How to Watch The Act of Killing

My poem, “How to Watch The Act of Killing”, was recently nominated by Fifth Wednesday Journal, where it was first published, for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. I am truly amazed and humbled. Earlier this year, poet Rachel Jamison Webster had selected this poem for Fifth Wednesday’s Editor’s Prize in Poetry.

The_Act_of_Killing_(2012_film)I had written the poem in response to the documentary, The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, a harrowing and necessary confrontation with the genocide that took place in 1965-66 against suspected (or alleged) Communists, leftists, union leaders, peasants and Chinese Indonesians. These events helped inaugurate decades of ruthless military rule, unchecked corruption, and relentless persecution of dissenters and minority ethnic groups under General Soeharto. Many Indonesian talents were involved in the making of this film, but could not be named because the people who committed these crimes – some of whom play central roles in the film – are still in power. So the acknowledgment for this poem is not for me alone; it is for all of the Indonesian artists, writers, thinkers, organizers, survivors who have or must remain Anonymous. I share this poem with my deepest love and respect, my pain and wildest hope, for them.

Read the momentous draft US Senate resolution, recently introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, regarding the role of the US government in the perpetration of these mass killings and the ensuing 30+ years of military dictatorship under President Soeharto.


How to Watch The Act of Killing

Remember this isn’t real.

Though the fires laugh redly & the bamboo bleeds.
Black crowns of tualang trees & birds fall
like sleet. Beneath the shamed sun houses
shudder like goats at the stockyard.

Though the women’s faces purple,
their thighs licked by flames like corn husks.
Machetes wink & children’s mouths gape like eyes.
This is not the mathematic scene of torture
nor the wire’s political restraint –

you must believe
what is not really happening.   Angels of death
rocking coal-flesh against their breasts, lips
kissing away terror’s foam, anointing
brows with cigar smoke.
Now the ones who play the prey – grandchildren & neighbors,

strangers and childhood friends – stare
sphinx-like through the screen. A make-believe memory,
myth shaped like a wail
looking for the body it belongs to.

Is this what you mean when you say homeland?
When you say heal & touch
please, these nerve-ends of separation?

Remember you are not there
whipped by the patriotic winds, imprinted
in sulfur, though you are
a child of the act of burning,
a child lost and smuggled to the seated side of the screen:

You must open your hands & hold
the fate that is yours,
which isn’t to decide who lives or dies or where
metaphor ends & pain is demoted
back to unthinkable pain, but to look again & again

at this blood of initiation, the hatred
that brought you here & stoops now
an old man behind the camera, sleepless, immaculate
in his suit & fedora surveying the great fresco of his life

your libraries of Anonymous,
your sparrow-less, silent world.


2 thoughts on “How to Watch The Act of Killing

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