The Queen of the Sea
She has no castle, this queen, but coral reefs,
No crown but woven weeds and shells,
No crowds of waving love, nor chiming bells,
No folds of silk and satin, no marching bands,
No company but the Sultan and his reverent band
To pay her tributes one day in a long year.
She lives alone in warm bright seas,
Her realm the southern waves of Java.
She lights the turquoise depths with scaleshine,
Turns up to the moon a fierce and lonely face,
Swims up her dazzling path at midnight,
Delights in racing tireless dolphins,
Torments the slow and ancient turtles,
She sinks sharp teeth into crisp fish flesh,
Sucks out the juice from rocky clams,
Rocks to sleep on the little waves
That push, pull, ebb and flow.
She was a dancer at The Kraton, spent her life
Dancing the hypnotic moves of epic tales,
Repelling demons with the flick
Of a chiffon scarf, adorned her hair
With quivering gold,
Kicked clouds of petals
From her batik train, carried away
On the clamorous gamelan,
And the high, silvery voices of singers
On shining teak floors. Her slim fingers
Splayed, her elbows bent sinuous,
Feet at ten to two, back hollow.
Little bottom out, cheekbones
High and shining, old lamps
Queen of the Dance.
But she was cruel; she laughed at suitors,
Taunted them, turned them away confused,
Hearts aching, faces hot, until one day
The dukun, the medicine man,
Mixed up a brew, an ancient remedy
For the hurts of male pride, and slyly
Came to drop it unseen
In her morning drink. She drank, without knowing,
And felt such torment,
Such cracking and twisting
And stretching of her lithe body.
Amid her groaning and agony
She looked aghast
In the dim mirror
At her new self
In the flickering lamplight,
Now vast and hairy, her legs
Grown great and gnarled
As banyan roots, as grotesque
As the ancient monsters she fought
On stage, a veritable "wayang orang".
She staggered out
Into the bright morning,
No longer recognized or revered,
An ogre to scatter screaming children.
She hid in the deep shade of forest and ravine
Until she came to the sea, to a beach
Of driftwood and pebbles,
Feared for killing riptides.
Evening came, and as she swayed, she heard
A reverberating voice from out the depths,
The deep green caverns of the Java Sea.
The sky flashed, clouds roiled, and the voice
Promised her eternal beauty
If she would come in,
The waves forever.
The monster swayed, turned in anguish
To look once more on the rippling plains of Java
Remembering her beauty, her fame. At last
She bent in surrender, the waves washing over
Her hideous flanks.
As she sank the monstrous excrescences
Melted away, and her slim form
Was revealed again, gleaming pale
In the opalescent evening sea.
She stretched and laughed,
Swerved and turned to see
A great bronze tail behind,
A tail that gave her speed
And power, and behind her ears
Two pulsing silver slits
That took in the sea
And gave her
But there are days when she tires of the wet,
Remembers her life on the emerald plains,
Where the palm trees wave and the mountains heave,
And she shimmied her life on quick brown feet.
Then her green eyes flash
With spite, her long arms curve,
Just one heave of her great strong tail
And armoured fin
And a fishing boat
Sailors shouting, gasping and clutching spars,
And those on land shake their heads and wail,
"Twas The Queen of The Sea, Loro Kidul!"
The Queen of the Sea is a Javanese legend, and she is said to haunt the south coast of Java. Every year the Sultan goes down to pay her his vows, and all his finger and toenail clippings are put out to sea in woven baskets with his old clothes. One year he was late and dire things happened on Java. There was a cyclone, the sacred white buffalo in the palace grounds died, a sacred banyan tree fell over, and one of the centuries-old teak pavilions burnt to the ground. A large hotel in The Queen's Harbour has a room reserved for her, with a shrine to her memory. And woe betide anyone who wears the colour green into the sea. That is The Queen's colour. The "wayang orang" is a man dressed as a shadow puppet, in weird makeup and headdress.