In prayer there is dance

In prayer there is dance, and in love there is prayer.

by Lily Jamaludin

My life is a love story. Caesarean-ed out of my mother’s holy belly, crying as if already lost; first breath the hot humid air of the 90s, father singing a prayer into my baby earlobe, and I am born, woven in love and already loved.

But life as it can, unravels us. Your father’s fears won’t skip a generation, they are passed down to hold you. A new language can leave you exiled. A disease can hurt you in more ways that one. And sometimes a mouthful of tongue comes with a handful of gunpowder

So when I learned not to give a love unguarded, I gave it to language. I wrote poetry into the joints of my limbs, and the cracks of my skin, I dreamed in verse and handed it over, I gave a boy under a lamp post a Sufi poem that says break your heart until it opens.

Standing here, now, I am handing over to you

This heart. Still learning to open. This prayer. No matter how small.

That you never fear being human. That you stay soft, no matter how hard things may be.

That when you have to choose between fear and love, you choose love. And when your islands crumble you choose to rebuild. And when you can: laugh. Laugh harder, it sounds like sleigh bells in snow. Dance. Lose yourself. Like this: like In the music, and the lights, and the night time. Like this: Like Once, in mouth of the Iowa prairie, I held hands and spun in a circle moving at the speed of 80 proof everclear and the joy of a soon coming summer, somewhere in between the choke of a sob and a cry we learned we were something close to beautiful, or damn near infinite because we were





When it comes to love, it’s been said that
my rose-colored lenses are 7 to the power of 9
Too blinded by the earnestness of my own trust
Enough to be guided by hands that lead to dead-end paths
It’s been said, that
disabling every red flag alarm is my form of self-harm
And all I could think about, was how urgent it was
that my fragile heart could keep cracking and still serve love perfectly warm

Now that’s just the fairy tale philosophy talking
The hopeless infatuation of Top 40 hits teachings
Sacrificing without knowing how to fight
Worshiping without knowing how to doubt
Under the covers of a love disguise,
recklessness strips me bare over and over,
my naked chest leaves comfort for others and me utterly careless

Naked, is what you shouldn’t be when you go around offering people a shirt
Trust me, I’d been putting 10-digit price tags on the smiles of my lovers
While I’d never even once own an ‘I am worthy’ sweater
Until I dialed my self-emergency number, and it said,
“Sorry, you are no friend to your soul. Press 1 to continue the war, or Press 2 to withdraw and begin to patch up the hole.”
I’d already lost the sword
But my finger was too heavy to pick up the thread-and-needle work

Someone came to me and said,
“What would you do if you were someone you loved?”

So I led myself out and stood in the desert,
held my hand under the sun until it didn’t burn anymore
Under a shelter I crafted together from impossible mercy and more impossible hope,
I mapped out all the places I have gambled with my heart
I traced my losses back to an ignorance of value
I broke into my safe to find it mostly empty, insecure

Someone came to me and said,
“What would you see if you were someone you loved?”

So I led myself out and stood over the river,
faced the image on my mirror until I didn’t want to break it anymore
In front of a reflection I framed with kindness that had to be possible,
I stitched together a sweater with the cotton thread of my sanity
and the wools of my madness
I weaved soft pastel hues of my tenderness
with the steel gray shades of my fierceness
On my sleeves, I wear patches of my broken heart pieces
And puzzles of dreams I have yet to assemble,
Of prayers and poems and anecdotes and quotes like,
“Sometimes I feel like giving up, then I realize I have a lot of motherfuckers to prove wrong.”

It still wears itself thin in the cold,
but moving my fingers to stitch it stronger is the only way to keep myself whole

Yes, loving yourself is an art
And I wish there was a Prize
for owning the parts of yourself you’re still learning to like
I wish there was a gallery of post-it notes
of how more than pretty you are
That there was a museum of figures, sculpted with the strength of their mind,
to show exactly how it’s done

Then maybe, we’ll rewrite fairytales of soul courtships with no excuses
We’ll rewrite songs and sing,
“Darling, don’t forget to fall in love with yourself first.”


“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”

As performed at Betelnut for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2015 Poetry Slam on October 30, 2015. Bali, Indonesia.

Broken Chord Party

To all the boys I’ve ever loved.

The one that was well-forbidden, the not-so well hidden,
one that came with a cover-up kit, one that came with benefits,
the only one that would have been, the many that never could be and the never will be.

You, are my Great Gatsby party.

My glorious shower of gold confetti. My swimming pool of pearls and silk.
My intoxication point of entry. And my tipsy burlesque dance routine.

With you, are puzzle pieces of my 26-year history.
The atlas of my chest, the geography of my belly.
The calculation formula for my laughter crease. And the residue of our explosive chemistry.

Naturally, you, are my mother’s worry.
My best friend’s curiosity. And my curiosity’s best friend.
Turning into my insecurity’s soul mate. My honesty’s bed. My fragility’s thin blanket.

My innocence’s end.

Through you, comes the gravity of my greatest fallings.
The microscopic view of my heartache anatomy.

And the verses of my richest literary piece.

Containing anecdotes of pleading the universe for an exchange between my two broken heart pieces and a pair of boxing gloves for fate-punching,
Multiple reconstructions of plots I had written around your dreams,
Countless color-camouflaging and character-breaking in and out of your skins,

And a repertoire of techniques for weaving you back into the story without compromising a happy ending.

Yes, you, are the memory-to-be of my youth parenting feat.
Of the moment I catch salt water on my baby girl’s cheek. Telling her that

“I’m sorry, honey, that you’ve inherited your mother’s hopeless romantics and slightly high-strung antics,
that there exist moments of us mistaking the frantic seasons of living for a soul apocalypse.
But, baby, never let anything but Life break through your lips.

Paint my fingerprint on your veins
as you take cover in the rain, curl up between warm morning rays.
If need be, travel the courageous road of peace-making,
or my less tactful route of poetry or song writing.

But never, end it on low C.”

Yes, to all the boys I’ve ever loved.

Despite all the numbing grips, splitting plucks and piercing bows,
your passing harmony’s left a refining touch on this instrumental front
that stands between the world’s sharp cold and my ribcage bones.

Behind which, every fibre of my muscle knows that our rise-and-falls
have ultimately composed me, so sophisticatedly,
that every chamber of my lungs knows I never want to leave no room for a symphony
that in the end moves me.

Despite of my bleeding fingers and cut strings.

The moment the light comes and the baton’s raised,
I’d play it all over again.
In gentler chord progression, more delicate rhythm.

To the first-part finale.
To the this-is-it, the soon-to-be, the always-will-be.

Yes, Amen. To the end of a grand search party.


14.12.13. – 16.12.13.

There’d be no ‘Us’, otherwise

Between you and I, there used to be an Us

There used to be a small room for air between our singlet fabrics as you led me on a waltz to Sinatra

There was a hardback Pinocchio book as you taught me how to pronounce the English ‘r’

Countless drops of rain when Mom had said that it was okay to play outside

And the back of my bicycle seat before you let go of your grip and release me pedaling forward slightly out of balance

But much to your reluctance, I had to grow up

I had to dance my own battle through reality’s weather with no one to say ‘I got your back’

And I had to start choreographing my own belief system since I found that the sky can shine and rain at the exact same time

So you had to regain your grip,

At first because you feared my losing control, but then because you couldn’t deal with my not asking permission to claim my own soul,

With realizing that I was never yours

And thus, began the loss of Us,

The crossing of the starting line of your unchallenged authority versus my conditioned suppressive apathy,

Of your screaming rage outside my door versus my remembering old jokes trying not to open a gateway of tears,

Of your timeless reasoning fallacy versus my premature rebuttal when ‘I can’t take this’ has built up like grey clouds, and ‘I’ve had enough’ bursts out like thunders with lightning,

Because you know what the problem is?

You never let anybody tell you otherwise.

You never let anybody tell you, “You know what, just let her go.

‘Cause if history ever tells us anything at all, it’s that force and control never result in love.

When you don’t want otherwise.

You want to be the one, who gives her away on her wedding day

To be the one, who gets to face the groom and say,

‘You know these arms have held her from within the first hour that she was born,
and the same way they felt her first breaths they will hold you at your last gasps within the first hour you ever hurt her to the bones.’

Followed by an I’m-just-joking-(but-not-really) bittersweet laugh.

But then you wouldn’t be at peace otherwise.”

The way peace has been erased from my teenage heart since the day I found that your approval stamp is only valid for wanting the things you want,

That your acceptance letter is only sent in the event of having convictions which you’ve certified ‘halal‘.

And you don’t want that.

You want a lifetime worth of father-daughter conversations that don’t sum up in your trial questioning and my failed legal defending;

That don’t end in your stating verdicts, laying down laws, and my running away like a fugitive.

I don’t want this fight.

And I don’t want my walking back with my ears constantly standing up to detect your ‘I disagree’,

My heels on stand-by mode to turn the other way around just so I could find the next stop where chains don’t bound me just to be.

And mostly, I don’t want my slaving my heart to try to embrace you freely because it shouldn’t be that hard.

To say, ‘I love you Dad’.

Because you’re the first person next to Mom who embraced me into life and whispered my welcome notes through the words of God,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”

And God, I’ve loved that life.

Maybe ever since then I’ve listened to too much and invested faith in too many other Gods.

And I know that you despise my justification of needing to take off my blind so I can capture the whole image of our existence, unified.

And I know that it’s easier to put me in a box and label it ‘astray, and therefore reroute’;

Tightly slip my worn-out innocent childhood wool cap down my 20-something ‘been there-seen that’ scalp.

So you can remind yourself that there was a point in time where you felt that I was owned.

Because I slept under your roof, and edged away with my spoon – your spoon – the broccolis I was supposed to chew down from the plates which you bought from the same bank account you drained to put me through school.

I swear, I understand the amount of what I may not be able to repay.

But it doesn’t mean that I owe you the pledge of where I choose to pray,

The lease for where I choose to rest my head,

The liberty to be my own Man.

But maybe, what I do owe, is the choice of which side I play for,

What I exhaust my lifeline on,

And what I'd die for the sake of.

And if it matters, to all that, the answer is Kindness.

The answer is Love.

The answer is Life.

At least, I try.

So cherish me.

Not because we spell out the same letters for a last name,

But because no spell can be cast upon the same kind of persistence we both act on behalf of our ideals.

Treasure me.

Not because we're identifiable by the same DNA make-up,

But because our carbon dioxide are made up by the same heart that would take a child into our homes and raise them as our own.

And don't condemn me. For believing in Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Buddha all at the same time.

Ring a bell in me, when I forget,

Light the fire in me, when I start to slow down,

In the leading with compassion, with tolerance, and shared wisdom.

But most of all, see me, the way I walk me,

Hear me, the way I speak me – not the way you want to make me, or the way I can never be – because, there's no other me otherwise.

And there'd be none of Us left, otherwise.



Because, to be Loved by You

It takes a lot of guts for me to stand here right now,

because for a poet, I really don’t have much to rhyme about

For a grown woman I’m a cry-baby,

forever a child at heart;

with a blatant lack of flair for patience,

I kind of carry around a ‘hard-ass aura’

For a lady I’ve got a pair of very bulky calves

and heels that always end up dry,

visible stretch-marks and a slightly above-average BMI

On top of that I am tailed around by a mountain-heavy baggage,

having lived at least several grueling lifetimes

And for that I unapologetically

– sometimes publicly –


many nights;

and many times do I fall into a mode of automatic ‘Self-Destruct’

Then, there was you

You with your warmth,

your charms,

your inexplicable eagerness to be a part of this soap opera

And suddenly,

there was a need for me to be a little bit more –


To start having some kind of self-regard

And then there was that fear of being

– God forbid –


Because the idea of me unmasked

is, sincerely,

a nerve-wracking alarm

You see I worry about these permanently stamped dark circles around my eyes,

The oil pool of a forehead that no matter how much powder I mount it with,

still shines

And a well-supplied reserve of fat that hangs from my arms,

my thighs

And when you count for my teaspoon-size emotional control,

My fingertip-level of impressionability threshold before I give it up for love,

And how I make up my mind like how you’d cross a suspended rope on your toes

– swaying from side to side –

I really don’t have much left in terms of bragging rights

But, somehow,

I begin to care none for these hand-me-down, pre-programmed flaws


to be seen past all that by you…

And if you look back through my history,

Worse than Eve,

I’ve not only fallen for that forbidden apple trick;

I’ve climbed that tree and plunged from it freely

Unlike whoever that guy is,

I’ve not only ignored Pandora’s stupid warning;

I’ve hammered that box and dissected its every piece

And I’ve not only gone out of my trail in the deep woods like Red Riding Hood;

I’ve recreated paths, that lead travellers to dark cul-de-sacs,

just out of proving

Now I know, you know, they know, I’ve done a lot of bad things

(I radiate an afterglow of loyal grief and faithful guilt)

But to not be left by you…

And if they say, that humankind is God’s work of art

I won’t be found at some contemporary high-end gallery

Only in the living rooms of colonial houses that smell like the 20’s

Bordered by a frame that keeps changing,

each new one more polished and 21st-century in design

But within,

chipping paints and worn out colour shades make up this image

that no one can seem to fit into some sort of a schema

God, what the hell even am I?

But somehow,

I begin to care none whether they see me as a brilliant abstract,

or plain junk in aesthetic disguise


to be admired by you…

And just as I begin to withdraw,

in terror of being further found,

You put a ‘Priceless’ tag on the way I smile,

The way I feel –

everything extra,

the way I absorb every emotion twice the recommended amount

You find –


in the way my wild-child impulse still roams about inside,

You find strength,

in the on-going crusade between my penchant for self-corrupt and my desire to remain satisfied,

And most of all you find beauty,

in how my baggage-ful of mistakes, mysteries and cries,

made me who I am now

And who I am now, is still,

in every way,

impossible to define

But for a world that more than anything needs sugar, spice and everything nice,

is perfectly, enough


23.11.11 – 27.11.11.

As performed at The Red Carnival 2011 outside Sungei Wang Plaza on November 27, 2011.

I don’t know if that’s ‘Free’, to me,

For some, a sense of being Free

is that of roaming in the open air carelessly,

aimlessly, because-it-doesn’t-matterly

Of running on bare feet, across a white sandy beach,

against the softly-blowing wind

Of leaping off a cliff, thirty-feet above the sea,

diving into blue ocean cool that washes off tropical heat..

… that must be Free


I don’t know if that’s Free,

to me,

or a temporary release from a metropolist routine

If that’s Free,

to me,

or mere pumping adrenaline, rushing dopamine, from a kind of life not often lived

Like paragliding, wild-berry picking, star-gazing,

dragonfly-catching, being okay with dying

Funnily, to me, what I know about Free,


I find behind pink-painted walls that were meant to be peach

Where a flat sponge cake from egg whites half-beat is still served on royal tiers

Where coffee is best half-warm because somebody has let the boiled water cool chatting

Because every corner of a room is an ingredient for a good talk recipe

For the best potpourri of honest silences, peaceful disagrees and harmless mockeries


You see, to let imperfections be seen, to remain guarded as beauty is,

to me,


Where hearts are laid down carefully,

the broken, the healing, the failed-to-be-concealed

Where faith, or not, in God is not left out of grace-saying

even when served half-chilled

And nobody cares if the glass is half full or empty

as much as that someone’s INTJ, ENFP, ESFJ, ISTP, INTP, INFP or XXXP

Because having strong opinions is not nearly as important as holding up a firm identity


To know who one is, to be recognized for that is,

to me,


Imagine where heads and feet lazily meet

on a hand-me-down embroidered couch covered with worn-out sheets

Full of dry stains of spilled wine from bouncing over someone’s new promise ring

or raging over another’s news of disloyalty

Atop cushions that are warmly dented from accommodating tear-drying,

light hand-touching, impromptu counseling over ice cream


Now the right to feel completely, the right to truly be is,

to me,


Behind pink-painted walls that are decorated every section differently to honor diversity

That preserve smudges from pushed out chairs making space for those inside joke assemblies

That echo our distinct sounds of laughter and merge them into a timeless symphony,

Are eyes that see only the perfect shade of peach

Are live portraits of being just as we should be


You see, to love unconditionally, to be loved without boundaries is,





The Rough Guide to Being God’s Child

I was born on a Tuesday at 3:10 in the AM

At 3:40 when my father held me in his arms, I heard Your name for the first time

My father is Javanese, my mother Sundanese, but at four it was Your language that I was taught to read

As often as I was running, climbing trees, I’d learned as much how to quietly kneel

All I ever knew about You was beautiful, they were what my father, my mother knew; they said,


“To our kind You are loving, to our kind You are giving, to our kind You are forgiving.”


They said to me that’s all I needed to know, that’s all I needed to worry about.


But at 9 I started thinking about those who were not my kind; like, the lady who played Maria Von Trapp, the man who wrote Cinderella, the kid who voiced Mickey Mouse…

And being 9 I thought there was a chance I could fly and meet You at the skyline

Walk with You on a carpet of stars and have a chat about just that

But I soon faced that I couldn’t so instead to my mother I asked,


“How could one be loving, if one was only loving to one kind?”


But she couldn’t give me much more than, “That’s just the way things are.”


I cried.


Like a holed soul longing to discover, I set out to travel

But being 10 there was no point of departure

The world waited till I was 19 for me to have enough heart muscle to last the distance

Enough neural connection to process directions

Enough tongue articulation to, you know, blend in with people


I left with no map, just a handful of smile curves for the times the weather will try

An extra supply of tears in my eyes for the times the sight makes it worth my while


Because true enough, as soon as I met You, I was made Your soldier, Your willing-to-die messenger

Defying my father’s laws, my mother’s trust, for the sake of Your cause

My soul was alive for the weapon that was the Holy Book I held close to my fast-beating heart


But as soon as I fell wounded I was left with nothing but broken dreams, no consolation prize

And that’s when I joined the camp of Your loyal opposition, had no reason to believe in Your existence

The idea of You became an innovation, everything You did was merely science


There was convenience in having no obligations, freedom in not being subject to judgment

Though I missed Your presence, I liked that the life I had was down to me alone


But at 23 I hit a deep rock bottom

By 23 and a half, I had run out of air in my self-rescue mission

And there You were, again my Saviour, again my Protector,

And I was, suddenly, Your nomadic Sunday worshipper


At the sound of Your name, I learned, again, how to read,

I learned, again, how to kneel

For a while, how good it felt to be in Your shade again

How familiar it was, to feel home again

How familiar it was… To be told again,


“To our kind You are loving, to our kind You are giving, to our kind You are forgiving.”


“But, why?”


“That’s just the way things are.”


I cried.


And for the second time I stepped out.

I didn’t leave this time, I stood, and to you I cried out,


“You know! Each time I stopped for You, I had to become someone!

And each time I became, I could only add! But not subtract!

Because of You! I could not come back to my father’s arms, my mother’s kind!

And now, I have become the other kind! So many times!

And at 24, I am all of them! Right now!


… Yet, You are still loving, You are still giving all the while.”


And that’s when I realize, I am but Your child

The days I stepped out of Your house, I was only in Your backyard

Where I learned why You are named the All-Loving One

Because You carry on loving me, as I become All-Kind.




forgot to write down.10.11.


As performed at PODs The Backpackers Home’s Mix Nuts on October 7, 2011.