Friday 8 June 2012

Four more poems by Ruben van Gogh


It’s Thursday – which must make this Utrecht.
How cold and windy it is here,
I’ll simply have to squeeze warmth myself

tomorrow from my piano. What a life,
to have to traipse from town to town like this
and everywhere see cultured ladies swooning.

I conjure up electric shocks, they say,
as if my playing were some sort of Leyden jar,
inside though I am empty, all I want’s to lie there

on my bed, with cigarettes, a bottle or two of wine:
champagne can blot out sorrows, so they say.
It’s Thursday – which must make this Utrecht.


From the front a closely-knit façade
by the water, but from the back
a baroque Spanish dance of gables. Smokers
exhale quick puffs where long ago the geese would
cackle, herded together week after week
to be sold, and building workers fairly
recently still hacked out chunks of brick;
have violated the whole thing according to some
who do not realise the love of it perhaps.

The sober-living Franciscans of olden times
said no and little knew in doing so
how centuries later time after time precisely yes
would be said, ever again and every which way
for couples pledging eternal fidelity –
should they for that now dismantle all those gables
for that single word of love perhaps?

Anyhow, the always newly married men
and women are completely unaware
of the ordinances placed by
the entrance doors, too preoccupied as they are
in the blissful counting within the bubble-blowing events
of family and relations,
who on their respective sides are
notifying them of the hope of preventing
a public liquidation sale and the shattering
of whatever possible dreams:
that of love probably the most perhaps.


If I’d still had explosive shells
with me, I’d have gone by the town
just like that. But I was hungry
and in the tearoom I was passing there
was still some space, so I descended on it:
an encampment for pancakes.

Small paper parasols stuck up at sixes
and sevens from abandoned desserts,
like palisades of past pleasure.
In the distance war was still being
conducted: clusters of children
along the antitank ditch fought
for attention, pulled these
frenetically towards themselves.

Clouds of icing sugar flew up
when peace was finally concluded
in the one, always permitted ring
within the three forbidden rings
of Rhijnauwen: that of family

gathered round the table. Bottles of syrup passed
from hand to hand and everywhere around me
much fine clacking and smacking of lips began.
sparrows foraged in between the tables,
pecked at crumbs that fell by the dozen.


The future belongs to youth, but precisely
the past cuts so deep here. Right
through the hall, an act that can’t

be visualised. Young bloods, big-eyed
like heroes in Asian cartoon films
stand ready to be allowed to come up.

Taut and stiff, as once the animals
destined for instruction that were led in.
The audience had every opportunity

to leave, but stayed; riveted to the benches
by the tableaus once presented here.
Their white coats reduced to relics,

but regaining colour from the moment
other things began to happen
behind these ever more identical doors and walls.

Only the reviewer has got stuck
in time, strips the performance
to the bone and analyses the scenes

Finally passes judgment: full of life, certainly,
but with a strange coherence – as if
it has already lasted for a hundred years.

1 comment:

John Irons said...

Just found another translation here: