Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Poem by the Dutch writer
Rien Vroegindeweij

The flood

Somewhere in a house in a street
a child learnt a word, a word that it had never
heard before, the word: flood.

His mother shouted it, it resounded ominously
through the house, the boy looked outside
in fright and saw his street, his Sunday street,

where the cold morning lay between the houses.
His father switched on the radio: the broadcaster
spread the message that menaced his world

over the empty land, past the houses being built
where the limepit lay drying like a tautly stretched
sheet, and further behind the greenhouses of

the market gardener that glinted in the pale February light.
As far as he could see his world was dry.
Where was the water that belonged to the flood?

The boy waited for the things that were to come.
His father put the stove on the table, his mother
took furniture upstairs. Then the waiting started.

The waiting for the flood. It came as a great grey
monster that rolled out wide across the building site
over the fallowland towards the house where he lived.

He heard the cellar fill, the doors were creaking
the monster rose higher and higher, came up the stairs.
He was frightened. His father measured how high it came.

The word had become water
a wildly raging sea sought
the depths of the polders
filled the wells and springs
and rainwater cisterns
of the sleeping houses and farmsteads
rose in the villages and hamlets
forced its way into the sheds where the cowering
cattle tugged at their halters and ropes
walls collapsed, attics and rafters
lost their anchorages, floated off
with men, women and children
like shaky flatboats towards graspable
straws and branches that stuck up
like deceptively saving hands
out of the awesomely seething flood
that deluged the earth.

Abyss called to abyss
corpse to corpse, flags
of sheets fluttered on roofs.

Was it God’s furious spirit
punishing with the scourge of the waters
or had people not been vigilant?

Each person independently asked the questions
that arose when the storm died down
when the dead were counted.

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