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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

James Penha

About Place Journal, Volume II Issue I


Possibly the founders did not know they were building an embassy school atop an old graveyard, had not been told, for the Javanese are infinitely polite, that workers had collected bits of bodies and shrouds from the site and reburied them all meters beneath the shade of the old banyan that survived to center a quadrangle surrounded by classrooms and distracted children who came to love its authority as much as they discounted teachers and principals who always wanted more rooms and decreed, in time, the banyan would go, but not without a ceremony where the students could learn about mourning and progress. The village shaman raised his kris, more venerable even than the tree, and struck hard at the heart of the banyan without effect. And the shaman told the assembly, “This tree has too many stories to tell. It will not be silenced. It may not be destroyed.” And the children cheered and sang an old Javanese ode to trees and ancestors. But on the morning of the next school day, the banyan was gone, the quadrangle paved, and within days the principal was enclosed in a mausoleum. Heart trouble. And stories of impolite ghosts emptied classrooms and halls and the school decayed, its broken walls indistinguishable now amidst the banyan forest.
James Penha, a native New Yorker, has lived for the past twenty years in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and in poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. His earlier chapbooks of poetry were Greatest Hits (Pudding House: 2011) and On the Back of the Dragon (Omega Cat Press: 1992). Waterways selected lines from his many contributions to that litmag as its 2011-2012 themes for submissions. Penha edits The New Verse News<>, an online journal of current-events poetry.



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