Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Lake Toba, 30 June 1993"

“You can never go back,”
someone famous once said
and it’s true.
Wading out from the paddy field, I swim around
to view this piece of the past from the water.
But it has changed. Its name, its appearance.
Fifteen years on
and there is more, more of everything
but less of spirit.
Our memories stay frozen while the world
moves on.
I climb the steep stairs from the lake.
An old woman sits under a Carlsberg umbrella.
I feel foolish, but I have to know.
“Was this once called Christa’s?”
She cackles delightedly through her
betel-ravished gums
and in broken English I think she is
trying to tell me she is Christa.
I walk down the hill
past a stream of local “hello” purveyors,
but they blur behind
the gallery of faces mood-lit in my mind,
people who once meant so much
lost now in time and distance.
You can never go back.
You can only lift the lid of history.

The poet wishes to acknowledge Micropress NZ (sadly ceased publication) in whose pages this poem first appeared.


  1. I enjoyed the poem--now I want to know the back story ...

  2. I will supply very soon. Cheers, Helen.

  3. To satisfy Helen's curiosity (we wouldn't probably be writers without a healthy dose of curiosity): in late 1978, at the tender age of 21, myself and two friends were travelling the backpackers' trail through South-East Asia. We stayed at one of the many losmen-style basic accommodations in Lake Toba, northern Sumatra. The place we stayed was called "Christa's". It was located right at the lake's edge. The settlement on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba was fairly third-world then and that was its charm. Kerosene lamps at night because there was no electricity. Entertainment was eating good Indonesian food, swimming in the lake, reading books and in the evening shooting the breeze with fellow travellers while partaking of some of the locally-grown herb.

    15 years later, I revisited Lake Toba with my first wife who had not been there before. Our accommodation was still basic (rats rustling in our rubbish tin which freaked out my wife), but now there were vehicles on the island, electricity and every tourist accommodation had satellite TV. The 20th century had arrived with a vengeance.

    I tried in vain to seek out the former haunts of my youth, but it was mostly hopeless as everything had changed dramatically. It was liking chasing shadows, with recognition always shifted slightly out of focus.

  4. Thanks for the back story--although not necessary to enjoy the poem, I felt there was a good story there, and you have not disappointed ... :)