Letter from Oslo

I have received your invitation –
thank you.
So your daughter is getting married?
I get news from you after so long – and it turns out
our children feel they’re grown-ups already!
Now you can say part of your duty is finished
and I certainly congratulate you, imagining
how you will escort the bride to the sound of gongs
probably unable to show your feelings –
far too busy; everything must go according to plan.
I’m sure you’ll feel closer than ever at this moment
bonded by the solemn occasion.
Tell me – is the man she’s marrying the boyfriend I remember?
I’m sorry I can’t be there, and even more sorry that I can’t
share in the hard work of this joyful get-together,
and celebrate your achievement –
isn’t it true that parents shape the fate of their children
even if Khalil Gibran thinks differently?
I have a vivid memory of her as a child
wearing a blue checked dress, her thick hair
in two plaits, healthy, chubby and naughty;
she was visiting with her mother, tugging at your dress
whispering and nagging Mama, let’s go home!
Is she still that wilful? Children – do they ever listen to advice
let alone follow it!
I’m imagining the sprinkling of the flower water,
before they face the priest tomorrow;
the wedding platform – the young coconut leaf,
gamelan instruments, the kebo giro tune;
and the meeting of the bride and groom, the sprinkling of betel leaves
mother’s red and white handkerchief, father carrying
the food tray and the sweet cakes – all the Javanese traditions.
I pray that they get everything they wish for, and. . . .
I remember it myself - how, afterwards, it was a great bereavement.
When my daughter got married and was taken away
the house felt too large.
I couldn't bring myself to look into her empty room.
For a whole year a plate and a water glass were set for her.
But then, what can we do but grow old calmly -
though calm depends on contentment, and I feel
uneasy, constantly pursued - who knows by whom.
Meanwhile, life goes on.
The weather in Norway is getting cold, and there's the usual
scramble to make raspberry and strawberry jam in time,
before winter sets in, with its turbulent weather.
So different from our lives in Indonesia.
I shall paint a view of this world of snow, but with a bright
burst of tropical flowers
to convey my hopeless longing for the Equator . . .
I have received your invitation - thank you.
The painting is a present for the bride, and it will be posted soon
with prayers for their happiness - and apologies
for not being at the wedding.
Iowa, 1985