“Even in sorrow, you never surrender”

The ninth part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry

Nathan A. Thompson
Illustrations by: Tony Huynh
July 16, 2014
“Even in sorrow, you  never surrender”
Illustration by Tony Huynh

Written in 2004 just days after the Boxing Day tsunami killed more than 230,000 people, Adi Rumi, a Brunei-born poet, wrote “Brothers, your cries…” for those suffering in neighbouring Indonesia, where the damage was the worst. The poet’s word choice perfectly straddles that fine line between gush and restraint that all poems about tragedy must negotiate. Take “taste sadness” for example; the phrase mimics the very sound of a wave; the verb “taste” has a brutal immediacy to it and comes semantically tied to the idea of salt and the disturbing thought that it was the last taste in the mouths of those who perished.

The solemnness of the occasion is marked by the three end-stopped sentences; they create extended pauses, each one allowing silence to enter the poem, which is perhaps the most appropriate response to such a massive loss. The poet encourages the Indonesians – using precise juxtapositions to create a dualism that allows the survivors a distance from the wreckage of the wave – to hope, and to overcome the devastation. Never stumbling into maudlin declarations, Rumi creates a tough, well-crafted poem on an intensely sad subject.

The writer and founder of Summertime Publishing, Jo Parfitt, wrote our second poem in Brunei. “Can I Walk Away” picks at the consistent transition at the core of the expat experience – if it is not you who is coming and going, it is your friends and acquaintances. It is something of a love poem to Brunei – where Parfitt lives and is considering leaving. The poet illustrates what she appreciates about her experience in the country: surprising monkeys, good food and “fast-made friends”. The structure stacks questions that are less rhetorical and more representative of strings of thought that linger in the mind of the poet as she ponders her future. Either way, the sense of poignancy is clear, and whether or not the poet leaves Brunei, we can be sure that she will never forget her experience there.

“Brothers, your cries…”
by Adi Rumi

Brothers, your cries

are ours too.

Together we taste sadness.

We know,

you are steel-strong nation

not a flower-nation that easily droops.

Even in sorrow,

you never surrender.

“Can I Walk Away”
by  Jo Parfitt

Can I walk away

from here

without leaving

scraps of my soul

like second skin

on your bruised streets,

in your sky,

and on your beach?

Can I turn my back

on a river

that carried me

to a silence

I could touch

and where a moving bough

meant not breeze

but monkey.

Can I leave behind

the good times

and good tikka;

or June who ‘did’

my face and toes

and talked of mangoes

in Manila;

those bent-tailed cats

with attitude;

and twelve-a-kilo prawns?

Can I erase these memories

that painted days

with pink

and can I forget those

fast-made friends

who gave me mornings

filled with equal music?

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