/.rumah/.

rumah/

tempat teduh/

suaka/

tanah air

 

 

The shadows move without me –

 

these are people my age

tossing Molotovs like basketballs

screaming lullabies into

speakerphones

forming chain-linked fences

lying facedown on tear-gassed streets

 

 

Stones build inside them all

 

and I watch through a screen

as they tattoo the words

this is home for us

on statues of old, cobalt men. 

 

 

//

 

My grandfather comes from a Chinese village

 

near the mountains.

When I think of the place I 

think of a soft light

kissing his shoulder before

forming stones

and tanks and walls that

break the sky.                              

 

 

He arrives by boat to this archipelago

 

and the war and the fleeing

and the freedom

dwindle into the hands 

on his watches that still

hold on to the village.

Sometimes he hears them tick

and closes his eyes 

to watch the sun rise.   

 

 

你从哪里来的?                                

 

Where are you from and with it

Who are you 

Why are you here

But he merely answers:

Here. I am from here.

Over time the watches lose meaning;

he tells his son

to get a less Chinese name

and he forgets

that home is anywhere but

here.

 

 

//

 

Decades later my father

 

joins his neighbours

as they grip

cooking knives

and airsoft guns, poised at

gates like children

guarding treehouses

 

 

The orange flames, the smell of

 

burning rubber

wakes him up

every time another protest

sours

and the messages come

more clearly

 

 

That he is half this and half that –

 

Chinese and Indonesian, part of both

but belonging to neither.

That he is on the other side

of the equation –

the part protested against,

not for.

 

 

//

 

I was given a broken watch 

 

when my grandfather died. 

In preschool they teach you                           

to submerge your hands in ink

and translate an identity onto paper.                                                   

Those lines that mark your birth,

your relationships, your death. 

 

 

And how, if you don’t press hard enough,

 

your palm comes up empty. 

 

 

I have never known

 

my grandfather’s village.

The crowded streets in Jakarta point me out

like a fly on a window.

The watch, with its confused hands,

tells me

jumbled ideas of home.                                             

 

 

there’s no Indonesian word for a place where you belong