‘you step’, a poem by Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, translated by Mikael Johani

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents a poem by Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, translated by Mikael Johani.

you step

on the remains of an escalator
past mountains of books
like miniature temples

at the end of this alley waits
soto padang and terong balado
can’t think of anything else

this is lunch
not an adventure filled with
dangers, this is leaving
a cubicle that keeps you feeling safe
after payday

you count the change in your purse and you pause
maybe sometimes you can take your family
to a country filled with colours
and butterflies everywhere

but now it’s time to return
past rows of cassette tapes, vinyl records,
artefacts of the past that never
bring you anywhere
but to
the exit.

step again on the remains of the escalator and you will emerge
from the belly of this mall like a baby
your afterbirth sticking fast to you. more afterbirths stuck
in all the malls
in this city,

in restaurants,
street stalls,
mobile phones,
night markets,
everything that shines

you don’t know anymore
if you’re a wooden puppet or
a baby octopus, the smell of
deep fried fritters or cigarette smoke, you’re cursed
with options, which one
is fantasy and which
are things that are unimportant
which one is you?

sweat runs down the back of your neck
fills up your wallet
sometimes you try to catch
tears that fall
without warning.
your coin purse is full,
bursting with the tinkling
of tiny coins.

you rub your tired face
with unscented wipes and the damp on your skin
is soon gone under the air conditioners
of your uber x.
hades is your driver for tonight.

you watch people with afterbirths stuck to their bodies
they’re everywhere, they look like they’re putting up art installations,
pacing back and forth on their way to a place
no one knows
what complications they’re creating,
and you remember your own daughter yesterday
her wide smiles as she read your poem
and said:
my doll is not missing, she’s gone
with a group of tourists to visit an invisible country.

your daughter is an expert
at drawing grief.


  • soto padang, terong balado: popular food dishes
  • angkot: minibus taxi

© Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, transl. Mikael Johani, from nonspecific (2019; Indonesian original, 2017)

  • Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and has published two volumes of poetry and a book of essays. Her poetry has appeared in Asymptote, AJAR (Hanoi) and Murmur. A poem of hers, ‘one by one the bodies died’, (transl. Mikael Johani) received an honourable mention in the 2018 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry. She founded one of Indonesia’s first online poetry communities, BungaMatahari (2000) and also organises Paviliun Puisi, a monthly poetry event in Jakarta.
Header image: Victor Lozano on Unsplash

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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