Laksmi Pamuntjak, writer and poet, was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. Author of two collections of poetry, Ellipsis (2005, one of The Herald UK’s Books of the Year) and The Anagram (2007), a treatise on violence and the Iliad entitled Perang, Langit dan Dua Perempuan (War, Heaven and Two Women) (2006), short stories in The Diary of R.S.: Musings on Art (2006) and four editions of the award-winning Jakarta Good Food Guide, she translated and edited Goenawan Mohamad’s Selected Poems and On God and Other Unfinished Things and wrote the preface to Not a Muse: International Anthology of Women’s Poetry (2008).
She publishes articles on politics, film, food, classical music and literature, and has participated in numerous international literary events and festivals including National Poetry Festival (Australia), Wordfest Festival (Canada), Struga International Poetry Festival (Macedonia), The Asia-Pacific International Writers’ Festival (Delhi, India) and Winternachten Festival (The Netherlands). Her poems and short stories have been published in numerous international journals, among others Poetry International (Holland), HEAT (Australia), Biblio (India), Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), Takahe (New Zealand), Drunken Boat (New York) and PEN America (New York). Co-founder of Aksara bookstore, she owns Pena Klasik publishing house and produces art performances for Komunitas Utan Kayu. In 2009, she was appointed jury member of the Prince Claus Awards based in Amsterdam. Her first novel, The Blue Widow, will be published next year. She now writes for The Jakarta Globe.
All he ever talks about is the light.
In giving me a book about a writer’s
retreat to the homes of Capadoccian
monks, I suppose he also expects me
to think about the light that shines on
certain stones on certain mornings.
Sure, I say, but the colour of white
is the night. It is not the sun that guides
you to white. It is moonlight on stone.
He considers this, then suggests that
I should pay more attention to Anatolian
mornings, for there is a tintinnabuli to
such brightenings, hazel and silver
birches edging forward,
water fowls moving stepwise.
When said writer dies not a month
since he gives me the book,
he quietly goes to pieces.
Then he sits down to an obituary
of the sort that would make the dead
writer and Narcissus himself blush.
While he weeps in his own Virgilian hell,
I keep coming back to the railway of light
that fell across my chest that afternoon;
each time his eyes rested on the two bells on
each end, those soft and yielding summits,
I wonder whether he was actually savouring
the peach pill-boxes of a building in the 6th,
the one that gave the Flatiron its shape
and charge. Or whether he was tonguing
in his mind’s eye the milky ovals next to the
Rapunzel tower. I wonder when he looked at me
whether it was my light that he saw,
or the light around me,
the one that had nothing to do with me.
Postscript 2: The Surrender of May Bartram
The matter is quite simple, John:
It’s just that whenever I see you,
something in me collapses, and I
prefer your reading between the lines.
And even when you hold me, knowing
something deep about what I need,
I still prefer what is inferred.
There is nothing new in this, of course;
Cyrano is a living testimony.
He and Roxane moon about eternity
but what they really desire is desire.
In this I am Cyrano.
But this is the real me, and
this is how I feel for you.
And to protect this feeling I collapse into
myself, and a little into something outside
of myself, so that you may find something
sweet and a little mysterious in the
searching, in the idea that there is
beauty in the out-of-scale. Something
sweet that is still somewhat me.
And even though I will never tell you this,
and even if my calves will strain and burn
through the silky black, I fully intend to
wear a garter belt when you are not around.
It’s just that I want to stay true to the gaze
that gives you wings, because May is so
long and so faraway and it’s not even me.
Krishna to Arjuna: On Bhisma’s Final Day
The other day I saw a man straggling across a plain; not once did he raise his eyes. He was walking as though in the gathering thunderstorm, under the sky turning mottled green, through the cracks in the undergrowth, he would find the tiny light in his mother’s womb.
A bird nosedived into a hole in the darkened earth, whose home whose hell I couldn’t tell, but there was something about the man that was deeply touched, as though through that one gesture a lifetime of trust had been reassembled, and he let the tip of the arrow drive itself in.