Swimming on the Slopes of Merapi

by Cornelia Rohde

On deserted lava fields of Merapi,
Java’s sacred mountain,
two naked bodies play where viscous magma
poured destruction many years before.
Plucky four and six year old limbs
straddle buoyant banana trunks
floating in a forest pool,
roll over and up and over
riding with laughter, pigtails dripping.
The volatile volcano broods above them.
On the smoking cone, the guardian priest,
Mbah Maridjan, soothes its spirits
with offerings of rice and flowers.

I sing my play-filled daughters to sleep,
nestle them under a quilt
in the cool quiet of their bedroom.
Outside their window, molten rock scorches
red along the mountain’s flanks,
throws a blush of light on their faces,
mirroring their sun pink cheeks.

Today, roasting ash kills ancient Mbah,
smothers him under a grey blanket.
Dutiful in meditation,
his futile prayers of placation
form his shroud.
The swimming hole of childhood
is a searing cauldron;
no echoes of child joy are heard,
only the spewing tongue of
the implacable dragon.


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