Some writings can truly have devastating effects on the reader, and Sergius Mencari Bacchus (officially translated into English as Sergius Seeks Bacchus by Tiffany Tsao) is one of those. Every word, every line, every verse Norman Erikson Pasaribu penned down on this poetry collection not only sound, but feel so painful. You might get your heart wrenched brutrally reading every piece of poem on the list, whether or not you feel related to the issues being discussed.
This book doesn’t only talk about being different, or how to deal with it and people’s general lack of approval. It talks mostly about the pain, the dilemma, the acceptance of oneself as a homosexual when the family―and the society―see it as a sin, a sickness to be cured, and thus expel them to the lonely corner where they are forced to feel weird about themselves and try to figure out what they should be.
Puisi is the first poem to highlight this pain one has to endure―of pretending, of living two kinds of life, of being “two persons” at the same time. While people see them as a “normal” person, inside they are merely a “dying tree”―as stated in the second verse:
Selama ini kesepian adalah daun-daunmu
hijau, acak, dan lebat, orang-orang mengira kau
pohon yang sehat, sebentar lagi berlebah dan berbuah.
Meskipun sebetulnya kau sekarat; batang, rantingmu
digerogoti benalu yang telah lama kau harus pelihara
This pain, and the dilemma, sound through almost the entire book; in Erratum, one has to face his own family’s rejection after coming out and frankly telling them that he cannot be with any women; Aubade also sees the same rejection, with a group of friends can only laugh at themselves and cry at the same time watching a movie reflecting their own situation, but finally accepting that situation without any fear, without any wish to end their lives, because the protagonist of the movie has done it for them.
Inferno seems like a very calm, “dim” poem, having no shocking or blazing effects on the reader. But it is one which particularly makes the reader ponder about self-acceptance and how the older you get, the longer you live, you will no longer think about whether others love you or not, understand you or not. You don’t even care if there’s a place for you in Heaven, for that Heaven is not for you in the first place.
Tiba di usia di mana dunia tak lagi misterius:
(1) tak lagi perlu seseorang memahamimu
Karena kau telah memahami dirimu sendiri
(2) tak lagi mendamba dicintai
Karena kau telah mencintai dirimu sendiri
Dan surga yang dibicarakan itu, Ada
di puisi lain yang tak membicarakanmu
Meanwhile, Sebelum Aeschylus and Serial TV Komedi talk about the same thing in a row: how this life is a mere play and you are the director of your own. You can have a script in your hand, a “director” behind, but life is not about doing what is written in your script or what the director wants you to. It’s about living it as it is, with all its interruptions and unexpected changes of course and all that―and you have to, ready or not, improvise accordingly.
Tentang Sepasang Lelaki Muda di Basemen P3 fx Sudirman is obviously about how self-acceptance is not enough when we are different from others, for sometimes we still need to hide from them―in the corner of a basement car park, far from anyone’s sight and watching out for any security or cleaning staff who might be passing by and witnessing our secret love and passion. We are hiding not because we are afraid of being ourselves, we are hiding because we are afraid of being unfairly judged. People are so easy judging that our love is not true and that our passion is out of place, and it is so useless to tell them what we think because “dunia belum siap dengan kita” (the world is not ready for us―my translation).
In Curriculum Vitae 2015 Pasaribu seems to summarize all memories he still has of his life: all that pain, rejection, dilemma and, finally, self-acceptance, and the love he found in a writing class. It’s not in any poetic forms or verses, it’s stated in points without any use of figurative nor flowery language. It’s so blatant and he wants all readers to see it clearly: this is my life, this is my pain, this is all the trials and tribulations I’ve been having to go through all this time.
All in all, Sergius Mencari Bacchus is a very painful book to read. Each story behind each poem, each verse and each line sound and feel so devastating. Pasaribu’s personal experiences might not be your experiences, but you will defenitely feel what he has been going through his life.