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Putus Telaga | Ruptured Well

Kutenun seikat mimpi / dari telapak pemigi | I weave a bundle of dreams / from the palm of the pemigi loom

Poetry | Iban, Malay, dream, translation, weaving
March 17, 2021

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is part of a notebook of Lullabies published by the Transpacific Literary Project. Each piece of the notebook is paired with a pencil drawing by the artist Trương Công Tùng. Read the other Lullabies in this notebook here.

Translator’s note:

Kulleh Grasi’s poem, “Putus Telaga | Ruptured Well”, is a lullaby of memory and forgetting. The poem evokes the creation of the pua kumbu, a ceremonial textile of Iban indigenous communities of Sarawak. The sacred knowledge of pua kumbu is imparted to women weavers through dreams, a revered gift and responsibility which was carried by Kulleh’s great-grandmother. Kulleh writes in the voice of the pua kumbu itself, while invoking women weaver archetypes, Indu Takar and Indu Ngar, who oversee the ritual of measuring and mixing ingredients for the dyeing of pua kumbu. The spirit of the pua kumbu urges the poet not to forsake it, to return to the waters of dreaming, where the poet—ruptured by mundane reality—may be restored by the elixir of the well of origins.

Listen to poet Kulleh Grasi read aloud the Malay

Putus Telaga 

Kukebat sebenang nira 
dari bibir kenangan 
Kutenun seikat mimpi 
dari telapak pemigi
Lang bejawang lang terbang 
Kausembunyi daku di dalam laci 
Kausembunyi di lubuk mimpi. 

Anang guai muai aku 
Anang guai 
Anang guai 

Engkudu pergi dulu 
engkerbai merayap kemudian, 
tatum bersilau Indu Takar, Indu Ngar. 

Kauhidu daku tanpa malu 
di kamar sepasang telaga, 
putus air ingatan
kontang sepanjang jalan.

Listen to translator Pauline Fan read aloud the English

Ruptured Well

I bind a strand of nira
from the mouth of memory,
I weave a bundle of dreams
from the palm of the pemigi loom. 
Lang bejawang soaring eagle:
You stash me away in a drawer
You hide me in a dream-cavern.

Anang guai muai aku 
Anang guai 
Anang guai

Engkudu stains first, 
engkerbai seeps in later, 
iridescent tatum of Indu Takar, Indu Ngar. 

You inhale me without shame
in the room where two wells stand.
The flow of remembering ruptures,
along the path: desolate.

Notes on Malay and Iban terms:

nira – the sap of the coconut palm blossom (Malay)
pemigi – an Iban cotton gin used in the making of ceremonial pua kumbu textiles (Iban)
Lang bejawang – singing eagle (Iban)
Anang guai muai aku – don’t forsake me (Iban)
Engkudu, engkerbai, tatum – plants used to make dye for the pua kumbu weaving (Iban)
Indu Takar, Indu Ngar – women master weavers who measure and mix the plant dyes for pua kumbu (Iban)