai built
by David Lean or Sessue Hayakawa
for Alec Guinness blew that one up
at the resolution—nor of course
The Bridge and its Railway to Burma built
by the Japanese
on the backs of imprisoned Brits, Aussies,
French and Dutchmen picked up as the rising sun
set the empires of Europe down for a while
for the Allies brought that one down
at the end—nor of course
The Bridge and its Railway to Burma
the very same
built with the half-million Asian hands
passed in the night from one set of masters
to another.

The tracks lead to perfect rows of crossed head stones
atop Kanchanaburi’s hill: the resting place
at last for tortured white men who died
between rival dreams
of Empire. They lost their battle and their lives,
but their nations won the war and marched
unchastened by experience or irony
their soldiers back to rule Rangoon and Batavia,
Singapore and Saigon

and to scour the ruined Railway
to retrieve the bodies of the mates who built it
and built in turn a chain of cemeteries
along the Burma Road like this above
the new bridge on the River Kwai.

These exhumations were as horrible, they say,
as building the Railway itself
for the veterans had to lift with care the big bones
of white men from the quilt of Asian corpses
left to rot in the soil of reclaimed colonies.

in Beijing

The pensioner thinks
before he lifts the long brush
from Kunming Lake,
for a meter,
paints recollected characters
of a Li Po verse with water
upon the pavement of the palace grounds.

Under summer’s sun, the old man’s muscles
stretch and roll with the calligraphs
as once he moved
the minds of students
and quickly
for the last image
must be seen before the first
its elements.

To write poetry
on the walk
of the summer palace
is an exercise
of body and soul.

The Fossil Knower
an old pantun from a Java man

I am this fossil old as time
bitten by dust, scorched by heat,
and I know already I am petrified of the end.
My mind has adopted the shape of it.

Bitten by dust, scorched by heat,
alive pyramidically,
my mind has adopted the shape of it:
a resolution only in shadow.

Alive pyramidically
now I am not man not woman,
a resolution only in shadow
that drapes me, obscures conflict.

Now I am not man not woman:
a history of water, color, and oil
that drapes me, obscures conflict.
It paints me as the sanded canyon.

A history of water, color, and oil,
I am this fossil old as time.
It paints me as the sanded canyon,
and I know already I am petrified of the end.

Sun Flowers And Dark Paint

A painter
who cannot afford paint
will wash his brushes,
keep them clean.

Li Chin Pao hung
his brushes from the ceiling
of his shack
their vulpine tips immaculately
like pencil
reminding Li,
needling him.

Li turned on them
and walked for days.
Collapsing with fatigue
and hunger,
he found shade
and seeds
in a grove of wild sun flowers.
Idly scraping the stalks’ skins
with his thumbnail,
he uncovered a snow-white wood
that wanted sculpting.
Li peeled hundreds of stalks
for hundreds of days until
he learned to sliver a paint-thin
density to fashion

back beneath the brushes
a snow-wood locust
gnaws a bamboo leaf

a caterpillar descends
a branch of a cherry tree

At the Sunday market,
Li’s snow-wood paintings
dazzle all who pass

but they pass

for what wife wants
a locust in her home?

what husband hangs
a downward spiral in his office?

A painter
who cannot afford paint
cannot afford to see
the world
upside down.

So Li’s caterpillars
turned upward with a flip of a frame
and rabbits munched where
locusts once plagued his world,
and Li sold snow-wood enough

to capture the truth
with brushes and paint.

Bars Poetica
at Cafe Batavia, Old Jakarta, Indonesia

Poets deserve
to nestle in the wings
of leather armchairs
before imperial glories
and heavenly flights
of grand stairways
reflecting crystal and gold
because we cannot see stairs
untrodden, mirrors
faceless, flowers
uninspired, napkins
free of lipstick, creams, and sauces, air
clear of clove-scented fumes, or glasses
half empty.

In the loneliness of lost hours,
we write what the ghosts remember.

Chu Yuan In Exile

Having been banished for speaking truthfully to the
emperor, Chu Yuan retreated to the south where, by the
Xiang River, he made orchid garlands and wrote poems
petitioning for his exile’s end. Hoping finally to withdraw
further from the world, Chu drowned himself.

O Soul, come back to idleness and peace.
—Chu Yuan, c. 200 BC

History is the sum total
of all the things they aren’t telling us.
—Don DeLillo, c. 2000 AD

Macaques roll on logs
in laughter at Peking—
pigeons roost royally.

The narcissus’ fall
arrives too soon: nectar
plucked by hungry monkeys.

One stately pine stands
evergreen with power—
atop a rocky ledge.

On the pine orchid
blossoms pungent and bold—
against night a true black.

Flowers have no scents
for kings who will not see—
the blindness of mirrors.

And Chu Yuan wonders
if an orchid thunders
when it drops from the pine.

Rugged banks of Xiang
support the lonely pine
growing twisted and gnarled.

Orchid weather weaves
a necklace of the pine—
jewels for eagles’ eyes.

for gibbons on perfumed
arms sheltering of pine.

Barred from sweet ladders
macaques climb no higher—
low tails in slush and mud.

Midst snowy bamboo pine
towers but tires
in tangles with tempests.

And Chu Yuan wonders
if the palace ponders
a life without orchids.

The Xiang drinks winter’s end—
torrents pass the pine;
dark tears among the thaw.

And Chu Yuan wonders
if the pine thunders
with a river to the sea.

Plum blossoms find peace
from lingering hoarfrost
where one pine idle stood.

Impressionists Face East

Cézanne scaled Mont Sainte-Victoire
with cicadas and characters of Japan;
he scripted birds in high Islam
to fly against brushed trees branched
with letters mim and kaf.

Ideas hang on sheer glyphs.

The prism of seventeen
refract a hill of verse.

Having unwrapped Monsieur Hubert’s
delivery of ripe tomatoes,
Monet swept the fruit aside
from the grocer’s crinkled paper
to find a fish by Hiroshige
out of watercolor fresh.

Monet digested, then disgorged
two carp fuller
on the wrapper
softened by its blanching.

Japanese Calligraph

At Sekigahara in 1600
Tokugawa Ieyasu vanquished the hopes
of General Ishiko Ujikatsu
at whom he now stared
with the point of his sword.

“I shall take your life,” said the Shōgun,
who saw always the ink traces
of Ogura-Shikishi softly
uneradicated by three loud centuries:
My heart is seized
with a love that no one
“or I will have your kine-no-ore,
your pestle, your bronze
vase of beauty proven
even in defeat.”

Ishiko yielded shamelessly
for kine-no-ore had held his soul.

Tokugawa declared peace in hand
as long as kine-no-ore bore
the rising sun,
and he ordered his armies
as well as they created it
to write flawlessly
the truth.

Son Of Borneo

The Dayak chief
asked for a Marlboro
and my religion.

“I too am Roman Catholic,
the first in Rukun Damai.
Before the missionaries,
we believed alone
in our own magic.
That a man turns
into bread
wonders us not.
I saw my father wriggle
by the Mahakam,
strike the intruder
and eat him.
Not only when my father was a cobra,
but when he tipped his darts
with snake water
and sang them to the Dutch,
he devoured them,
drank blood.”

I raised the relic he set
like a diamond
among my fingertips.
From my flesh the white thorn
paled and tanned
slenderly toward the point.

“Now I hunt monkeys
and in the city
I set a dart in my wallet,
an offering
for the thieves.”

The Fighter

The right eyelid swells.
With blood run amok,
cells spring suddenly
from the routine action of
as the pounding
of rounds
has dissolved
like the embolism of ants
upon a dead

and the left eye
bears a nut
hard and shiny
for a crack

so that he sees
only a narrow letterbox
of wet and brown
with no perspective how
handily a fist
will wallop him again.

Long since
the fractured nose
has ceased
its roar.

Hold. Hold.

So he commands
no shallow even reservoir
of energy
to amass a last
mean flurry
to thrill the crowd,
but moves the other
to end this
for him.


Somewhere between Melak and Tanjung Isuy
along Borneo’s Mahakam River
we entered the house of an old fisherman.
He led us into a sitting room
divided by a short board fence
protecting a shallow pool of water where,
against the wall,
beneath a crucifix of black ironwood,
steeped a crocodile,
peacefully alert, sure
we dare not disturb
the little girl asleep on its back,
her sweet snores
as zephyrs to its nape.

“My granddaughter and crocodile
are friends. Take picture yes.
You touch beast?”

He roused the child so Ferdy and I waded
to tap our fingers lightly on the scales
for our camera
entrusted to our host.
We shared the pictures
with the crocodile’s groggy playmate
who rubbed her eyes
to see Polaroid magic.

Ferdy interpreted the old man’s Bahasa for me:
“Eight year ago, I fish River

and catch baby crocodile in my net.
We eat not crocodile
when the fish are many,
so I throw it back in water,
but I hear cry like baby orang,
human baby.
I fish more, and again net bring crocodile
to my boat,
and again I hold its tail to throw in River,
when I see it cry. And then of course I know
crocodile is twin, is person.”

Ferdy explained for me:
“Country people drown second girl
when twins are born,
because twins are bad luck, even in Sumatra
with my Batak tribe still,
but sometimes baby fight to live
and gods help.
They turn baby into animal."

The old man raised his finger and voice
and Ferdy translated the rest of the tale:
“So I take her home. We feed her
as we feed my granddaughter
who has same age.
She eat not food of crocodile,
only food of my granddaughter.”

The old man laughed,
said to me in English,
“She is person. They are as sisters now yes.

“We call her Setia.” (Faithfulness,
Ferdy translated.) “And she thank my family
with luck and fortune.”

We left a gift of rupiah.
Aboard our boat again, I asked Ferdy
if he believes.

“The people believe,” he said.

“But you? You wear a university ring on your
finger, a government ID round your neck, you
are no animist. What do you

“I believe what I see.
You not?”

I laughed, pressed him for logic, reason
beyond reasons.

“‘That is my opinion,’ in Indonesia we say, ‘You
have yours.’”

And Ferdy bore me deeper down the Mahakam,
into the Borneo jungle.

Santri Boy
on a street in Jakarta

I have too many concepts and ideas I wish to explore
—Adam Weber

It’s the details behind
the boy that intrigue:

He smiles to me
with teeth gleaming
ignorant of bracing science
and with palms not out but closed
upon his cross-legged knees
a cross-hatched shirt threadbare
from years of immaculating
destruction against rocks and washboards
in water just as hard
as life it seems to me
his shorts as thin as his legs.

Behind, the moorish window of the mosque
explains his purity
if not his wholesomeness
but the vent in the wall just below bears
the sane circle of triangles that has pleaded for
peace and him
these fifty years.

What wind blows on this boy
with such cold irony?

Essential Gesture

At four
Eric waited no more,
waved an arm
to the silent family farm
and lost
himself in the bush

where pigs called,
and dingoes grabbed his overall,
and snakes scratched
the surface of the boy.
He ate
termites for tucker
and sucked
leaves to stay alive
five days

until aborigines waked
him naked
in the pouch of a blackboy
he grinned;
he held out
his arms.

The family heard
and shouts
the town beer
‘til it runs out

to cheer
the boy’s return

to his room
where he lies
and rolling
a finger over the scabrous
of twig
and tongue
and claw.

Tadpole On A Lily Pad

Splashed with a single drop of water onto a lily pad
the tadpole panics
to learn how small the world can be.
Once a great pond overwhelmed him;
since birth he’d fought the odds for food against the
millions like him;
for days he’d wondered if the fish might pick him out of all
the tadpole’s oneness matters only
to himself.
With no rivals now nor monsters,
he tests the bounds of a bubble;
he swims perforce but the laws of physics
will not reveal the rest of the universe
until he exhausts the possibilities.
The sun repeals this tadpole’s tiny world.

On The Raya Road

Superstitions are harder to uproot than love.
—Márquez’ Bolívar,
The General in His Labyrinth

I tucked into the frame
of a shadow hero hovering high
in Ferdy’s tiny room on the Raya Road
a snapshot:
me in my Penn State singlet,
sexy and smiling,
When Bali’s sun startled him awake,
Ferdy missed it immediately,
discovering later my picture fallen in folds
of last night’s blouse abed.
He hung me up again there
though the waves of visitors
after noon breezily
punished a precarious position:
Ferdy found me face down on the floor.
Again he framed me, cornered me,
against the breath of other bodies
without presence.
But when he stands afraid at midnight
and sees I am invisible, he calls,
phones across the world to hear my voice
because three times fallen
means in Indonesian magic,

I assure him I am here,
but I am here,
and magic there
is no superstition.


Ibu sits next to me. On the steps
of the little house
we face terraces of rice
rich green and tall.

As the breeze wafts the grain
she touches my arm
and speaks of bon voyage,
“Selamat jalan hari ini”.

For weeks I’ve worried
as she has cooked for me
and used the few Indonesian words
she knows I know
like “kopi” in the kitchen
each morning when I’d leave the room
where I slept
with her son.
He says he thinks she senses
we are banci but
‘bu can never imagine what we do
nor talk about it.
Certainly not to me
whose language is more provincial
than my love.

We have passed each other a thousand times,
smiled at the roses’ progress in the sun,
and frowned by candlelight
at storms that kill island currents,

but as I wait for her son
to go with me to the plane,
I hope her gentleness
on my arm is not fear
but affection
and that her farewell
knows no irony.

Because Few Morning Gales Fly Through

Because few morning gales fly through
our island villa wants birds
to take the cue from the frogs who fill
the night with croaks and the fishpond with
yarns of fecundity
to wake us with life
born somehow of the lives we have conceived of

We tried an open house—
a doorless cage
barred only for rigidity
hung from the jackfruit branch
and bated with rice leaves.

The bars cracked; the rice browned;
still we sang our own songs.

When the trees grew wide enough
to shade a corner all day, the grass
decided against the struggle. There
we erected a great birdhouse of stones and woods
and wires
to bury the bare ground
but an empty cage
bared more than bare dirt.

At the bird market
we sang our songs and saw who harmonized

as we had put our fingers in the kennels
to find the pup who’d lick.
Two knew the verse
and we were told they’d sing
each to each if together separated in our yard.

And so from opposing cages like soccer goals
the home fans whistled and cheered
the score,
one to one,
and during timeouts
sang as well to our duets of Sondheim, Porter and

They’re writing songs of love
but not for me.

We danced round the garden, the birds
a gypsy chorus
of virtuosos
singing as long as we embraced
as long as they did not.

Were I an encaged bird
I would not sing,
and they too deserved their silences.

We sprang them
and we—
we kept on singing.

Red And White: Can The Blues Be Far Behind?
a song of myself after Walt Whitman

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the
journey-work of the stars.

Despite all customs and agricultural prohibitions,
I carried last August a sack of shady Kentucky
bluegrass seed
from a K-Mart in New York to our island retreat
east of Bali where beneath the coconut palms
and mango trees the native green grass wouldn’t grow
as lushly
as my love for Indonesia and its son who loves me.
But every pip we plant in this tropical soil grows—
even the unintended pit germinates—
and so by October the sun stroked our garden blue-green
for aboriginal roots foliated too to vie with K-leaves
even as we heard the bombs rumble right across
the strait
a tsunami of terror one year, one day, one hour after
my other isle’s, Mannahatta’s, bluest morning.

Walt Whitman, a Kosmos, of Manhattan the son.

The terror that blasted me from Manhattan
twelve years ago uniformed in Customs slash
Immigration under signs of Welcome
lying to a young dark man daring
to love across borders. He
was not wanted here
the Law declared

my desire out
of order.

I am given up by traitors,
I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the
greatest traitor . . .

Out of order and out of motherland we live
amidst a moveable feast,
this land and sea, Walt:
hawkers of meatball soup,
bats and balls of fruit,
peanut-sauced salads, young coconut milk,
syruped ice, clove-scented cigarettes and kebabs,
fried dough, fired chicken,
live goats and cows
and everywhere happy soda—a Ninth
Avenue street festival on every street
every night on every island.

All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.

We live
in sight of democratic vistas younger than America’s was
to Walt
where the shaman prays to Jesus,
where the boy in the Osama tee wears a New York Yankee

where the transsexual songstress pilgrimmed in Mecca,
where the Iraqi refugee cannot believe I oppose a war
that he is hungry for,
where the Afghans waiting for Australia to freeze over
before they are allowed in wonder
why I would possibly live in the developing world
for love
or money,
where the handlers of the land and the oil
have dealt a few handsome blackjacks
and millions of losing hands
where the shadows of the puppets loom large.

Wherever he goes men and women accept and desire
They desire he should like them, touch them, speak to
them, stay with them.

Under the red and white flag of this country,
we bleed unashamedly,
the shaman and me and the Christian
and me and Osama’s Yankee fan and me
and the transsexual and me and the refugees
and, yes, the dealers and the blackjacks
and the losers and the puppets
are me and the son of Indonesia
who go with the team, Walt,
and Walt, you are me
and Bali and Manhattan
following me everywhere
with your free verse and green grass
and the blues.

Strategy For Victory
Counter Insurgency in the Borneo Bush

We stopped for a night in the longhouse
where the Dayaks live in congress
each family extended among itself
on platforms stilted high for breezes
but also against floods, animals, and Umot,

the beasts who rule the Borneo night. Umot
Sisi look like wild men, covered in hair;
they whoosh and whoop with the wind
among the trees until the morning shines
on branches denuded of their fruit and nuts.

We hoped to see such fearsome brutes in full
moonlight but the chief said, “Sisi are not
fools; they wait for darker skies and fuller forests.
But you will hear Umot Perubak beneath us
in the shadows of the longhouse where they

snort as they take their fill of our droppings
and our garbage and any pup or child who
fails to keep to the longhouse after dusk.”
After midnight, we heard Perubak munching
and felt the foul odors of their breath

between the floorboards. But what riled us
was the patter of claws and the ripping
of our backpacks. “What?” we yelled,
while the chief pointed to the rafters where
“Perusong, the slyest of all Umot, enter

even our longhouse at will with the power
of transparency. Or they take the form
of rats and devour all we rely on and live for.
There. You see.”
I saw the rats. “Why don’t you
trap them?”
“If they were rats,

we would use traps, But against Umot
Perusong, incarnations of Evil,
we have potions, spells, and ancient crafts
our shamans have devised and ordain.
Only this faith in magic keeps our fears at bay.”

After The Fall The Fall

Umbrellas in the snow
like toadstools in the autumn forest
with no one to see them
or use them:
are they poisonous
or visible
or can they hear the fall

of each of the six sides of one snowflake?

or must we wait
for the awful sound
after ignored mushrooms
under parasols blanched
by the drift
that compresses

the delicate geometry of the snowflake

of the avalanche?

Lessons From A Chinese Painter

Lesson One
To paint Cold Mountain
in great detail
I meticulously sketch before

fine lines in pencil
as carefully as a physician
plans surgery on the emperor.

I judge
and adjust;
I erase and revise.

Only when the Mountain
is satisfied
do I ink and brush.

One landscape
can take
a season.

Lesson Two
To paint Cold Mountain
with a free hand,
sense and soul,

its place,
in a moment,
takes a lifetime.

No Bones To Carry

Today we pray over
no body—
but one of us

When elephants
come upon the frame
of an elephant
bleached white
in the sun
they wind their trunks around it,
raise chunks to their heads.
They look at their past
and their future,
and sometimes they hook their trunks
through a cavity in the skull
or twist them tightly round long bones
and carry them off
as souvenirs.

evolves slowly
among animals
who never

Rimbaud’s Revisions
He might have dodged his way back to Semarang through
the forests and the hill country . . . But since Rimbaud has
stepped outside the . . . web of the Dutch Colonial Army,
he disappears at this point [in 1876].
—Graham Robb, Rimbaud

I’ve seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
Whose delirious skies lie open to the wanderer:
Are these the fathomless nights where you sleep
and are in exile,
Million golden birds, O future strength.
—Arthur Rimbaud, “The Drunken Boat” (1871)

As the smoke of Krakatoa commingles a steaming
Dutch Prins,
Rimbaud aboard hears infinity rise in white and black;
he smells apocalypse in the night. Living
islands do not sleep
beneath endless travelers
he knows years
in Paris a fathomless child with Paul
before escape from escape before
ever forced to stay any place
but in the future
forced to imagine
and plumb and pipe freely
in verse until he flows
from Sumatra to Java

trembling on an imperial wave
of death he does not dare to scan
and so he strips again
the uniform in folds with the bones
of Java men, wraps a sarong
round his waist and walks a week
to trade his pay and a fiction
in Semarang harbor
for one wandering chief
off to a land of even darker complexion
to reform and recite.

The poetry is finished.



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