Poets Read: James Penha

We are pleased to offer our Poets Read series in honor of National Poetry Month 2019 and will run it throughout the month of April. 

Every day in April, our website and our YouTube channel will feature the voice of a poet whose work has appeared in our pages over the past year. On Sundays, we will offer two poets for your enjoyment. 

Today’s poem is Three Quakes in Indonesia by James Penha and it appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Gyroscope Review.

Three Quakes in Indonesia
by James Penha

The first time I felt these islands quake
we were naked on great grey boulders
by a Sumatra waterfall we had found where
we told each other no one else had ever lain
or certainly had queer sex until my mouth
went down around your dick and damn! 
the earth moved and the rocks rumbled
beneath us and I lifted my head to see
you wide-eyed and we held on to each other
and the granite as best we could. What?
We held on to these big balls of the planet 
as they rocked and might have rolled
us  down the mountainside. What
fools even to think we could hold on
But we did and we have though the shaking
never stops.

We barely missed the next big temblor, 
the one in Padang that flattened
the big round hotel we departed two
days earlier like a seven-layer cake
into a mile-wide oatmeal cookie. 
When next we visited the town, the taxi
driver told us how two victims from 
that dead hotel vanished from his back 
seat in mid-ride. They were, he said,

And just now amidst our picnic at the lake,
thirty years after our first shocks together,
you said you felt dizzy, that it looked to you
like our car was shaking, and I said it was
the ground and the frenetically rippling
water and the dozens of birds taking refuge
in the air.
James Penha

About the Poet: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his poetry will appear in Headcase: LGBTQ Writers & Artists on Mental Health and Wellness to be published by Oxford University Press in 2019. His essay “It’s Been a Long Time Coming” was featured in The New York Times “Modern Love” column in April 2016. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current- events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha