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when coming home is an art you haven’t mastered yet


how was your trip? they will ask
I won’t really have an answer, though I’ll think
what is that word for when you feel such melancholy that your chest starts hurting? for when the blues is so raw that your body can’t help but translate the emotional impulse to a physical ache

what is that word for when you can see your elders growing old, when they can no longer keep up a conversation with you, and you’re scared that one of these visits will be the last time you’ll see them?

is there a saying for when you’re so glad that you still have friends from childhood that, no matter how long you haven’t seen them, conversations just flow like some metaphorical flood gates have been opened?

how do you express the weight of nostalgia you feel when you see old pen marks on the wall, marking your height growth in your childhood home

how do you convey to someone, I can only say “It was great, nice to see family and friends”, because if I attempt to give more substance it’s like a trigger, and it wouldn’t be fair to unleash this torrent of thoughts on a well-meaning acquaintance

will they get it if I mention the slight tinge of guilt when there’s glitches in my mother tongue, or the privilege of going home and feeling like I’m home

is it polite to say “There’s not yet a word to describe this feeling in the English language, so the word ‘bittersweet’ will have to do”
will they understand what I mean when I say it was me who made the choice to leave, either out of bravery or stupidity, and for every time I feel glad to have left, there’s an equal weight of regret looming in the background

how was your trip? they will ask
is it appropriate to say “I returned to a city and country that has broken my heart plenty, and slowly I’ve come to understand why I break hearts”
can I say that I’m now too foreign for here, and too foreign for home, but never enough for both

the art of coming home means learning a tricky dance and committing to a lifelong performance
because to leave home is to understand that you’re leaving a part of your person and sticking it in amber: crystalized, ready for safe keeping
I haven’t figured out how to keep it safe just yet.


Diaspora blues image + text via theijeoma

the tirades of a young adult ix - an analysis of airplanes, holidays, and home


At the Tokyo Airport
by Koon Woon

Cold juice, cold Mt. Fuji,
A child alone dining.
Empty plane, empty heart.

Vast auditorium.
Hearing six tourists talk
About America.

Six bites of hot chicken.
Six swallows of cold juice.
Six hours, America.

Child alone, lonely child,
Here, six lotus petals
From Buddha, Mt. Fuji.

Where are your friends, your friends?
Where is your family?
In Buddha’s lotus palm.

Man alone, lonely man,
Where lies your loneliness?
In the mist of the world?

I literally started tearing up when I read this. It brought so much nostalgia, fear, sadness, joy, and just a whole jumble of bittersweet, confusing thoughts and feelings. At the core of everything, this is about homesickness peppered with missing the feelings I get when I’m on and/or near airplanes. Being on airplanes have always meant that I was going to some form of home. My trips back to Jakarta mean that I would visit familiar faces and places, feel some bittersweet nostalgia, and contemplate on where I’ve been and the person I’ve become. On the other hand, my trips back to Seattle mean that I would be home, be able to go to the coffee shops I always go to, see the people I always see, do what I always do, and live my life. Somewhere between that, I would change and grow and learn. Oftentimes I wouldn’t realize what I’ve learned or how much I’ve changed ‘till I actually do go back to Jakarta.

It’s funny how homesickness works for me. During regular days, I usually get homesick because I miss my parents or my cats. During summer breaks when I’m in Indonesia, I would get homesick cause I’d miss my regular reading spots and the coffee shop baristas that know my name. I’d miss the people I usually spend time with, the dance studios I go to, the broken-down couch I usually flop on after a long day of dancing. I feel like for me, and for a lot of people who’ve had similar experiences, it’s a never-ending feeling. It’s like no matter where you are or which home you’re in, there’s always that ever-present threat of homesickness, feeling of missing something, and not ever feeling completely whole. You’re always trying to do this weird dance; you try to weave in identities, experiences, languages, transnational spaces. You’re stuck in this limbo of two cultures (more challengingly, in a society that fears ambivalence or ambiguity). But despite the challenge, you do it anyway, because otherwise you’ll lose a part of yourself.

I usually go back to Jakarta either over the summer or winter break, though I’ve only gone there over winter break once since I moved to Seattle. Still, the homesickness is always multiplied over the break because everyone goes home for the winter holidays. As much as Seattle is home for me, so is Jakarta. That’s where my parents, family, and childhood friends live. Yes, I do have family here (my sister’s here, but I’ve found I have so many more relatives by circumstances than blood relatives in the states. I love them, but I usually never realize that until the winter holidays. Funny how life works, huh?). This time of year, most everyone get to feel what I feel whenever I go back to see my family: a mixture of confusion and awe at how such different characters and personalities can actually be related (for better or for worse) through a combination of miraculous selections of genes and simple fate. Whether you love or hate your family, whether they’re shitty to you or not (I myself have been privileged enough to have a loving family, but it’s important to recognize that some people don’t have that privilege and amazingly, they survive regardless), I don’t think you can’t not be in awe of this fact. Usually I get over it pretty quickly, but sometimes I still do feel envious of people who get to go through those weird moments with and feel those weird feelings about their families.

As silly as this might sound, I do miss airplanes, because being on airplanes means I should expect tears some 10,000 feet above sea level no matter how cheerful I was before that. Looking out of airplanes as the plane took off means I have a few minutes to take in a sight that I could only see once every year (if life permits). Obviously these don’t happen on some airplane trips, but it happens often enough that it becomes the first thing I associate with airplanes. Entering an airport to check-in means you’ve just went through a process of packing and/or unpacking, with maybe some not-so-pleasant life reevaluation thrown in the midst of the process. Being at airports during layovers means that you get to say you’ve been at some foreign country, if only to experience its culture through something resembling more of a bathroom quickie than a night of lovemaking with foreplay and shit. The seemingly countless hours on a large, enclosed cylinder with complete strangers mean you have so much time to reflect and to think (a.k.a. the worst things to do when you have so much thoughts and feelings). Being on airplanes mean you’ll watch really good and really bad airplane movies, and then after the x-number of movie, you get sick of them. You’ll hate airplanes and being on a 10+ hour flight more than anything in your life. It seems no matter how often I go back and forth between Seattle and Jakarta, I will never stop noticing these little things and the flood of bittersweet thoughts that come with them. As level-headed as I am most of the time, I will never stop romanticizing the trips home — whichever home I’m going to. This past summer, I went home for just three weeks. I thought I could do it and not romanticize it. I went home, hung out with my friends and family (plus cats), went and danced at my old studio, visited places I usually visited, and more. It was a nice, relaxed, low-stress trip. I thought I wouldn’t get attached, and, more importantly, I thought I wouldn’t cry. But as the plane took off and the towering buildings turned minuscule, I started bawling like a baby. I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel that way. It was supposed to be like a one-night stand, not saying goodbye to a lover only to be in a tragic long-distance relationship. Yeah, all of this is melodramatic, but it’s valid.

I wouldn’t ever have felt any of this had I not board that plane four years ago when I first went to the States. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post had I not packed my bags and said goodbye to my friends, family, then-boyfriend, and everyone else. Uprooting and traveling; it’s hard, it’s fun, it’s enlightening, it’s exhausting, it’s weird, it’s scary. Now, sitting here writing this at 12 a.m., I realize that it was necessary. Funny how life works out, huh?



a small piece of the story.

we were children:

drenched in a world of basketball games, scrawny limbs, calling names, knee scabs and band-aids, treasure hunts, and make-believe worlds

Enthralled to be alive, curious about why cats hate dogs

and what it’s like to be married (married at 16 or married at 25?), have a job where

all you seem to do is type words and numbers on your laptop.

We were enthralled by music, by moving images of a teenage psychic

on a black-and-grey box

As if they were layers of a chocolate molten lava cake: a metaphor for life?

You were the vanilla ice cream topping of my grade-school soul.

we grew:

carefully placing building blocks of feelings and memories (outgrowing legos), a vignette of thoughts and memories of passing on secrets, reading books, falling in love, a series of self-discoveries washing us from one ego to the next.

Cerebral quests, and still curious

about how people fall in love, or why they hate

jumping from one lover to the next, suspended between destinations, continents, fuming wafts of perfumes, paying rent and 

having brunch, reading George Orwell and re-reading scripture

wondering who God is, and why we are alive

Still enthralled, but I forgot (about you?)

Look around

surrounded by nature, surrounded by newspapers and existentialism and art and the daunting prospect

of paying taxes and puffing up lists of accomplishments

We passed each other, we passed the time of day, we proceeded: I only attempted (from you?), convincing myself I succeeded.

I walk        I dance         I envy beautiful people        I drink coffee      schmear bagels             lit nicotine sticks (invitation for death, they say: he RSVPd “yes”)          I inhale fumes, perfumes, morning dew

and release an exhale heavy with

thoughts of


Look around.

where do I go from here?

Copyright © Imana Gunawan 

“This spring, you’d swear it actually gets dark earlier.
At the elegant new restaurants downtown
your married friends lock glances over the walnut torte:
it’s ten o’clock. They have important jobs
and go to bed before midnight. Only you
walking alone up the dazzling avenue
still feel a girl’s excitement, for the thousandth time
you enter your life as though for the first time,
as an immigrant enters a huge, mysterious capital:
Paris, New York. So many wide plazas, so many marble addresses!
Home, you write feverishly
in all five notebooks at once, then faint into bed
dazed wit ambition and too many cigarettes.

Well what’s wrong with that? Nothing, except
really you don’t believe wrinkles mean character
and know it’s an ominous note
that the Indian skirts flapping on the sidewalk racks
last summer looked so gay you wanted them all
but now are marked clearer than price tags: not for you.
Oh, what were you doing, why weren’t you paying attention
that piercingly blue day, not a cloud in the sky,
when suddenly "choices”
ceased to mean “infinite possibilities”
and became instead “deciding what to do "without”?
No wonder you’re happiest now
riding on trains from one lover to the next.
In those black, night mirrored windows
a wild white face, operatic still enthralls you:
a romantic heroine,
suspended between lives, suspended between destinations.“

— “Turning Thirty” by Katha Pollitt, from Antartic Traveller.

and snap goes my sternum.

The injuries include:

A scarified clavicle

A bruised shin

A shoulder joint that slid fifteen degrees away

A cracked toenail

A shattered patella (scattered within the skin)

A kettle of bubbling cerebrospinal fluid (when my skull hit the paved road)

A fracture on my temple

A head of hair shampooed by the viscous bloodshot liquor

A torn muscle

A broken coccyx.


Ah, such torment has my body gone through


I fell head over heels for you.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan 

isn't this what you want?

Who knows what troubles them

                  Who knows who they pray for

                                     Who knows how they tie their shoe

                                                                                                                              or button their shirt

                                                                                                                                or take their coffee

Who knows if their eyelashes still curl

framing their razor-sharp gaze

                     Who knows if they linger

                                       Who knows if they linger on you

                                                        Who knows who lingers on you

                                                                           Who knows


Anything goes

everything goes.

So touch, say thank you                                                    then go your separate ways

Look back, how very human of you

                 Look back, and see their minuscule silhouettes

They’ll be your grain of salt


You’ll be ahead 

Always pacing

                                                                                            never lingering.


                                         This is what you want. It is.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan 

Not sheep coming down the hills,
not cracks on the ceiling–
count the ones you loved,
the former tenants of dreams
who would keep you awake,
once meant the world to you,
rocked you in their arms,
those who loved you …
You will fall asleep, by dawn, in tears.

-Vera Pavlova, “A Remedy for Insomnia”

upon reading this, my gut fell to my ankle. such beautiful woe.


dzing, bam, dash, woosh, ziggity, zoom

zwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee flash boom clang pow!

there goes my I Love You

hurling through the air

bumping the bridge of the nose

slamming the right temple

bouncing off the dropped jaw

of your horrified face.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

an honest line

If I could write a poem for you I

wouldn’t spend quarts of ink but pour

wine glasses filled with your exhales

and eye twitches and cursive lashes and

the mole on your finger,

to one honest scribble of a pen

I miss you.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan


“Solitude is bliss” is a line

that doesn’t belong in a poem

or a traffic sign or a prose,

or a chalk scribble on a café’s

menu board atop the counter.

It belongs in a leaves’ bristle

in a bird’s whistle

or a ripple

brought forth by a droplet of dew

on one shy Spring morning.

It deserves to be etched on

a street-side mural, impressed

in icing on a toddler’s birthday cake

or scribbled on a broken-hearted man’s

morning coffee cup

maybe jotted down on a ripped notebook paper

folded and passed along absent-mindedly through

a junior high classroom.

It is a fleeting thought, a lover’s whisper, a pandemic

word of mouth

a blaring roar through the city streets sardined with busy


A reminder that none of us are alone in this

crowded lonesome little world of ours.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

“… if necessary, the books shall be divided as follows:
you get the odd, I get the even pages;
"the books” are understood to mean the ones we used to read
together, when we would interrupt our reading for a kiss,
and would get back to the book after half an hour …“
— “A Draft of a Marriage Contract” by Vera Pavlolva

to be merry

Whenever I feel blue,

I like to drink coffee with extra

cinnamon powder

walk around barefoot on creaky wooden floors and

put on red Converses worn in with memories.

I’d walk around with earphones

on and pretend my life is a movie with a jazzy art deco

tune for the soundtrack.

Every so

often I’d glance at my reflection on windows

and realize that my sunglasses really suit my face

I would find a bench to sit on and see lives passing by while I imagine

intricate backstories for intriguing persons

then I’d think

back to my woes and oh noes and golly gee


and board on a train of thought destined to jump off a cliff to a monstrous river

raucous with crashing waves

Then I’d remember.

I’d remember that I am made of stardust

that the atoms on the tips of my eyelashes start to exist while a star ceased to

that my cracked knuckles are made of billion year old carbon

that my broken toenail used to be part of a constellation

that paint the night sky.

I’d drown myself in that rosy thought

and feel okay.

I’d feel okay.

It’s so easy to be happy, it’s almost disgraceful to be sad.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

Let me tell you about longing.
Let me presume that I have something
new to say about it, that this room,
naked, its walls pining for clocks,
has something new to say
about absence. Somewhere
the crunch of an apple, fading
sunflowers on a quilt, a window
looking out to a landscape
with a single tree. And you
sitting under it. Let go,
said you to me in a dream,
but by the time the wind
carried your voice to me,
I was already walking through
the yawning door, towards
the small, necessary sadnesses
of waking. I wish
I could hold you now,
but that is a line that has
no place in a poem, like the swollen
sheen of the moon tonight,
or the word absence, or you,
or longing. Let me tell you about
longing. In a distant country
two lovers are on a bench, and pigeons,
unafraid, are perching beside them.
She places a hand on his knee
and says, say to me
the truest thing you can.
I am closing my eyes now.
You are far away.

On the Necessity of Sadness by Mikael de Lara Co  (via atomiclanterns)

one of my most favorite poems. such beautiful melancholy, no?

a saga, of the place within a place

There is a place in existence

a celestial city of gases that swirl and whirl

where atoms kiss and collide

where hot spells squirm and engulf without


where forces cannot be mistook for fragments

of mortal imagination

Where power is.

There is a place within a place

a suburbia of sorts

where spheres motion yet never collide

where orbs hum and croon and harmonize

a hypnotizing monotony

that remains for all eternity.

Within that place lies

a place called home

a household of vast land and yet of vaster sea

where mortals wander and discover and

make trouble and recover

where spirits destroy and apologize for destruction

and make false promises of reconstruction

where beings boast of their facts and so called truths

where souls cross bridges and burn bridges

and remember only the smell of smoke that remains

where minds fantasize of strength and dream of moving mountains

where eyes blindly look away from monsters that lie beyond the edge of our vision

where thoughts stray away from the Heavens

and the hell it can bring.

In the comforts of home we put up walls and fences

In the comforts of home we close windows and lock doors

In the comforts of home we build blanket forts in living rooms 

In the comforts of home we frolic amongst the towers of pillows

In the comforts of home we console ourselves with the notion that we are nothing short of grand.

Look outside.

Ain’t we grand?

Copyright © Imana Gunawan


If I see you you would render me helpless

and breathless

and staggeringly nervous

for you are so unapologetically you.

I would write you in cursive letters

flowery images

A depiction of a beautiful soul.

I would scratch your name in ink

and found myself on a trail

that leads to somewhere

or nowhere

or you.

I would paint a picture of you

in my memory

and found myself journeying along a coast

And I would look beyond that coast

to see a fiery sky adorned with

clouds. and birds. and rays from a setting sun. and ineffably,


I would carve you in my letters

to you

depict you

illustrate you

be you

or attempt to.

If I see your blotted letter

or your blurred photographs

or your unwashed sneaker

or your bruised ankle,

I would portray you even

if you got sadder, then I will be sadder. and that’s okay.

If I see a cigarette between your fingers and coffee as black as night

within your grasp,

I would be the caffeine

I would be honored,

cause I would keep you up during lonely nights. while you tug your hair in frustration

or rub your eyes

or bathe in insomnia.

If I see you crying

or laughing

or screaming

or writing and trying and dancing and failing

I would write about you

and nothing else could be more wonderful.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

“To Do List”

unravel mysteries.

take one’s anomalistic imagination.

travel through other lives.

stretch human novelty.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

playing with blackout poetry using past issues of The Current. Credits to Jacob Jagodinski for the original article.


Words. they fail


from A’s to Z’s to


to J

I yearn to bespeak but

more of bespoken to.

futile. pricking like

thorns and fumigating

the Grey with flashes 

of nostalgic fantasias

thus leaving me unvarying; or not so.

deep in the thickets of the mind,

there are longings of

beings where dead airs

crack the sky, engulfing it

in a blaze of fluorescence,

where quietude are blanket 

forts in which we frolic; white cotton

bedsheets in which we enfold

embrace, unletting go.

come zip our mouths close and watch fire

flowers bloom

as smokes of ecstasy sway us

in flame. passion

I long for you.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

To my reader.

I would have him be beautiful. Green eyes, piercing through

paper and pigment, running through words and sentences.

He looks upon wooden planes, seeking for the one.

Running his fingers through anthologies of paperbacks and


His eyes stopped wandering through the shelf,

his mind: wanderlust. He is lost in a world, engrossed in a

treasure rich with images of cracking skies filled with pouring stars.

Then it stopped.

He looked up. He wonders.

This stream of consonants and syllables is not for my fathoming, he thought.

He came over to me.

He picked me up, his baby greens running me over; slowly, sharply.


Those fingers

upon my inked spine. I take pleasure, gloriously.

Dearest you, come and wander through the dotted I’s and crossed T’s. Surf through

the periods and exclamation points within my leaves.

I dare you to saunter along the pictorials scratched within my

flesh, with no looking back. Prepare to be enthralled.

Hey stranger, read me.

Copyright © Imana Gunawan


I was driving through the streets

in my SUV, engulfed in chipped red paint

It was 2 in the morning, dark-

ness was still falling over this city

They say she never sleeps. I guess so.

I sped up my car, thirty, forty, fifty miles per hour,

but not knowing where to go

I drive and drive, passing

streetlights, awnings, and traffic signs

People. Some here, some there

working men are sleeping, drunken men drinking

sometimes they overlap, poor things

I drive and drive again.

The clock ticks; 5.30 in the morning.

Rise and shine sleepy heads!

I looked for a public can, washed my face

and went to work.

I went to the gas station, filled my red baby, and drove

some more.

There goes some money for gas,

money that could be used

to save up to buy a house.

It’s funny how money comes and goes

but all I do is drive and drive some more.

But where to?

Copyright © Imana Gunawan

The above poem is a modified version of a piece I wrote during my Creative Writing class in VHS, 2010.

“ To write is to leave the world’s surface, to descend under the sea; the smallest pencil is my tuba.

One doesn’t report great things from grand events, the one suffering from depression thinks.
After his world tour, Bougainville extravagantly gave his name to a flower; the botanist La Billardiere gave his name to a type of grass - not bad; and you, to what? - A pail of vomit? ”

— a snippet of “Sleep Log” by Alain Borer (translated from the French by Mark Irwin and Alain Borer)