Once on the old port of Sunda Kelapa, Betawi
cradled the East Indies spices.
When tropical rain poured
over her plantations of mangosteen,
hibiscus, guava, nutmeg and cloves,
she would surrender
to the heat under her banyan tree
and sleep heavily.
In her youth, she bathed in the sap
of pomelo rind and her nipples were brown and salty.
The fleshy taste of mangoes on her breasts
and warm navel made her lovers return,
ravenous and bleary-eyed.
But over one dry season
her bones cracked, the day
a man arrived
wearing a suit, a black felt hat, navy tie
and a moustache
which he kept thinly lined.
He entered her, and changed her name,
he took her nights and bedded her each day.
He fed her wine and read her books
with long tedious words
till she ached for
her mother-tongue. She prayed
to Sri Dewi and made offerings
of ginger and mace. And when only moon tears
fell at dawn into her bowl, she watered
her fields and flowers with them for many months
until he sailed away, never to return.
She burnt his books,
and cocooned her son, tying his feet,
clamping down the echoes
of his father’s words. On the eve
of Ramadhan, she stumbled on
her son, Jaya, hiding
by the banks of the Ciliwung. With her kris
she struck his ribs and banished him. Wrapped
in a sarong soaked in blood,
he left her shores
unclaimed in every land.
Her earth looted and flooded, now
festered in cow dung and roaches.
The fence crumbled, nudged and eaten
by goats and mangled by weeds.
The Ramayana carvings guarding her gate
withered and chipped, attacked by rioters
in the ten-year war.
After many years in exile, Jaya
returned, an old man,
to his mother’s island. Ashen faced,
yearning for her gaze, he found Betawi
slumped like an ailing beast at the foot
of a ruined minaret. Her breasts and stomach
rolled into one, veins of sweat
rivered neck and arms. Her head
had shrunk, her eye sockets were holes
and her mouth had almost vanished.
Jaya knelt down
His words were muted, cuffed
by her raucous breathing.
When he pulled away from her breath
and wiped his reddened eyes,
he saw a day rooted in blood, his blood
gloving her fingers, his blood
the night he was exiled,
the day he spoke Dutch,
his father’s uttering.
Mona Zahra Attamimi
Appeared in the 2013 anthology, Contemporary Asian Australian Poets published by Puncher and Wattman