The Junior Minister has just laughed politely at Bapak’s one-thousandth time retold joke. Bapak always tells small jokes on himself to make the others feel at ease. He tries to get Bapak’s attention to an exceptionally urgent matter for the Ministerial Council. (Mouse-like titters from the others.) Bapak levels warm, brown eyes on him: the matter is being appropriately discussed at appropriate levels. Others shuffle papers, shift in chairs—they want to piss, smoke, check exchange rates. Now he pleads with his fellow Council members: consider the urgency, consider the consequences. (Sniggers this time, the matter is being considered by not being considered.)

The Junior Minister stiffens upright in his chair, his right arm begins to twitch uncontrollably, then his left leg. His face distorts in silent spasms, his hand twists side to side in little staccato jerks: a small ooze of white spittle emerges like a worm from one corner of his mouth. Everyone looks away, or speaks in a low hum to a neighbor about yesterday’s football scores. Bapak examines the man coolly, not unkindly; then turns his gaze upward, to the ceiling, at the peel and crack of the paint, how like the map of the great Indonesian Archipelago they resemble: here, Irian Jaya; there, East Timor. The seizure stops. The meeting closes. The man is out sick for several days. When he returns, his desk is gone.

amok -Malay term for an uncontrollable frenzy

Bapak – honorific for an Indonesian man of influence and standing.


“On the road to finding Grandmaa lot of unspeakable things were found.”

On the road to finding Grandpahis wicked stiffness was found.

On the road to finding Motherher linen closet vodka was found.

On the road to finding Sistera misbegotten was found.

On the road to finding Brotherhis “screaming dreams” were found.

On the road to finding FatherI, myself, was found.

*New York Times, 10/10/95, quote from mourner


Picture frames shimmy to their rendezvous,the morris chair twirls a pirouette.Persian carpets complete a pas de deux,and twin couches allemande left.Even my heart, standing in its socks,does a little two-step from inside its box.

—Norbert Hirschhorn

Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in the public health of women, children and communities in the United States and the Third World. In 1993 he was commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” Hirschhorn received an MFA from Vermont College. A chapbook of poems, Renewal Soup, was published by Slow Dancer Press, London in 1996; a complete volume, A Cracked River, in 1999. —Naomi Shihab Nye

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Published at 12:00 am CST