The Girl from the Coast

she was a child
young, golden, playing on the
shore, hauling heavy fishing nets

plucked as a practice wife for an
how could such a weakling be a warrior
a hero from the old stories?
bathed in fragrant water
cocooned in light blue silk
feet in Japanese straw sandals

remembering toes clogged in mud
at the river mouth, its bitter smell,
the strong odour of prawns
she once pounded to a powder
every day, at this time

thrown out, when they were
done with her

the invaders came
she woke up old
faded clothing as neat as she could make it
tiny hands and feet wrinkled, arthritic

a bent back dwarfed daily by a large basket
taken out of habit to the dawn market
fewer and fewer sales

always somebody stealing her life

Jennifer Mackenzie

Based on episodes from Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s The Girl from the Coast, a novel based on the life of his grandmother (translated from the Indonesian by Harry Aveling, Select Books Singapore, 1991).


Jennifer Mackenzie is a poet and reviewer, focusing on writing from and about the Asian region. Her most recent publication is Borobudur and Other Poems (Lontar, Jakarta 2012), and she has presented her work at a number of conferences and festivals, including the Ubud, Irrawaddy and Makassar festivals. Her new Indonesia-focused project, Navigable Ink (Transit Lounge) is forthcoming.

© 2019