Halfway up the dappled flank of
Mount Lawu, choked and twisted paths
draw mouths like moths to greasy windows.
Tawny Java spreads itself about,
patchwork of tobacco, tea, chili, pisang,
tea, tea; parasite pickers are riding its heave.
Strange how we keep repeating,
plucking at stone eyes of Candi Sukuh,
the temple perched on these lips of the land.
Oily bowls of floret and wax are
secreted in secret nooks; weathered
faces of goddesses demand to be restored.
Loam and crop below, a skeleton
Candi above, hungry visitors above that:
strange how we see all and nothing from this
sacred level. Not quite the view of
Lawu, but close enough. Our guide prays:
“Sometimes at night, the clouds come down.”
“Hooded by seven cobra heads with
flat, round crown jewels, broad
necks and neck wrinkles”,
flesh emerges from rock; things become
things and take more than
sounds to grasp them.
We shall be akin to this, unafraid of
diverse beginnings—still some
tremble at the Hydra—
and “gradually merge into the flat surface
of the stone”. Angels’ tongues are
ammunition for our
apotheosis. “On the front side, 28 lines
of script are visible”, and though
“badly weathered and
illegible” still testify. When was the last
time words had this much power?
How is it that curses and
blessings mingle thus and demonstrate
the ubiquity of ambivalence? Yet
script “is separated from
the roughly flattened underpart by a protruding
horizontal ledge”, a realm where
poetry dares not enter.
“Thus a groove is formed, passing in the
middle part into a spout” in the
shape of a woman’s
fruit, a secret waiting to be told. Makan
sumpah! Makan sumpah! I don’t
want you to speak or
listen: I want you to swallow any possibility
of promise so the weight of all
there is becomes a
part of you. Swear allegiance to no-one
and everyone; watch meaning
weep from rough stone.
Tse Hao Guang is interested in form and formation, creativity and quotation, lyrics and line breaks. His chapbook is hyperlinkage (Math Paper Press, 2013) and a full length collection, Deeds of Light, is forthcoming. He graduated from the Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities at the University of Chicago in 2014 with a concentration in poetry and creative writing, and co-edits the cross-genre, collaborative literary journal OF ZOOS.
- Mount Lawu: Volcanic peak on the border of East and Central Java.
- Pisang: Bahasa Indonesia. Literally “banana”.
- Candi Sukuh: 15th Century Javanese-Hindu temple or Sukuh on the slope of Mount Lawu. The three levels of the Candi are believed to be increasingly sacred the closer to the sky.
- Picture: McKinnon, E. Edwards. “Early Polities in Southern Sumatra: Some Preliminary Observations Based on Archaeological Evidence”. Indonesia 40 (October 1985): 1-36.
- Telaga Batu: A place in Southern Sumatra where an ancient Srivijayan curse inscription, carved on a naga stone, was found. Water was poured over the stone, running over the inscription, and drunk to bind the drinker to an oath.
- “Hooded by … ” and all other quotations: De Casparis, J. G. “Old Malay Inscription of Telaga Batu (South Sumatra)”. Prasati Indonesia II. Bandung: Masa Baru, 1956. 15-46.
- Hydra: Creature from ancient Greek mythology. Serpent-like beast which grew two heads for every one cut off.
- Makan Sumpah: Bahasa Indonesia. Literally to swallow an oath, to forswear oneself.