from the editor's desk

Westerly 21:4 cover

From Our Archive: Poetry from Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia

Muhammed Haji Salleh, Chung Yee Chong, Hoang Bao Viet, and Sutardji Calzoum Bachri

Editor’s note: These poems have been published from our archives. They first appeared in Westerly 21.4 (December 1976)

the tide is out


the tide is out. far below the mud.
only children are out looking for clams.
i stand there on dry sand,
footprints bigger than my past,
recollecting days at the water’s teeth.
they come in between the grit-wire
of some intellectualised present,
broken along some unnatural lines,
fragmentised into a mosaic of memory.

i have forgotten the slime
or the bite of the broken shells on rough soles.
only a hint of taste lingers
across the beer-sour tastebuds
of ketapang nuts.
otherwise the seashore is crowded by
ghostly inhabitants of the mind.
ideas have risen above the mud,
chased the children home.


View from a Window


one asks for more:
more than these mud-coloured junks
lining up the seafront
against a pale invariable sky
the same sea, asking & giving nothing
ships that never came in
poised midway between sea & sky
bordering on so much infinity

for days now
i’ve stood looking out
beyond this range of blue & blue
for something larger than the sky can hold
what is not quite there
& not quite now

for days —
not even a heart-wrenching rain
to fuse the sea & sky
topple those junks & shake the whole seafront

for days

only an attitude remains:
a way of looking out
& waiting in.




I brought with me loved voices faces laughter
The door-frame the mosquito net over my sleeping wife and children
I brought the taste of tears the sweat-streaked back the drumming rain
The curfew-dark city a collapsed pier the village path empty at dusk

I brought my departure day April sixteenth our year-old child in my wife’s arms
The fiery bloody storm overhead never ending sowing hot coals in the tender grass
Oh the wound in me is deep the bullet pierced the heart the bayonet struck near the lungs
Across the globe my land is suffering while here I can only wrap my arms around my chest

Here I know Dani caught between pleasure and remorse seeing me after ten years
And the Seine is washing spring colors over Paris
And the hands and eyes of her I left behind follow me touch me
As night after night I watch the stars and feel my homeland like a cloak around me.


Marriage Poem


birds nest outside       flowers seed       two sexologists
make marriage machines of flesh and wood       bolt
down nut up naked throbbing flame of sparkplug
tiktaktiktaktiktak       restrain a sneeze     fill
the tank start the motor       tiktaktiktaktiktaktik
bolt up nut over final check sexologists in
and out timing firing seven six five four three two
one zero go!       the motor roars the wheels turn flesh
on flesh on bed on flesh       the sexologists smile the
boat sails       tiktaktiktaktiktak       hold your nose I
am embarrassed       the sexologists smile       would you
like to try our marriage machine       tiktaktiktak-
tiktaktik       no no no no no no no no no no no       mouth
on mouth flesh on flesh bolt down heart and body       tik-
taktiktaktiktaktiktaktik       the sexologists smile the
boat sails       do you want to try my marriage machine
tiktaktiktaktiktak       I don’t want to be put in
a box I don’t want to be screwed       I want flesh and
the bird to fly and fruit to grow       tiktaktiktaktik-
taktiktaktiktak       the sexologists smile       the boat
sails       do you want to try my marriage machine stain-
less steel shockproof water resistant guaranteed fresh
free yourself from pain       tiktaktiktaktiktaktiktak-
tiktaktiktak       no no no no no no no no no no
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz       zzzzzzzzzz       zzzzzzz-
zzzzzzzzzzz       no

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