A HANDFUL OF EARTH
handful of earth, bestowed with love
by the creator as a revelation.
Your name, but I did not believe
myself and as yet spoke no Javanese
hunted on, into the emptiness of other lands,
reflecting what a person keeps
The master, your grandfather, had foretold it:
shortly after I am gone he will return.
And so you waited, with Buddhistic patience
allowing me to circle round you ever closer,
a bird of prey, losing in beat of wing,
gaining in keenness of gaze.
After seven years of denial, after seven
times seven blows to the midriff,
the breaking of resistance,
you suddenly appear once more in the palm garden.
After so many words on bloodless paper
your smile is like that of the reliefs
in lava rock everywhere around us, full lips
that are to close round more than my language.
After the kept silence, the cutting, the sheafing,
the flailing of the rice from its stalks,
now the blessing of the elders, the gift,
a vow unknown to those without belief.
glass I see you then,
as a copy in hardened synthetic resin
of the skull fragments compressed to stone:
Gone for good are the hair-covered skin,
the flat breasts with their long nipples
and the short hoarse sounds of the tongue
in which you warned, made love, died,
but not the strings of notional DNA
still spiralling in the woman with whom hand
in hand I stand before the dark showcase
and reconstruct your heavy features.
Your luxuriant world with predecessors
of elephant, buffalo and crocodile
became imperceptibly slowly buried
beneath layer upon layer of sediment.
After hundreds of thousands of years of waiting
lift up your once so strong hands
of what is now caked grit,
reach out towards me
and want my mouth to breathe
life into her. I incorporate you
when our descendents survive,
according to a theory
far from proven yet.
The line from the volcano’s summit
past the sultan’s palace to the sea’s abyss
spans the sacred space
of the culture
in which until the end you are embedded.
It preserves the balance between
the heavenly bodies and the daily life of prayer
and service, of birth, dying and grief.
May nothing disrupt this imposed
or neighbours will view us with darkened gaze,
fire will rise up from Merapi, blood
descend from the world of ancestors.
So I am taught, ignorant as I still am,
and I am all ears and see charred fields
where the rice now rustles in a gentle breeze, hear
envy in a friendly voice, and bow
my head because I have so little own control.
The gamelan strikes up, copper against copper
brings a former pledge to its conclusion.
Shrill voices search, grow stronger.
In our stiff garments we stride to the centre
of the ring and throw betel leaves at each other,
against which no disaster can prevail.
As carefully as possible I step on the egg
and you wash my feet with what is freed
in the bowl with flower-petal water.
Under the approving eye of all
I empty a sack with rice, nuts and seeds
in your still briefly covered lap.
How deeply buried in my mother tongue,
how far withdrawn from the wreath of blood,
insatiably spreading in new life
merciful death now seems.