Erratum & Poetry


Translations by Tiffany Tsao. Republished from Sergius Seeks Bacchus (2019) with permissions from Giramondo.


What was he thinking here, picking this body
and this family, where being match-made
with your mother’s niece was possible,
where first-born sons always meant everything,
and here, falling in love with the boy
who sat beside him at school,
when all that lingered of first love was that first kiss
they shared when cutting PE,
and here, not long after his first book came out,
as his family sat cross-legged together and ate,
he told them it wouldn’t end with any girl,
much less the Toba or Karo kind,
and here as he stood by the side of the road
that night, all alone, cars passing him,
his father’s words hounding him,
Don’t ever come back, Banci,
and he wept under a streetlight, frightened
at the first drops of rain misting his hair,
and here when he realised something odd about
the text that was his life and hoped sometime soon
the Publisher would print an erratum
to restore the lost lines, wherein
he’d know he was everything and also nothing
was wrong with him, and he’d know
what lingered of first love
was that very first kiss, bestowed
back when his family sat cross-legged together
and ate, grateful because he had picked
this body and this family?



Laos dilanglangi do ahu, tarlungun-lungun…
In the places I wander, my heart weeps…

Time to turn in the resignation letter
you’ve been dying to write for so long. Time
to reveal all the credit card statements. Time
to come clean to your wife. Time
to confess it was never the work meetings
that were sapping you of strength.

This whole time, loneliness has been your leafage,
green and shaggy and lush. What a fine tree, they all think,
on the verge of buzzing with bees and bursting with fruit.
But you’re withering,
your trunk and twigs diminishing, the benalu
in your branches eating away at your heart.

Time to stop living a lie. Everything is
nothing but a show. And you’re a bad actor
with no script, trying to make her life your stage.
Who’s watching? Your folks – and empty seats.
You stand in the spotlight, unfiltered, unpink,
performing an endless series of bad tricks.

At first, you’d wake up in the middle of the night,
haunted by how your life had turned out: racking up bills

in cheap hotels and the unripe tang of cum in your throat.
Then you heard your name murmured in sleep.
So she really does love me.
You shut yourself in the bathroom and wept.

This morning, you and she reached your golden years at last,
straggling as the alang-alang sprouting in the yard
behind where you grew up, playing tag with pups
to the honey melody of your Inong’s psalms.
From the sofa you hear your wife crooning in the kitchen:
Laos dilanglangi do ahu, tarlungun-lungun…

You turn.

Time to tell what has transpired in the dark.
Time to gesture toward what remains.

Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Author: Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Born in Jakarta in 1990, Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s debut poetry collection Sergius Mencari Bacchus (Sergius Seeks Bacchus) won the 2015 Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Competition and was a finalist for the 2016 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for Poetry. In 2017, he received the Young Author Award from the Southeast Asia Literary Council.

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