Laksmi Pamuntjak (b. 1971) has since 1994 written columns and articles on politics,
film, food, classical music and literature for Tempo magazine and elsewhere. She
translated and edited Goenawan Mohamad: Selected Poems, published Jakarta Good
Food Guide (an annually updated new take on food writing) and co-founded Aksara,
a bilingual bookstore in Jakarta. Her first collection of poetry, Ellipsis, appeared on The
Herald UK 2005 Books of the Year list. A treatise on violence and the Iliad entitled
Perang, Langit dan Dua Perempuan (War, Heaven, and Two Women) came out in 2006,
along with her first collection of short stories, The Diary of R.S.: Musings on Art. The
Anagram, her second poetry collection, was released in Mar 2007. Laksmi is currently
working on The Blue Widow, a novella set in Buru Island, the site of a large tropical
gulag during the Suharto administration (1965-1998), where alleged communists and
Communist Party sympathizers were detained for more than a decade without being
formally charged or tried in court. Her latest poetry collection, The Anagram, has eight
poems and prose poems inspired by the Buru experience, entitled "From the Buru
The Third Batch
You'd think it was some kind of mercy,
how the sea handed us to land.
Not one, or two, but a fleet:
of landing crafts with wide,
winsome, welcoming berths.
The wet that clung onto our
gunny sacks rising up our spines
like a Latin lover. You'd think:
it never is as bad as it seems.
Death blows always precede you,
as they say they do in poems. And
so went the yellow drill army to shore.
The locals always knew
when the ships were in.
In the shadows of palm trees,
in the silence among the huts,
they knew we'd come in.
They would be down at the water,
watching us heavy-foot the first kilometer
like errant sheep herded into purgatory.
They heard our cries.
I turned to Z and asked him: wasn't
there something about your first view
of this new world from behind the
oval windows, something about your
birthplace sailing past, like the joker's
ghost, and waving goodbye?
Where is it again, your birthplace?
I asked. Tanjung Balai, he said,
as though he too had dreamed it.
Later all we could remember was the
spectral white of women on bicycles,
merry after hauling in the nets all week.
Next day's wet was not so good.
Dignity had stayed the night at
Jiku Kecil, where we first felt
the breaths of those who came
before us lingering in the walls
of pounded bamboo. This time,
the water did not relent. Came to
our shoulders as if to say, I'd
drown you if I could, for it
would have been better. But you
aren't in my purview. Even the
little gnats behaved like sirens
on heat, telling us through circles
in the swamps that the gods
had beat a speedy retreat.
Golkar smiled upon the village of Sanleko
like a rich, fat, sleepy daddy. You could see
it in the banyan tree of the village plaque,
and elsewhere among the banana leaves
and bamboo, clove and coffee: chief,
shaman, icon all in one.
Right on noon, we looked up and saw
a mosque that engulfed the sun. We
drew a sigh that woke up the child.
Was there ever another moment
when God, nation and the state
so entered into a pact?
After which there was nothing:
glimpsed, heard, hinted or divined,
in the silent kilometer.
Only the approaching hour.
(the road was hardly that)
And then there was paddy.
Planted, and inscribed, as if
upon earth: by the yellow star,
the knotted chains, the banyan tree,
the bull's head and the marriage of
rice and cottonflower. A horror
of beauty. Slowing down now,
over the bare grazed ground.
The road ahead wide, boulevard-like,
framed by the red and white of the
turi tree. No, no houses, just specks
of huts on rice fields. Everything
cleansed to parchment.
When I realized, in the whirl
and tumult of rifle butts poking
our rumps, that I am done with
walking, I understand that
the dampness in my uniform,
no. 055, were really my own
tears and not somebody else's.
This is when I looked up at the
sky and saw an apparition of You.
Buru is the third largest island in the Maluku islands. The center of the island is mountainous, with a flat coastal plain where about eighty percent of its 100,000 inhabitants live.
Rich in ebony, teak, sago, coconut and moleucula oil, Buru became part of Indonesia in 1950, following the nation's independence. The population of the coastal region is generally Islamic, and about one third is considered indigenous, while the rest are immigrants.
During President Suharto's administration (1965-1998), the island was the site of a large penal colony where alleged communists and Communist Party sympathizers were detained for more than a decade without being formally charged or tried in court. Hundreds of them died of malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Others were shot to death by guards or died while under interrogation. Even though the prisoners were freed by the end of the 1970s, Buru remains a symbol of the "New Order" repression.
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