K. Kelen is an Australian poet who has been published widely in his own
country and overseas.
His books include Atomic Ballet (1991), Dingo Sky (1993) and Trans-Sumatran Highway & Other Poems.
He was Visiting Poet at the University of South Dakota for Spring Semester 1996.
"Trans-Sumatran Highway" is the title poem of his latest book which can be ordered
on the web at Australian Writing Online (AWOL) or direct from the publisher:
35 Wybalena Grove
COOK ACT 2614
Is a race track built for carts, winds a silver spell over a dragon's back.
The bus has no front brakes and our lives are God's will,
Life turns with the wheels
The bus stops at a walking highway.
Hello Money, the children welcome you, smile sweetly,
their eyes shine sun and mountain.
Rickety rope bridges criss-cross the Bohorok River
that surges the approaching mountain tsunami.
And at the head of the river is the Jungle Inn
where the manager registers guests in the heart of darkness.
Elements are real, everything else is a game or trick
and at night the mountain gods demonstrate glee.
Sheet lightning frames river & forest in white light
shows the once quiet river is black and angry
with churning mud. Air crackles, lightning in the river
flash flash the lightning is in us electric humans.
The wind brings the cries of angry elephants
river swells like high sea &
on its banks the bamboo towns wait.
Every Sunday gibbons, white and black monkeys
overrun villages on the Trans-Sumatra Highway.
Occasionally, a bamboo tiger kitten will stray...
A ragged boy chases a bicycle wheel with a stick
through coffee and pepper trees.
Beyond the Government Orang-utan Sanatorium,
past the final waterfalls and bamboo walls
far from the rice paddy's jaws and grinding saws
a tiger roars his name Harimau, Harimau, Harimau.
Closer to town, it's weekend fun and the end for a honeybear
and her cubs squaring up to a pack of hunting dogs.
Back at the Jungle Inn, mushrooms explode
in a vicious brew specially prepared for Hari Merdeka.
Drink magic the sky sings, stars form themselves
into a map of the archipelago.
on TV with the sound turned down,
the President's Jakarta parade elicits much laughter.
As it is a holiday appease volcano spirits
with sacrifices of lit cigarettes,
leave rice on roofs for storms to eat.
Almost facing the Malacca Straits, Medan is a city that chokes
on vinyl air, satellite dishes mount tenements'
rusted iron roofs. TVs shout foreign devilry.
Smoky traffic, honking horns, crunching gears.
Air burns. It might be Hell but above the din
a 200 decibel call to prayer echoes in every heart.
Hectares of sweets & crunchy treats
fill bustling Bukittinggi markets where everyone just eats.
Here Zeus lands and falls in love with a cocktail waitress
from Nias and this event recurs daily,
a portent amplified by a convention of Batak gangsters
at the Modern Hotel, Parapet,
looms in the Muslim Women's League
Brestagi branch's deliberations.
Deeper in the markets' maze darkness eats daylight
stalls sell sweets for cruel tastes,
there's a fresh tiger on display
(tracked for eight days in Jambi Province).
Benny the jammu is running with bottles
to drain the cat's blood fast so it's bottled hot
while his apprentice has the arduous task of grinding bones.
Toto has a buyer for the skin and the Sultan of Dash
has first options on the penis; the brain is eaten
on the spot. Whiskers and whatever's left will be spread thinly
through an assortment of teas, pills and jellies for export.
Along a track winding through rice fields, a boy
chases a bicycle wheel with a stick.
Lake Maninjau's scenery shifts about, sky trades
colours with mountains disguised as clouds
a billion shades of grey and blue
the crickets' song is everything.
Maninjau the poets' lake is serene with traffic's non-stop zoom.
Old men in coolie hats paddle canoes to heaven.
The tourists' many-tongued chatter fires up
when the power fails, bark with gusto.
Sunset glistens across waking water
blinding as shaman's dust.
catch the cockroach boat
for Tanjung Priok,
port of Jakarta )