On May Day this year, somebody brought this poem to my attention. This poem by Saut Situmorang, a young Indonesian poet, is an ode to a fallen hero in the history of labor activism in modern Indonesia. With her comrades, Marsinah organized protests to demand the factory where she worked (apparently this factory was located in Porong, a town only 8 miles away from my birthplace and hometown) to raise the wage, to comply with the District’s minimum wage. On May 5, 1993 Marsinah went missing, and her body, with traces of heavy torture, was found three days later by the woods 70 miles to the west from Porong. I hope this background information is enough to acclimatize you with the atmosphere of the following poem. For further information about Marsinah, of course you can start with this.

Marsinah
by Saut Situmorang

from wounds in your flesh
stars arise
each a verse
to immortalize your voice

the brave young woman
was slain.
why?

her beautiful, sacred flesh
was destroyed, ruined–
that damned death shattered
thousands of prayers
from bedazzled mothers.
why?

the brave young woman
who spoke up
about the sun
that burned faces
unfairly

that woman, marsinah
was slain

slain like a black goat
an animal
slain like a black hog
an animal
slain like a black dog
an animal
slain like a mere animal!

how could
the narrow hole in the ground
admit that female soul?

why couldn’t we,
a creature more exalted
than god’s angels?

a young woman
perished
just because she was brave.

she’s much too exalted
for us,

cursed to live
our lives

as
cowards!

If you happen to speak Indonesian and read Indonesian literature, feel free to visit the original here.

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