New Internationalist

Loving my land, dying inside

Issue 345

Poems from Malaysia by Anushka Anastasia Solomon.

Background

‘Since the 1970s Amnesty International has raised serious concerns that fundamental human rights enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution and international human-rights law are threatened by the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows indefinite ?preventive? detention without trial, and by a broad array of other laws restricting rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Many of these laws were inherited from the British former colonial government and subsequently tightened incrementally. Their application has been both politically motivated and selective, with those targeted including political or social activists, academics, students, journalists, trade unionists and other peaceful members of civil society perceived by the Government as threats.’

From Amnesty International briefing, 20 October 2001.

Glossary

dikir barat — a traditional musical performance. Everyone is seated cross-legged on the floor. The lead sings and the rest of the band claps their hands and move their bodies to a beat and tempo.
durian — Malaysian fruit with a thorny hard green shell and soft custard pulp encasing seeds inside. Westerners find the smell of durians too strong.
jangan kuhatir — don’t worry.
kain songket — intricately woven gold embroidered cloth used by Malays for traditional dress.
koviar — the lowest caste among the Tamils from Sri Lanka.
permaisuri — Queen
pahlawan — Warrior
ringgit — the Malaysian currency.
selamat datang — the traditional Malay greeting of welcome.
songkok — a black cap.
Yang Di Pertuan Agung — title for the King.
Yap Ah Loy — Chinese governor of Kuala Lumpur in its founding years. Lived 1837-1885.

Raped, Draped and Relegated

I slept with the Prime Minister, Mahathir,
jangan kuhatir, why not, I am not
telling a soul. He unloaded his songkok,
bald, ribald and bare — why do you stare?
You know he does it. You, his wife, do you
care? You, his daughter, didn’t you hear the hymen tear?

I force the details on you mad, bad and glad
to share how he gunned me down
like a muted, molted hare, blinded
by the headlights of a snare in a singularly
built concrete jungle Mahathir —

Jangan kuhatir, cracked open my skull,
monkeyed my brain and can you bear it
broke even the bars of the jail to suffocate
this tale before I turn pale and stiff like
a bed of nails I say I could not lay on so
my soul sank out from under him
gasped and suffered and piteously died
while you all sat around the table covering
your ears drowning my tears

supping chinese elixirs, drumming dikir barats
karaoke klapping hands, Eh wah! Eh Wah!
Aweh! Aweh! accepting ringgit bribes
beckoning some long forgotten moon, you
forget you are afraid of stricture, denying all
scripture, you crow as I cry

How he soiled the marital bed!
How he drew the mattress to court!
How uselessly, uselessly I fought!

When he called, beating his chest,
‘Are there any men out there?’ no-one
came baring their breasts, he was right —
Mahathir, jangan kuhatir — We are an
emasculated nation, emancipated from
nothing and constipated with everything.

I do declare, if I Look East, as you feast and
and see a rising sun, my brains are unctuous
matter, dissolving before the witch doctor’s
chant is begun.

If you remember correctly
before he mended memory and gave you
a medical history he came —

A Malay Dilemma
his own medical balls poured into some
pants, mouthing heresy, masking fantasy,
asking in ornate oratory to placate your anxious ass
by probing, poking and peeking, leaking like the plague
into the air Malaysians ate as they doubted Fate
and debated Faith letting in the Prince of Air.

If all I tell you isn’t viable,
If all I bell is the cat, doesn’t it rather vitiate the air
If you got raped and then draped with his pants?

You go girl, get yourself some justice
Just take yourself some care, Friday
is not a good day, maybe you ought to go pray,
there is that long foray — lunch break — some months are
for fasting, the rest of the year they are dusting

In the police precincts, you can get raped again,
But with Mahathir, I am telling you,
jangan kuhatir, no-one will tell a soul, no-one will
really care or dare.

Give Mahathir Your Tourist Dollars

Come to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
the city bolted on the inside lighted
on the outside bring your tourist
dollar, hear us holler, bring your
tourist dollar; ‘Selamat Datang
visit now my burial ground,
bring cash I have so much
to offer — the dead, in auspicious
Chinese red proffer — receive in paper
all they can get — quaint customs,
traditional bamboo blinds the Malays
with cash you can have a bash, the
Indians dance to all tunes, in our
modesty we hide our travesty like
the ostrich in sand dunes what in
the nation what shall I not praise?
What have we not to lift up to the
human race? For a price, you can have
the coconut tree moved, auspicious rice,
forest bound lives, or city hives, ride the
rickshaw, rub shoulders with the
urbanites, enjoy the native smile,
marvel at the lack of guile and when
we assemble in coloured lies, you
realize, we went to so much trouble
to practise rites for your delight so
Come to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
The city bolted on the inside, lighted
On the outside, you will feel like you
died and went to heaven, we will be
open all night like a tavern dancing
on our monuments like pawns in
noodle soup, oh, prawns! flying kites
or head hunting among the dead in
auspicious red, don’t you get all
suspicious now and start looking around
for the bullies on your playground —
you know the walking dead buried in
four hundred and fifty two meters of
glass and steel never make a sound.
so bring your tourist dollar but don’t
you go fooling around the crown
in the land of the sultans in kain
songket
*, velvet, silk, batik or damask
they know how to bring you down
without a dollar so adjust your collar
hear me holler and come to the city
bolted on the inside, lighted on the
outside, Come to Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia. ‘Selamat Datang

The Creed of the Poet in a Woman/Poetess

I wandered like a river, meandered like a nomad,
looking for a poet who could set a drunken bard
afire; a loaf of bread, a jug of cold water sustained
on all I read, I went as the spirit led.

There were poets who lurched words across the page
ornate words that had women bound, bah! bah!
said Ezra Pound, ‘I have sung women in three
cities, But it is all the same; and I will sing of
the sun’.

Black, black like a raven fled his words in
pun, red, red, like a woman bled the land
laid underground; against rocks and snakes I
dashed my head, in an ocean I made my bed

in the sounds that rushed around, all the books
that abound, I found few who wrote of things
I knew, like a woman whose feet are bound I
wandered like a river, meandered like a nomad

looking for a creed, rushing like a reed,
thirsting like a cloud, I wondered out aloud
hungered, lingered in a city looking for words
to give women whose mouths are bound

I straddled two worlds, and speaking three
tongues, read Edna St Vincent Millay, and
watched Maya Angelou sashay, I leapt over
rocks, tipped over crocks going home

I found salt running in streams, washing poets
Out; watered down or behind bars, the women sat
their hands over the mouths; not one lacked bread
to eat, women swirled like colours in the streets

caged in towers I longed to share my joy
at having found women who wrote poetry and
gushed out from underground but no woman rushed
naked to greet poetry, not one had her mouth unveiled

nor was her spirit free, before I profess the poet’s
creed , I must confess — this in my country is no
mystery; the creed of the poet can set drunken bards
on fire; those who are free soar with glee but what

are poets in a nation bound by their hair to the ground?
Bah, Bah, said Ezra Pound, ‘I have sung of women in
three cities, they are all the same I will sing of the sun’.

What writer are you?

What writer are you?’ —
a balding, beer-bellied Malaysian bellows
his cup filled with a vile brew, his cry
echoed by a consenting crew raising modern
heads, thrusting in my hands with a shaking fist
a broom: ‘Sweep the Floor,’ he commands
so to be true I comply with his demands
accomplish a purpose with his tools
knowing no-one can do nothing quaking
in his jackboots I quickly strip
the palm-frond leaves
our quiescent women wave when our fickle nation
houses the entire Empire I acquire the features
of the painted persons the prime rib has
on parade at the crossroads of culture
I shake the skeletal quarters of a drooling city
mined on waters by metal the likes of Yap Ah Loy I hang
curtains I draw to peer at what secret shame
abides in a Malay Archipelago fame
the Yang Di Pertuan Agung, Permaisuri, Pahlawan
Prime Minister monuments and memorials stretch frail like
cobwebs in a scurry under the table I brush
aside Braille dust aged praying hands, I choke at
the money laundered buying, selling our
women, our graying old men, our caged land in the magical forest
realm I stop to gaze at a talisman
I let my heart race at the pace trade has set
the price at which we are purchased, the carnage
we sell, the dead things we embrace, I look up upon
the gilt-framed faces of kings upon the wall, the towers we rig
tall I count in cowrie shells the cost contained
on our shores among our dead buried like secret
treasure scattered like sacred ash from end
to end I sweep the house built after spirits are
appeased I try to keep the faith of the land but
the ocean calls a purpose I raise to hail the storm
a livid monsoon rain floods the path I walk
bloodied by other limping poets wounded I
fall dying in a trench dug out by denizens
who step in their own graves to observe the law
of a land steered by the stars of a henchman I
strike down sweeping the floor spill blood that
washes nothing away and answer the door the
national anthem rattling the primal cave
of a mouth meant for God and praise writing
poems politicians paraphrase that’s the kind of
writer I am sweeping the floor like a whore
when God stands knocking at the door and
you are inebriated to your core.

Anushka Anastasia Solomon is a prize-winning Malaysian writer and poet. The author of two books, a collection of poems entitled Please, God, Don’t Let Me Write Like A Woman — that the nations may know themselves to be but men and a book of dramatic monologues entitled That Guy, Jesus, Anushka is currently in the United States seeking a publisher. She writes and speaks out of her condition of voluntary exile, a working poet deeply concerned with seeking the truth across national, racial, cultural, gender and religious boundaries.

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