licensed byelikova
Crossing Sunda Strait By Ferry
by James Penha

Krakatoa puffs smoke rings off port gently
intimidating like the Times Square Camel Man
I loved in my youth, and so how to imagine
the little mountain’s father exploding into dust
roiling these waters like flames of hell leaping,
devouring shores and towns and thousands
of innocents. Turner had painted such conflagration
through a cold East Cowes smog borne
of Tambora, that once majestic volcano
three islands east of here. I might as well imagine
airplanes crushing New York skyscrapers into plumes.

Fifteen years ago this strait swelled
insouciantly as if it had not known or felt
the tremblor off Sumatra’s north that smashed fists
of the seas into the faces of Asia and killed them
as surely as a lifetime of Camel cigarettes drowned
my father. Oh, how blameless is this earth I sail!

PHOTO: Boat near an eruption of Anak Krakatoa, a volcanic island in Indonesia. Photo by Byelikova, used by permission. Editor’s note: On December 29, 1927, Anak Krakatoa (“Child of Krakatoa”) emerged from the caldera formed in 1883 by the explosive volcanic eruption that destroyed the island of Krakatoa.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have crossed the Strait from Java to Sumatra many times over the last decades. Before December 26, 2004, I looked at the smoke rising from the “child” of Krakatoa and imagined the destruction of both islands’ shores in 1883. Still can’t get that out of my mind. But added to it now is the even more horrible Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that decimated again these same shores and so many others. COVID-19, as I write this, has killed more than twice as many human beings worldwide as that 2004 disaster. We live on a very demanding planet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On December 26, 2004, at 7:59 a.m. local time, an undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Over the next seven hours, a tsunami triggered by the quake reached across the Indian Ocean, devastating coastal areas as far away as East Africa. Some locations reported that the waves had reached a height of 30 feet or more when they hit the shoreline. The tsunami killed at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and Thailand sustaining massive damage. Indonesian officials estimated that the country’s death toll exceeded 200,000, particularly in northern Sumatra’s Aceh Province.  (Source:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived in Indonesia for the past quarter-century. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work has lately appeared in several anthologies: The View From Olympia (Half Moon Books, UK), Queers Who Don’t Quit (Queer Pack, EU), What We Talk About It When We Talk About It, (Darkhouse Books), Headcase , (Oxford UP), Lovejets (Squares and Rebels), and What Remains (Gelles-Cole). His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. He edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Find him on Twitter @JamesPenha.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My author’s photo frames me against a different Sumatra volcano.