After the water had gone
Katakan, kenapa di tubuhmu yang sempurna
sungai seperti tak menyentuh
Tell me, why upon your perfect body,
the river doesn’t seem to touch
– Goenawan Mohamad, Pastoral
I was found lying on the black sand not more than a day or two after the water had gone back to its home. My body was moulded against a prone palm tree and a thug of concrete, which had at some point been a part of some other thing, and had thick tentacles of metal threading out of it. These were already going to rust and there was an orange welt like a jellyfish sting across the mess of my skull. The searcher who found me placed a thin blue plastic sail over me and I lost view to the sky.
I catch a boat to the island of Nusa Penida. The beach is not unlike a beach you would see on any island postcard. Yellow sand, a few rough lines of shredded palms, a car park full of old vans, and a café made of bleached wood where tourists sit with Bintang and fresh-cut coconuts. I step off the boat into shin-deep water. I hear the bellow of the monster, inland, amongst the coconut palms. They have trapped it here. The sea is a wet mouth, its jaw disconnected.
I go out on my brother’s boat. We fish for squid and the tongues of cats. The calls to prayer are as smoke is when you get up and it’s cold. The tongues of cats swim near the surface. Sometimes we mistake them for lights. We should go back in before the sun goes down but sometimes it is less sad to remain here under this blanket. A bowl of rice: the stars scattered against the sky. On the sea you always move and you cannot bind your life to any one thing or person. That would be foolish.
The seaweed is drying on huge mats by the edge of rocks and the water. Squares and squares of it, crisping, cell-sunning. We whizz past on our scooters, flying! I have never been allowed to fly. We come tumbling out at birth, ready to take to the air. None of us wear helmets. The stink of the seaweed is like your skin when you are very close to me. Quilts and quilts of seaweed. The reef, when we find it, is a ghost town. I smell the oil of your hair, the sweat on your old shirt. My hands are at your waist to hold on, to learn intimacy, again, again.
On the beach last night they performed for the drowned gods and I watched in the darkness because I would join them, next time, I thought.
We sleep badly on land. Next door, a wedding feast and the bride smokes a whole packet of cigarettes in time to pop music. Rice punctures my belly: a shoal of small fish. Something sweet in the fabric of my mosquito net. It is not death that I am scared of. They say there is an intake of breath and the sea bubbles, before it comes/ rushing back. It is not death that I am scared of. It is a fear of waiting to know your skin, when I could have woken up and known it
Petra Kamula is a poet and creative director based between Bali, Indonesia and London, England. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, her work has appeared in journals including Poetry Review, Magma, Cordite, Poetry Wales and The Interpreter’s House. She tweets @petrakamula.