Two new poems by Mikael Johani

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Mikael Johani.
chapel hill

stuck a pin in your back bone
haven’t you noticed
chapell hill hasn’t got its own passaic*
look at its spine:

a spine-tingling web of fronts running thru shop-windows
caribbean curry & parota shops, pawnshops selling prototypes of shark burgers
pickled, shredded, chili-ed hengstenberg rotessa apfelrotkohl!

there’s sweet in bitterness, as always
try an earthen-jarred kimchi buried six feet under
in the north korean border
you want a range life?

summer babes do handstands on joburg beaches’
open bar tops
piña coladas spiked with antiseptic hand soap?
you’re crazed!

safari now, settle down never
the green hills of africa have gone panic-stricken
a lone olive tree stands at the pink edge of a mozambique desert

projet pour la protection des animaux sauvages?

les hommes you mean?

‘tsvangirai withdraws his party from election saying
to continue would cost supporters’ lives’

gokil, that’s what i mean

at uc san diego then nyu
you did yer post-grad on films
got your indonesian late ‘80s horror flicks’ fix from mondo macabro
lady terminator v jaka sembung
bawa golok gak nyambung


you’ve seen them? how did you stop yer heart
from stop-beating?
stop beating, stop breathin
breathe in for me now

cut yer hair and don’t get a job
pretend you never go
to grad school

i’m bored at lamont and everywhere else
gonville and caius, magdalene, all souls

all i ever wanted was to be your spine
canto cxviii (i forget most everything)

in medias what res?

‘i am happiest when i follow
how things sound.’ —

i’m startin to get
patterns tics repetitions
the ferris wheel

off yer mind

i get
you cherry
i get
you lil raccoon
of my hearth

in 1876 rimbaud set sail for Java
in august Batavia
flayed his boots along Molenvliet
jogged along Weltevreden
on the Kwitang Bridge:
jules et jacques debated the latest fashion in women’s hats

Rue de la Paix

l’Opéra were in their last run of [do more research]

do you read
these things
lil raccoon
of my hearth?

a lil bit of marjorie
a dash of hugh
a decade of pattern-making

in early dec. r. got the first merchant ship out
you know why

NO-ONE could hack the south-bound procession of Casteel Batavia

imagine me
w/out you

the gangrene has seeped into my crotch
c’est pour toi
let the bacchae

burn myrrh all nite long

KNOW what YOU want to DO

i wanna paint the sky-wide cloud
the red of yer labia [PANTONE do more research]

i want to be catherine the great
trail my train across the blood-red snow

no one misses you
‘cept remus
one teat less to suck
(sure you’ve put that
into consideration)

regardez toi!
that’s what I tell myself
(not to do)

i’ve never ever tried to write paradise
oublié moi!

in 1928 a bunch of louts descended into
the capital and decided on a strange
lingua franca

something simple and malleable
for the [forget—do more research] grammata
common market-man malay!

no c no j no v no x no u no you

’tis hopeless when i try to write paradiso
like you me the rest of this

in 1945 a couple of louts in muslin declared
independence in real time and a mangy dog walked across the first

someone wore a suit bespoked out of old curtains
jodhpurs cut off above the knees

do you know the mythologoi simulacra simulacrae simulacri of this
our belovéd

lil raccoon of my hearth?

do ya read

In 1965 a river of blood
 ”     ”     ”     ”     ”   heads
 ”     ”     ”     ”     ”   body parts (random)
 ”     ”     ”     ”     ”   i don’t give a fuck anymore it’s [something to be decided later on]

lacking the moral fibre
of the average person’s brain

[see lil raccoon of my heart i’m now sittin in a pizzeria somewhere in the back of my mind next to me the three magi (chinois) they’re debatin the eco-friendliness of screen printin vs digital the image of choice would be the standard portraits of bung dan bing soekarno-hatta]

imagine that
lil big raccoon of my hearth!

in 2008 forget it
a rickshaw driver who was


in 1996 still leaves
footprints in the sand


do ya read

my heart broke when I saw yer last
ym! status why do ya

in 2009 pretend a general election
will ignore primary results
and go straight up the caucus

oublié libre seduis-moi!

‘chapel hill’

passaic: The Passaic River passes through Paterson, New Jersey, USA. It also appears in William Carlos Williams’s long poem, Paterson. Williams lived for most of his life in Rutherford, 14km away from Paterson.

parota: Hindi; Indian flatbread.

apfelrotkohl: German; ‘apple and red cabbage’; Hengstenberg Rotessa is a brand name and product line.

kimchi: Korean; fermented vegetable, commonly cabbage.

projet pour la protection des animaux sauvages: French; ‘project for the protection of wild animals’.

les hommes: ‘men/man’.

gokil: Indonesian slang; ‘awesome’, ‘awesomely crazy’; sometimes a jibe, as in ‘mad skills’.

jaka sembung: a classic of the genre of fantasy action Indonesian films from the 1980s. Jaka Sembung is a warrior who fights Dutch colonial oppressors, as well as collaborators who have supernatural powers.

bawa golok gak nyambung: Indonesian; ‘Jaka Sembung, bawa golok gak nyambung’ – literally, ‘Jaka Sembung carries a machete, WTF?’. Indonesian equivalent of a Cockney rhyming slang, meaning ‘You’re not making any sense’.

starálfur: Icelandic; ‘staring elf’; cf. Sigur Rós.
‘canto cxviii (i forget most everything)’

Molenvliet: Dutch; ‘windmill stream’; a canal in Jakarta (‘Batavia’ under Dutch colonial rule) that used to have windmills powering small workshops producing sugar, arak and gunpowder.

Weltevreden: Dutch; ‘well satisfied’; colonial district in Jakarta during Dutch rule. Now called Sawah Besar (‘Big Paddy Field’). There are no more paddy fields, just government buildings.

Kwitang Bridge: Nyai Dasima, in the famous eponymous short story by English author, G. Francis (possibly first written as a poem by Chinese-Indonesian author Lie Kimhok), was murdered under the Kwitang Bridge.

jules et jacques: Jules is Jules in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Jacques is Jacques Pangemanann, the antihero and narrator of the last instalment in Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet, House of Glass.

Rue de la Paix: French; ‘avenue of peace’; central, high-fashion street in Paris.

l’Opéra: Opéra Garnier (aka Palais Garnier), an opulent opera house at the northern end of Rue de la Paix.

marjorie: Perloff, literary critic.

hugh: Kenner, literary critic.

r.: Arthur Rimbaud.

Casteel Batavia: Dutch; Batavia Castle, a fort in Jakarta and the former administrative seat of the Dutch East India Company.

c’est pour toi: French; ‘It’s for you’.

remus: twin brother of Romulus, mythological founder and first king of Rome.

regardez toi!: French; ‘Look at you!’

oublié moi!: ‘Forget me!’

grammata: grammar (i.e. the book that contains rules of grammar); so, ‘Common market-man Malay grammar’.

bung dan bing soekarno-hatta: Indonesian; Bung = comrade (male), Bing (rarely used) = comrade (female). Soekarno was Indonesia’s first president, Mohammad Hatta was his vice-president. Jakarta’s airport is called Soekarno-Hatta.

ishikoro: Japanese; ‘pebble’; circa late 2000s it also meant disused or neglected blog.

moi: French; ‘me’; also Toril Moi, feminist literary critic.

ym!: Yahoo Messenger

oublié libre seduis-moi!: ‘Forget me, seduce me’ in Indonesian translated through multiple languages ending in French using AltaVista’s Babel Fish translation engine in 2009.

Previously unpublished, © Mikael Johani

  • Mikael Johani is a poet, critic and translator based in Jakarta, Indonesia. His works have been published in Ajar (Hanoi), Vice Indonesia, Kerja Tangan (Kuala Lumpur), Murmur (Jakarta), Selatan, Popteori, Vita Traductiva (Toronto), What’s Poetry?, Bung! and others. His poetry book, We Are Nowhere And It’s Wow, was published by Post Press (Jakarta) in 2017. He’s one of the organisers of Paviliun Puisi, a monthly open mic gig in Jakarta.
Image: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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