Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A Hugo Claus poem


Before his death he has already left us,
six months earlier, dull, broke, musty, broken,
although still whole he walked through our rooms.

‘I have not been happy for a moment,’
he said gasping audibly
for air in the kitchen air.

And was then blue. Like a plum.
He was fond of plums. All sorts,
preferably just ripe. Mother sat alone.

Not that he was dead then. No, he clung
to the chairs, sea-sick.
It was his heart that did not want to die,

the engine. The carcass, the bodywork
were worn out but the engine was still good.
He stayed in bed and was sometimes dead.

The nuns hissed: ‘Yes, his time has come.’
But a hiccup or two and he set off
again: only even bluer.

He was then taken to the room
that is reserved for dying -
where the soul escapes decay.

His head shrank visibly,
about the size of a woman’s fist.
Eyes open. But can he still see?

It is nature. Had nothing more to eat
or drink. Though he still wanted to,
he chewed away. The nuns sang the Angelus.

When they wiped his lips with a
sponge, he bit on it and would not let go.
They pinched his nose and he let go.

No death rattle. The occasional hiccup.
Yes, his time has come. He was cold up to his knees
and his upper part sweat. But the engine didn’t stop.

They no longer washed him. For turning him over
would tip his heart over and cause it to stop.
Eau de cologne, not too strong, on his temples.

No speaking too loud. Not about debts. Nor
about a last signature. Go away, sir.
Son or not, go away. For he hears everything, everything.

His palate was black. His skin, say no more.
With cotton wool the holes in his skin were rid
of the black that crept into the edges, so quickly.

Fist-sized craters in the jaws of his hole,
with black mould. Let out the clutch, a shock,
he overworked the engine. Which stopped. Thank God.

And suddenly collapsed from within.
The man-sized cavity within the truss
was filled up with cardboard and cotton wool.

Straightened out, otherwise he’ll stay bent
and his bones will have to be broken.
He must be laid out fine. Everyone will be seeing him.

No more washing now either. Every form of contact
disperses the flesh, light as pollen in spring.
In the holes: the bonemeal of his fishbones.

Then came the troublesome distress for Sir Wild Boar,
Inundated with family council and solicitor.
And the time of the cart and the funeral.

I was the nail in his coffin, he often said.
Now just a fingernail, as a last gesture
scratching against the walnut of his head.

Lord, take your son in your arms.
The women went on the left (all loved ones)
The men on the right (all sons).

Time of the earth which now ferments in him.
Time of the seasons. A pint of beer, quick.
Many ancestors - and all disinherited.

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