The music of Johor Bahru
     is sitar strings
          plying breezes
off the South China Sea,
     fanning jasmine and lemongrass
          across verandas.

The music of Johor Bahru
     is rice pots popping,
          a kompang rhythm,
cashews softening in coconut and ghee,
     nasi biryani, beef satay,
          pandan leaves, sizzling like bees.

The music of Johor Bahru
     is rafflesia’s red blare,
          whining Aiyahs. Hornbills
humming, monitor lizards
     clicking at chickens
           in the street.

The music of Johor Bahru
     is murmured Assalam Allaikum,
          it is Shanti, it is peace.
It is macaques in mangosteen
     trees chucking fruit,
           hee, hee, hee.

It’s the music of Malays
     tapping rubber trees,
          Chinese miners, British
colonizers beating tin into profit,
     before the Japanese invasion
          captured your father.

The music of Johor Bahru
     is moon orchids, tiger orchids
          grafted to coral trees.
It is sea eagles’ barking,
     prawn paste bubbling,
          your cumin-scented skin.

The music of Johor Bahru
     is succulent jungle drumming
         our cradle song,
your sarong swinging
     our babies
         between your knees.

Photo by Afifi Zulkifle on Unsplash

Judith Janoo

Judith Janoo won the Soul-Making Keats Award, the Vermont Award for Continued Excellence in Writing, the Goldstein Memorial Award and the Anita McAndrews Award for human rights poetry. She was a finalist for the Dana Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Pedestal Magazine, Sow’s Ear, The Fish Anthology, The Main Street Rag, Evening Street Review, Euphony, The Mountain Troubadour and Vermont Magazine.