The young women call out rice! Eggs for a hundred!
peanuts! Aqua! Buckets balanced atop their heads
swaying down the aisle of the ten pm bus.
They are not the banter-old ibus of daylight.(1)
Head scarfs glitter like comets down their backs
and lipstick is a sight for
rows of men
bobbing adoze on black waters,
the factory-light gleam from Gresik (2)
spelling the horizon that before was lost in oneness
and speaking to Madura in its inkiness (3)
This will be you
winking sleepless on waters someday.
The sellers sense the way for women today: you’re lucky
if its only your face for sale
in the market that is free
for the surrender of freedom, you
who give less rice than ever for the old price clenched at 300,
wrapped in banana leaves, like before
and offer the difference in lipstick
as a tribute to every nodding prince
a bribe to stave off bargaining.
A woman’s teeth go iron quick behind lipstick
when she’s balanced on the bottom line
running down the aisle of a ten pm bus,
and in the squeeze between seats
there is no margin left
to which she can back further
back ever further
Indonesia 1994; revised 1995
1. ibu means "mother," used to address married/older women
2. Gresik: industrial suburb of Surabaya, Java
3. Madura: rural island, destination of ferry