Thursday 14 June 2012

Cycle of poems by the Dutch writer Gerrit Komrij

Faust – Part Such-and-Such


An open space of square. Night’s fallen fast.
The whole day long I’ve walked down narrow alleys
Where dazedly I’ve thought about my past:
Ash, dust and sawdust - such a woeful tally.

An open space, at last. A chiming bell.
Like some old etching lies the city square,
With scores of alleys drawn into its spell.
Arch, gateway, statue - everything is there.

The gleaming marble’s listlessly approached.
The moon is full - does her awaited stint.
An owl hoots. Distant barking’s faintly broached.
I see my mother standing on the plinth.


The following day refinds me in the maze.
I’m trapped inside for good. It’s now quite clear
I’m once more blinded by that figure’s gaze.
My mother, rising in a sacred sphere.

Amid such bustling traffic - would she still be there?
I dare not leave my alley-web. She looked
Just like a child, the girl of bygone years -
Her face so full of tenderness, yet spooked.

I see her dress still swirling, marble-slick.
This memory I’m most hard put to shelve:
Her right hand resting lightly on a stick,
She winked at me upon the stroke of twelve.


I wonder if it really was a wink.
Who knows, it could have been a fateful omen.
A topsy-turvy state, a cross-wired link:
With me the carcass, she so young a woman.

Did you wake me up, mother, or I you?
Was it an omen or a brief hello?
I want to see the square again, pardieu.
I’m there already, simply have to know.

The square’s like a vacated autodrome.
Those paltry street lamps make it seem forlorner.
The plinth is empty, too. I glimpse a show
Of liquid marble swirling round a corner.


Above the plinth’s a phosphorescent glow.
A silent square. Some distant breaking glass.
I stand stock-still, feel drained of blood and low.
I, who myself my mother’s father was.

I cannot count the hours that I stand there.
My pancreas sustains a stabbing blow.
Once more a chime. I have to follow her.
Not waiting for me’s hardly comme il faut.

Tonight I fear I’ll swiftly grow much older.
A creak - behind I sense a ghostly shade.
‘I’m whom you seek.’ I’m tapped upon the shoulder.
‘Indeed, a pleasure - Nathan, advocate.’


He’s beady-eyed. His jet-black cloak is heaving
Like some great bellows regularly fed.
I spurn his falls and rises. Who’d believe in
Salvation stemming from his birdlike head?

His trusting gaze impels me to submit.
Confessing to him trips right off the tongue.
‘It wasn’t my dead mother,’ I repeat,
‘Not wizened by the grave, not dead and gone -

The figure was intact and smooth. Commanding.
Anemones were blooming on her stave.
She was a mistress, and yet quite enchanting.
I do not know for sure what sign she gave.’


‘There is a dance-floor where the figures gather,’
Says Nathan. ‘Let me be your counsel there.’
He sketches in the feast of words, dreams, shadows
And sins - on the reverse side of this square.

That every month wild partying’s arranged.
A dance of wishes and of recollections
Where even the bronze sage will act deranged
And from the casts fly chips - or even sections.

‘They’re lavish there.’ A document appears.
‘They play in earnest - earnestness is play.’
He laughs. ‘I’ll take you. Pleased to sign this here.’
My playful flourish - he’s a winning way.


To start with, my life must be tidied up.
The contract stipulates explicitly.
I think of cloths, sponge, broom and foaming suds.
Instead of which a notebook’s what I see.

A notary spoons into it the brains
From my skull-pan. Each time this is repeated
- Along with all the false and crudely framed -
His archiving leaves me the more depleted.

This is the way that fakirs and ascetics
Enable hidden powers to be refloated.
‘What’s fixed for good can safely be neglected,’
He says. I have his blessing. Duly noted.


Another man. He lays my chattels bare.
The time has come to tot up the accounts.
He lists my goods - from castles in the air
To golden bracelet. I am stripped right down.

My probate clerk leaves not a thing untold.
He counts and counts. His strength seems to accrue.
For him the stuff of memory is gold.
He wants the substance and the trimmings too.

Once I’m completely figured, he’s quite bland.
The one who’s grasped that the accountant’s earnings
Were not what he had earned, and that you can,
Unearning, earn the most, is most discerning.


Thanks to the threesome craved for such a feat,
I can start searching. Nathan leads me. Days and
Soon weeks pass as we walk. The final street
Gives way to wilderness and ambuscading.

Stage right, a dance-floor fashioned from a lea.
A gaping pool stage left. The meadow: bright.
The torso dances with the effigy.
Bronze Rider and the sphinx enhance the sight.

Youth I am promised on this field of green.
Here my elusive mother’s for the picking.
‘Insight.’ - Way above Nathan’s head are seen
Six drifting clouds, like six deep-frozen chickens.


I seek her everywhere. The dancers are
So clearly visible in their green shrine.
Still out of sight the girl, though, from the square.
I hear loud groaning. Turn round for a sign.

The water’s blackish gleam. And there I spot
My mother in the pool, with eyes unseeing.
An arm outstretched. The mire is steaming hot.
She sinks. Sucked ever downwards is her being.

An ice-pole in the boiling water. - That’s
Not what Nathan had promised me, of course.
The glaciers steam, all shivery the sweat. -
She pulls me to her with magnetic force.


My body slides against hers in the ooze.
Belly to belly. Mud our cling-film suit.
It is a very curious ‘swan-stick-to’
Because this swan lacks feathers and is mute.

I sink. The meadow fireworks crack and spit.
Without a death my life’s deserted me.
I’m nothing more now than my silhouette.
I had but one true friend: eternity.

My final glimpse is how my advocate
Waves something white. I peer and squint, yet still
I cannot make out what - it’s now too late:
A handkerchief, the contract or the bill.

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