One of the most enriching, forward-thinking, fastest-growing online creative communities flourishing right now is the Poetry community, especially in those scenes that center on marginalized voices — Women, POC, Neurodivergent, and LGBTQ. Poetry Spotlight is a feature aiming to showcase the work of some of the most talented creators we’ve discovered making waves on the Internet literary circles, inside or outside the mainstream. For issue number 24, we focus on the poetry of Khairani Barokka.
Khairani is an Indonesian writer, poet, and artist in London, whose work has been presented extensively in thirteen countries. Okka has received six residencies, multiple grants, and award nominations; among her honors, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow for her masters and is a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change for arts practice and research. Okka is creator of shows such as Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee, Indonesia’s only Edinburgh Fringe representative in 2014; co-editor of HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Fixi Novo) and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches); author-illustrator of Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis) and author of poetry collection Rope (Nine Arches). Her most recent art exhibition is Selected Annahs, on now at SALTS Basel. She is a Visual Cultures Ph.D. Researcher at Goldsmiths.
Henceforth, Fruit may never stand for Woman
As a matter of course, automatic simulacrum.
Representing desiccation and death, its husk
Shrivels seeds, invariably consumed by the
Fairly indiscriminate, pulped, ground, chopped.
Tossed; force-fed syrup. This pineapple on the
Canvas may only be a woman when upright,
Against an abstract background and cleaved
By its self alone. Mane of forest, feral, fecund.
Imposing, monolithic, millennia apart from the
Tales our grandmothers tell us of nanas’ curse
Of vaginal ill-health when eaten, yet retaining
All the menace of such myth. A pox on you and
Your vaginas, it could say – but it loves the pith
Of a woman, and would never strike fear in her
Heart, like the murder of armoured, segmented
Flesh, fork gone runny with sweet yellow juice.
It strikes me: the analogy of woman to country
recurs in part because, in fact, to some it’s easy –
to visualise the gleam of the new as both
shore of the Indies (West, or as it were my East),
and a smooth stretch of sandy clavicle,
high-hilled buttock, fleshy ankle. Shining
shimmering splendid, Aladdin’s new world,
all subcutaneous fat and follicles.
Colonise at will, with reliable prophylactics.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if before the necessary culture clash,
they listened to the natives’ oral wisdom,
became versed in the ethnomathematics
of the tribe, and read in the original tongue
the bafflingly complex philosophies of the gods,
in temples of perplexingly less savagery than presumed?
Baby, I’m just saying.
F train comes engorging
fist-first into the belly
of the stop like blood
from warm places,
dripped on the platform
and dried. Stoop, girl.
That’s red you remember
and recognise from Friday.
You packed a jam sandwich
but won’t get to eat it now.
Just a few metres down, and
you’re holding breath solid,
suspended vision in a tunnel
of piss, no rain, no sunlight,
always three AM.
Mother’s earrings you
leave behind on the dresser
in revised historical fantasy
rattling, instead, clickety-coo
under rodents’ feet not so far from your
own persistent ankles.
Temple of Literature, Hanoi
‘Nothing is simple,’ says a man in his sleep.
Doubtful; many things less fussed with tangle: days before, five temple courtyards the light thrashed through, giving just myself joy. Corpus shaking with insect sounds, barraging violent in constant treetops.
No sin unforgiven by cicadas, cracked double with the weight of how homo sapiens break and chafe. All these terrors, storming bats, we split and split ourselves. Arthropods cackle plain.
Two schoolgirls tracing prayers on the red-painted wall with index fingers. Watch them speak to the gods, like thieves casing haze and cloudlets for some of that peace.
[All poems come from Khairani’s first full poetry collection Rope (Nine Archers Press, 2017). “Pineapple” was first published in Transom; “Epicdermis” was originally published in Media Diversified; “Steel, Yourself” first appeared in Rogue Agent, and “Temple of Literature, Hanoi” was first included in Tender]
Photography by Wasi Daniju