Rising Waters

by Jonchy

The Indonesian word for flood is banjir.

In Jakarta, my hometown and the nation’s capital, the banjir comes so regularly that it is simply seen as a part of life. The rainy season begins in November and with it comes inevitable floodwaters. During this time, everyone places their valuables on high shelves and move vulnerable furniture on top of spare beds. 

I loved the banjir as a child. When it was low, it turned our street into a large puddle in which I could slosh around—provided I had my blue rubber boots on and didn’t stay out too long. Some days, as my mother watched dutifully through the window, I would go out in search for stray branches floating in the street-turned-river. I’d pick an acceptable one to be my sword. I’d imagine myself as a pirate in shallow waters, defeating an improbable number of invisible enemies on my way to shore.

On car rides to the center of the city, I’d imagine that we were in a tightly packed convoy of ships, sailing through a brown ocean in search of new land.

I appreciated the banjir too, for its habit of arriving sneakily in the night to fill up my primary school. I went to an English-speaking school in East Jakarta, some forty minutes away. This is a short distance in the context of notorious Jakarta traffic—which, at its height, can stall a city-center trip by two hours. 

Communication between the school and students’ parents could be lacking at times. Some days, my parents had the foresight to call ahead after a particularly stormy night to check if classes were canceled. More often than not, though, I’d be driven to school in the rainy months only for us to discover that rainwater had risen to shin-height on campus. This happened because the school was in a sort of valley and—like most of the Greater Jakarta area—was terribly irrigated.

On those days, a security guard would wade to us in his boots and tell us that class was cancelled for the day. I’d be happy, of course. I liked school, but not as much as reading chapter books or playing my daily allotment of computer games—this was 15 minutes, strictly policed by my mother. 

My Korean mother pronounces it “Ban-jil,” having been born into a language whose “l” and “r” sounds are barely and blurrily distinct. In the cruelness of childhood, I made fun of her for it, though I would give anything now for her multilingualism. My Umma speaks three languages fluently, while I can only offer stunted approximations of her native tongue, or of my father’s. 

As an adult and an immigrant I’m embarrassed that I am conversational but not fluent in the languages my parents passed down to me, even though they were spoken in the household. Though it was true that we spoke English the most—partly because it was my parents’ first shared language and partly because it was key to a successful future in the Western world—both hangeukmal and Bahasa Indonesia certainly had a place in our home.

When more than one language bounces around a household, it is inevitable that crosslinguistic jokes enter everyday speech. A favorite growing up was the conflation of Appa, the Korean word for father, and apa, the Indonesian word for “what.” Apa, Appa? was my stock response if my dad ever asked me a question, even if I’d clearly heard what he’d said. He humored me even after the sorry pun had worn itself out, always cracking a small smile in acknowledgment.

I’m not sure if we ever joked about the banjir, but I can imagine how it would’ve gone down. The word ban in Korean means “half,” and so the quip might have gone something like this: the ban-jir is up to my knees! I hope we don’t get a full-jir, that’d be up to my waist! My mother would have laughed gleefully, instead of giving me the groan I would have rightly deserved. 

Recently, I’ve learned that everything I was taught about the banjir is only half-true. 

I remember wondering aloud about why it flooded so much where we were. My parents would tell me it was because of what’s going on uphill. By this, they meant the deforestation in Western Java. I learned vaguely as a child that they were cutting down too many trees in Bogor, and that for some reason it made the banjir come upon us more heavily.

I know a little more now. I know that the logging industry uphill caters cheaply to the interests of Chinese companies, and that trees are often toppled to clear space for new apartments and factories. Apparently, dead roots don’t suck up water very well, so when the rains come down in the West the banjir surges down on Jakarta unopposed. 

Deforestation is one part of the reason the waters rise and fall in Jakarta. But there are other things that summon the banjir to my city as well. Larger, darker forces are at play. I’ve grown to see that the banijr I so loved in my childhood is more sinister than I’d first realized. 

I know now that the floods are getting higher because Jakarta is sinking. In the past ten years, the land in the coastal north of the city has dipped 2.5 meters—a full foot greater than the height of one Shaquille O’Neil. Jakarta is sinking because that is what happens when rampant urbanization sprawls outward and upward without a steady infrastructure to hold its weight.

While I have fond memories of my childhood, there are many things about Jakarta I am glad to have left behind. I am still traumatized by my hometown’s standstill traffic, where spending an hour to move your car forward by a mile is not unheard of. I remember getting lost in the gaudy multi-story shopping malls which populate the city, crying and headachy in the neon lights of retail stores. 

People from all over Indonesia come to the big city to make something of themselves, or at least to make the sort of money that will go exponentially farther when they send it back to their families at home. There are too many people, and too many buildings built to house and entertain them. Jakarta is a city of gridlock and excess, and it is caving in on itself.

The literal weight of urban development is sinking my city, but there is more to it than that. Of coastal metropolises, Jakarta has one of the worst infrastructures for water distribution. Piped water comes at ridiculous cost, and only serves half of the city. This leaves the poor and the corner-cutting rich to drill illegal wells that tap into natural aquifers. Stifled by concrete, the aquifers have trouble filling up again. The weight of too-many buildings press down on the empty space left behind, leaving parts of my city as valley-like as my primary school, as pits for the floodwaters to fill in.

I worry that the sinister banjir might drown my city. But these are not the only rising waters that threaten Jakarta. Somewhere I have never been, far from my equatorial context and even from where I live now in New England, something called the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting very quickly. It is filling up the ocean and causing it to rise, even as far away as Indonesia. When you draw a bath, doesn’t the bathwater rise up evenly, and not just on the faucet-side? This is why the rising waters are creeping up the coast of North Jakarta.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting because of the sum total of all the coughing cars and spewy smokestacks and burning forests in the world, and because of the masses of cows that leak methane from their asses. The gaseous outputs clog the atmosphere and, increasingly, cause more heat from the sun linger by earth than we’d like. Jakarta’s gridlock plays a part. The neon malls play a part. So too, does oil drilling in Dubai and factory farms in Northeast China.

The government of my city isn’t as concerned with climate impacts of far-flung cities as it is with the reality that the floodwaters are threatening to invade us from the outside. They are building a wall to try and keep the waters out. They call it the Coastal Wall, and they’re building it extra-high because they know that it’s going to sink like the rest of the city. And as they build this wall they are preoccupied with dreams of an even more ambitious solution: the Great Garuda, a seawall of reclaimed land in the shape of its mythic-bird namesake, the national symbol of Indonesia.

There is something romantic about invoking a mythic power in tackling a great elemental threat. But, behind this grand vision of a guardian bird protecting its city from the onrushing ocean, is the same human hubris that got us here in the first place. The Great Garuda is a 40 billion dollar project which invites developers to build more malls and sleek condominiums upon the new land they will summon up from the ocean. Corner-cutting and corruption may leave the newly risen land carelessly formed, unstable and unsafe. Perhaps the deepest problem is that the venture does nothing to address the lack of piped water systems which cause my countrymen to drill wells that sink the city. The wall, meant to keep the water out, may only serve to keep the banjir in, leaving my city to someday filled to the brim—a post-climate Atlantis. 

As a member of the diaspora, I love and I hate my city. I cherish my childhood sloshing in the streets, but cannot shake the panic of being trapped in a crowded mall. I feel an affinity to my birthplace and my people, and yet speak my mother tongue inexpertly. I think and worry about Jakarta, and write it out in English. I remember the banjir fondly, but hate it because it is a harbinger of destruction.

Like the sinking city of Jakarta, I am threatened from without and within. I’ve internalized a hybrid culture, through which I crack cross-linguistic jokes that make my mother laugh and my father smile. The longer I live on my own, though, the more language I lose and the more I find myself assimilating. I appreciate the values of freedom and the ethnic and cultural diversity I find in America, my adopted country. And yet, I understand that I am a resident alien, suspect to changes in immigration policy from an immigrant-suspicious administration.

Jakarta remains in me. But it is also a mirror to the world. The waters are rising everywhere because of Jakarta traffic and Korean barbeque and the same fuel-heavy flights that first brought me to America. Miami Beach is sinking, as is Shanghai, as is New Orleans, as is Manila and Rio de Janeiro. Just as in Jakarta, no one is really equipped to deal with it. I preoccupy myself by worrying about identity and parsing through my childhood, while corporations keep building heavy buildings and all people continue on with their lives.

No one wants to think about the waters creeping up our coasts, or to admit that we are sinking, or to consider that we may soon be submerged.

We will blink, and the water will be up to our waists.




Jonchy is an immigrant most worried about anthropogenic climate change—that deeply entangled reality which threatens to decimate our planet. He is particularly interested in the meaningful interplay between text and image, and often pairs his prose with scratchy sketches or family photographs. He lives on the North Shore of Boston, where he works with his hands.

Cermak & California

by Stefania Gomez

I.

Buses leave to Mexico from my street.

Tonight the laundromat auto body shop and taco stand left their lights on late, their curtains flung open.

The couple working in the laundromat were still as a portrait against the rows of clothing. They were still as the rows of clothing hung around them.

On those buses that leave to Mexico from my street, my neighbors go places. By the looks of it, the neighborhood is going. She says, we left the hood for the suburbs, but the gangs and the rats followed.

Sebastián says, to this neighborhood, I have given so much of myself. Including, 2 times near Western, nearly my life.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

Back then, I bought the building for $50 K, she says. Paid 20 in cash. No brainer. Now, I have 4 people lined up for one unit.

Sebastián wants to travel and take photos. If he has to stay abroad for some months, 6 months even— so be it. He says, I want to buy a home here so I never have to live in it.

II.

I live on Cermak and California. In my neighborhood there is an enormous park that divides one people from another. The north end of the park is a different nation from the south. Today, a citizen of the north end wandered south, his shopping cart full of soda cans and his head bowed just as low as the cans were flattened. Beside him, a puddle of vomit dried. It looked like an impressionist painting depicting the planters that the viejitas fill with pink and yellow blooms outside of their homes, and flood with water from their hoses each summer day.  

III.

At the other edge of the park there is a hospital, so often does the need for one arise. From the hospital doors constantly stream white-haired, uniformed nurses like so many ghosts.

IV.

The Douglas Park service garage on Sacramento is open and empty, hollow and brick. Car hood up, mid-fixing, and a truck outfitted to fix. What happens here? What kind of service does the park require? A single truck, laden with foils and machinery will suffice to manicure the grass, fill the divots with sand, collect litter from the pond, referee the endless matches of soccer, 10 at a time, played by children and played by men. Clear the gazebo of those that live there. Re-pave the fractured sidewalks.

Abandoned through the winter months, built when the park was dreamed up as a place so different from what it would become. Even its signs were painted and posted when that dream seemed still within reach, before everything issued by the city and county was made from plastic. Today the garage door was wide open, the insides were exposed for all to see. Men were at work, tilling a field of degraded soil. The men were seeds planted in the field. They seemed to say, something can live here again. In the summer, this is how the neighborhood can sometimes feel.  

V.

My only friend in my neighborhood is the woman who works at the train stop. Today she tells me that they’re transferring her to the blue line next week. We’re going to miss you, I say, utterly floored. She says nothing, reaches out and shakes my hand.

I board the train and sit next to a woman reading the Bible quietly to herself. On my other side, a man discusses chess moves over the phone. At Western, a man boards, a lit cigarette long as a pistol hanging from his mouth.

VI.

The people who live in the Park’s gazebo disappeared today, leaving it empty as the Service Garage. Did they disperse across the Park? Did they leave together, all at once? Or slowly, one by one? Did they melt into the concrete floor? Did they transubstantiate into air? Did they leave because in the end, the gazebo never really belonged to them, but to the Park? What happens to a people whose home is not their own?

VII.

An Uber driver explains to me how he got shot when he was 15 twice in the back once in the foot at 22nd and Oakley but his foot is fine now. Over there? The SDs. Past this busy street? The Latin Kings.

Someday, he says, he’ll buy a passport. Take a vacation. Go to the blue water they have over in Hawaii.

VIII.

The Douglas Park Service Garage is empty today except the light bursting in through the pulley doors and the open roof. Inside, the brick walls have been spray painted with a series of identifying numbers—house numbers, perhaps, or a phone. Either the Park District’s municipal logic, or that of some delinquent, their impulse to reveal the way we have been indexed, our eagerness to reduce ourselves to something like the combination to a lock.

Anyway, this is a story about grit, you dig? This is story about the urban experience. This is not a story about how I kill all the plants I keep, or how I lose everything that matters to me, or how I will never belong in this neighborhood, no matter how much I write about it.

IX.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

X.

Up and down California the kids detonate small bombs that stream into the sky and burst in golden florets, and nearly strike cars driving as they explode in the street. The kids scream as they light them off. California smells like sulfur.

I take the train away, east, to flee, but through the picture window in the train car, high above the buildings, the three-flats, I see the fireworks rise from every block, on every street, between each house, the whole city catching fire, exploding, and extinguishing, over and over.


Stefania Gomez is a queer writer, radio producer, and teaching artist from Chicago’s South Side. She received her BA from Brown in 2017, and has work in Bluestockings Magazine, the Offing, and the Missouri Review. She currently works at the Poetry Foundation.

The Heart The Brain

by Krys Malcolm Belc


Krys Malcolm Belc lives and writes in Marquette, Michigan, where he is the Managing Editor of Passages North and an MFA student at Northern Michigan University. His essays have been in Granta, Black Warrior Review, Redivider, and elsewhere. 

Three Shorts

by Chase Burke

Evergreen

Years ago Barry developed an aversion to amphibians and reptiles after hiking the Everglades, where he battled kudzu vines and violent ivy and dodged hidden green animals that snapped disease. He fled the preserve a changed man.

Even mild suburban turtles, Barry knew, were terrifying cesspools. And one morning in July there one was, in his swimming pool. So he drained the pool and left the turtle at the bottom. He brought the neighborhood skatepunks over, told them to have at it. The empty pool, Barry realized later, looked like the hollowed-out shell of a turtle that had died on its back.

In the pool’s deep end, the turtle shelled itself as boards skated by. Barry, sitting in his lifeguard chair, guarding nothing, thought uncomfortably of the turtle in traffic. Plodding on asphalt, stopping. Waiting on someone to carry it across, someone who might move it home. He watched as a kid stopped, kicked up her board, and picked up the turtle. “A little help here?” the kid called out.

Everything about the Everglades sounds eternal. It sounds forever, like a gesture of defiance against swallowing industry. Defiance in name only.

Barry runs a skate park now. He’s in his sixties and melanomaed, but his mouth is full of white teeth. He’s afraid to cross streets or shake hands or even leave his chair. He avoids looking at the ground. He doesn’t trust what could be underfoot.

“Nothing,” he says when a tattooed kid asks him what it takes to run a skate park. Barry doesn’t know how to give the kid a straight answer. He doesn’t know how to encourage anyone, even himself. “I’m green,” he says. “I’m new at this. I could apply that thought to everything.”

How Embers and Apples Are a Recipe for Disaster

translation of Günter Grass & response poem

by Allie Marini

Fleisch

by Günter Grass

Rohes faules tiefgefroren gekocht.

Es soll der Wolf (woanders der Geier)

anfangs das Feuer verwaltet haben.

In allen Mythen war listig die Köchin:

in nasser Tasche hat sie drei Stückchen Glut,

während die Wölfe schliefen (die Geier

umwölkt waren) bei sich verborgen.

Sie hat das Feuer vom Himmel gestohlen.


Nicht mehr mit langen Zähnen gegen die Faser.

Den Nachgeschmack Aas nicht vorschmecken mehr.

Sanft rief das tote Holz, wollte brennen.

Erst versammelt (weil Feuer sammelt)

zündeten Pläne, knisterte der Gedanke,

sprangen Funke und Namen für roh und gekocht.


Als Leber schrumpfte über der Glut,

Eberköpfe in Lehm gebacken,

als Fische gereiht am grünen Ast

oder gefüllte Därme in Asche gebettet,

als Speck auf erhitzten Steinen zischte

und gerührtes Blut Kuchen wurde,

siegte das Feuer über das Rohe,

sprachen wir männlich über Geschmack,

verriet uns der Rauch,

träumten wir von Metall,

begann (als Ahnung) Geschichte.


Meat

translation by Allie Marini

Raw rotten frozen cooked.

It has been said that it was the Wolf (though elsewhere, the Vulture)

who was the first keeper of fire.

All the myths agree that she was a cunning cook:

while the Wolves slept (and the Vultures

remained in the clouds) she secreted

three coals, still smoldering, in her pink pouch.

She stole fire from the Heavens.


No more tearing tendon and sinew with elongated canine teeth.

No more bracing for the aftertaste of carrion meat.

How delicate, the call of dead wood, longing to burn.

At first, we gathered together (because fire gathers people together)

plans were set alight, thoughts crackled,

sparks ignited, as well as the names for raw and cooked.


As liver sizzled over the cook-fire

so were boar’s heads set to bake in clay,

then fish, strung up on a sapling green branch.

Or intestines, stuffed and buried in the hot ashes,

when bacon was fried on heated stones

and blood was stirred into pudding,

that was when fire claimed victory from the raw,

and we men learned to speak the language of flavor.

It was the smoke that bore testimony,

we dreamed of metal,

and so began the (premonition) of history.