Monday, June 25, 2007

Stars (Bhuana Sari, 1990)

The sun was going down and his little sister named Putu and I were walking in the gorge and she kept lighting one match at a time, pop, that would illuminate a foot or two of muddy ground at a time. All the green faded into grey and black. I would feel like I was losing my balance, and then remember how Pasek walked looking not down at the ground immediately in front of him, but look to a point further out, and scramble to it as if the ground were not littered with pieces of black lava rock and clutching roots. His feet danced around them as if they had eyes.

In the dark, I realized how dependent I was on Putu to navigate these dark trails. The jungle clicked and hummed with insects. My skin itched, and was covered in a layer of sweat.

I followed and followed the short bursts of fire at the end of Putu's arm.

Putu's arm was long and graceful. The first time I saw her, she was standing at the entrance to the kubu, swaying so slightly, balancing a load of firewood on her head. She wore only a brown sarong wrapped around her narrow waist. The jungle grew around her. There was a sack filled with drying corncobs, and chickens squawking over spare kernels.

I wished to belong to a place like she did. I wanted her grace and balance as she scrubbed my body with black rocks in hidden streams. I wanted Pasek's hands always moving towards me, after he cut bamboo or dealt cards for a chiki game or caressed the head feathers of a cock before slicing off its cockle with a quick sliver of bamboo.

I wanted my desires to be foremost. I wanted a plate of rice brought to me as soon as I felt hungry. I wanted my hand held as I crossed shaky bamboo bridges, my body washed in shallow pools. I wanted my eyebrows plucked, my body examined and opened as if it were an orchid. I wanted to stop thinking, to be like water, moving to fill the container I was in.

I embraced Pasek from behind as we sat in a crowd barely watching a Bollywood movie up in the mountains, with a jacket covering his lap so we could think the crowd was unaware of our young desire. I wanted to be a firefly over the flooded rice paddies, a firefly whose intermittent glow led our way back to the kubu, which this night was empty.

It was seldom empty.

We lay in a little brick room with a window cut out to the stars, with a chicken or two hopping on me while I smoothed and smoothed his back except for that one hair that bristled. I wanted to look at the few little boy pictures he had and to hold that little boy's hand as he was walking to school in a crisp white shirt and red shorts. I wanted to find hidden springs with him, to cross rickety bamboo bridges, to catch dragonflies and fry them on sticks.

The window opened and opened to the stars.

Chickens were hopping over stars with their dinosaur feet, and stars lit up their feathers from within. The stars reached and reached over the sawah, the hills of Kayuputih and Anturan, the smoking Gunung Agung, and spread far above the Pacific, guiding us to the western deserts of the United States.

We went up into the stars, starting that night.


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