Book Review: Before Dawn – Sapardi Djoko Damano

Before DawnSapardi Djoko Darmono  Before Dawn – Sapardi Djoko Damano

I read a book of poetry after a long time. The challenge in any poetry translation is if the poetry can survive what can be a brutal translation. It is to the credit of the poet and the translator that some of Damano’s  poetry (written originally in Bahasa Indonesia) still manages to shine through. Two things stand out for me (i) the vivid imagery of capturing  everyday scenes of life and (ii) the profound reflection on old age and death. Two samples to illustrate my point: “I ordered waving grasses and wild flowers – I don’t know what you ordered. I ordered river stones on a bed of swirling rapids…” or “He doesn’t like talking about his glasses, which he sometimes forgets where he’s placed, about his silver hair, about his empty house, no longer occupied by wife or children, about the bad weather that causes him to sneeze…” There are many nuggets of the kind in the book.  If nothing else, the book did whet my appetite for both –  poetry and Indonesian literature. Perhaps poetry is not meant to be read like a  novel – page after page till it’s over. It should be read in small doses, – one or two poems before going to bed.

Recommendation: Read the original if you can. Otherwise, don’t bother.

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Why You?

Today

I asked myself,

Why you?

 

Is it the curly curls, the beautiful eyes, the smooth throat, the nibbly earlobes…

 

Is it the silky voice, the infectious laughter, the ready with, the inimitable sense of humor…

 

Is it the vulnerability, the innocence, the charm, the evoking of a paternal instinct…

 

Is it the innate goodness, the moral strength, the consideration, the desire to do what is right..

 

And then I thought

Isn’t it enough

That I know

It’s you

 

How many of us –

How many many

Spend lifetimes looking for that elusive

Her and him

And never reach there

Isn’t it enough

That I know

It’s you

So why bother

Why you!

An End, A Beginning

Tonight, I was flipping through my poems

 

– Each one a cherished memory,

Reminder of a tender moment

 

And then I thought

If all of that has ended

That I’ve lost the ability to love like that

The ability to feel like that

And if it was the end

 

It was then that you shook me from my reverie

Asking an inane question and smiling that trademark smile of yours

Which never fails to evoke one from me

You – my beautiful daughter

 

And I looked deep into your eyes

And thought that perhaps there had been an end

But there had also been a new beginning.

A Tear Wish

A Tear Wish

When the night is lonely

The music sweet…and of a time when we were together

I plunge..

Into the past

Reminded of

Those long telephone conversations

Where even the long silences were so so fulfilling.

When that uncontrollable laughter used to get at us.

The little barbs that we made at each other which amused us equally.

When the possessiveness for each other got funny.

A Tear forms slowly

Ever so slowly

At the corner of my eye

And rolls down my cheek.

And I pray to God

That you

Are happy

Even

If that means

That what I remember so vividly

You do no remember at all.

I Dream Of You

I Dream Of You

Oh, my dream!

I still dream of you

Of what it would have been like

To have you by my side eternally.

Not that I am unhappy in my present

But still, I do wonder

What it would have been

To have such exquisite beauty in my life

It didn’t happen

Wasn’t our destiny

We went our separate ways

And today – are as apart as two people can be

With our own separate joys, sorrows and dreams

And yet I still dream of you,

My unattainable beauty.

Sometimes in the night.

Sometimes in the day.

To Silence

writing

I am not plain, you protested.

And the words remained with me.

The songs I played, the music I heard

The voices, the notes, the verses were all you

– echo of your voice

– facets of your being

And I had this overwhelming desire

To put pen to paper

And sketch you

With words

To immortalize you

On paper

I drew the locks…the curls that you so harshly tie up at work.

I drew the smile which illuminates your face.

I drew the willowy tall frames.

But that is as far as I got

The words seeming so facetious.

I was disappointed

And wondered why I can’t play with words any longer.

And then the realizations dawned

And I smiled to myself

Because I remember

That I

Am a silent lover.

A lover of silence.

A Few Moments More

Moments

You knock on my door

And tell me to follow you

It’s time, you say

Time to leave

I realize I need a few moments more

I want to see her at least once

To touch her and feel if she is real

I need to hear her laughter once more, see her smile light up the room once more.

I need to take her small hand in mine when she is sleeping…and thank God once more

I need to kiss my girl on the corner of her lips once more, to lie snug with her once more

I need to see how the tulip bulbs I planted in the fall come out this spring

And if the leaves of the trees will be prettier this fall

I need to visit countries, continents.

I need to see all this world has got to show me.

Oh, there is so much I need to do!

Can’t we wait a bit?

Come, let’s wait a bit.

A few moments more.

A few days more.

A few months more.

A few years more.