Friday 31 January 2020

Gerrit Komrij: 52 Sonnets

Fleet-footed ancient

The casting off of years that you outgrow:
It ought to be as if a brand-new arm
Just slid out of your worn-out sleeve and though
You’d got no woolly on you felt quite warm -

Each new year ought to be completely new.
The quagmire foam once more, the steel wool down.
It is not so. New pain awaits anew
The promised land is always covered ground.

The woolly’s an electric fence, wire netting.
A head more fleshless as the years pass by
- If, when the year’s rung out, I’m spared all fretting -

From its cruel neck of stainless steel will rise.
Time, when I’ve reached my final feather-shedding -
Make me a corpse that grins at all it spies.

High pressure

Draw a fictitious line. There lies your goal.
Although the law of Zeno and the snail
(Or tortoise?) still applies. Mark where the whole
Thing finishes, then set off on your trail,

Believing: I’ve the map here close at hand
- I’ll reach on time the finish of the race.
My journey’s all plain sailing, wholly planned -
Soon though you see the error of your ways.

The closer you approach the limit’s edge.
The more your goal appears to quite exclude you.
Even when it would seem to you that home’s

A millimetre off - it still eludes you.
The distance is compressed. That tiny wedge
Of nothing that resists is called a poem.


Imagine you attempt to slip time’s noose
- That sallow ghost who’s won out all along -
Refuse to be a snail. Just say you choose
As lobster to oppose the final gong.

Perhaps you should reverse into your wake.
Shove open like that beast a folding door
Twixt now and your far goal - a piece of cake -
Your chest now pointing where you’ve been before

A journey in reverse, attempt such toil.
Your grave complete with worms shrinks to a dot,
Eternity is much too great a strain.

Finally you yourself will reach the boil.
Red, redder, with the bonus that you’re not
Now capable of yelling at the pain.


The punishment, from cradle to the grave,
Is forward motion, hooked up to a voice.
A punishment because - this point I crave -
Most often progress means a downhill choice.

You run as if pursued or at a lick,
You fall into barbed wire or lose your poise,
You moan quite feebly on a walking stick
Or whoop on sneakers - but you make a noise.

So work your tongue. Annihilate the loss
Of all the future you’ll not come across
With throat wide-open. The last chime is ringing.

Lift up your voice and walk without hand-wringing
Towards unjust damnation, stay on course.
Muzzled you may not go, but singing, singing.


Fleet-footed Ancient Time decides one day:
I’ll have a party. Hard work’s such a bind,
It’s left me clapped-out, peevish, looking grey.
I too need time with friends and to unwind.

Full-Speed, as Young Time’s called, is first engaged,
A sharp young friend who’s not the least bit boring.
And Swift, a Time that now is middle aged,
Who never comes without some Timely Whoring.

No sonnet cycles tempt them with their rhyme -
They get straight down to matters coarse and droll.
The oompah music soon provides the mood.

They revel and for hours make every crude
Attempt to dance a hole in future time.
They jolt the place apart. Time plays no role.

The end of history

This morning Time is seriously hung over.
Next to his bedstead his alarm clock busts,
Though soundlessly. And all things seem to hover.
No more the dome of glass is freed of dust.

The universe is swathed in misty pall.
The char is frozen in its upward leap,
The vulture hangs suspended in mid-fall.
Sponges are nesting in the bell-tower keep.

Then from the distance wells a low-pitched boom
Of voices. Listen, now. Nebuchadnezzar
Rows with Napoleon. And Al Capone

Whispers into the ear of Julius Caesar.
Urmutter Eve sends amorous low moans
Towards Mr. Beelzebub, I presume.


He glances back, this man well-nigh a hundred,
At what he’s been through as his life’s gone by.
He contemplates the episodes with wonder
Yet also with a smile distinctly wry.

He sees a narrow world that’s bright and gay
- With children all around who hop and skip -
Through which like some misplaced and stagy play
A world of ruin gains a vice-like grip.

He hears what seems to be a raucous blare
Of thousands of trumpets. All that is fair
Just withers, all that’s young and sweet turns sour.

The infant in the grave now seems to dance, -
And afterwards he wonders by what chance
All this took but a second of an hour.


Close your time manager. And stop the clock.
Desist, desist from wavering surmises.
Forget the chopping and the stumbling block:
No time for doing sums, no compromises.

Ambition and intrigue are for the stupid.
Give short shrift to all pointless scurrying.
Let all plans for the future stay unmooted:
For time stands still. There’s time for everything.

For one brief moment you’re in paradise.
Be blessed. And for just this once get wise
That evil fits damnation like a glove.

That Holland now is governed by a Turk,
That there exists a God of peace and love
And that an atom bomb is dropped on Urk.


One-nine-nine-nine. What a bedraggled year.
A one and then three noughts that let their tail
Hang quite dejectedly. Just take some shears -
A snip - and three castrati start to wail.

A slack season. A fin de siècle ought
To father young green and a spring’s new sound.
Now moaning from the old folks’ home’s abroad.
And nowhere can fresh blades of grass be found.

We smash the bottle and we shriek carousing
And stylishly through the fictitious line
Of that accursed jubilee two thousand

And none of us finds it at all suspicious
That at a stroke of midnight so auspicious
Mutts aren’t devoured en masse by some ravine.

Never-ending loop

Time may from time to time go into hiding
Pretending to be chicken or a wimp;
At other times he lets things drift, just sliding
Forwards like a dull-witted crack-brained simp.

Sometimes tomorrow can take eighty years.
At other times one second and you’re dead.
The tempo that can throttle us with fear
Can seem at times no earthly source of dread.

You move through centuries at leaps and bounds,
The future you are part of in the past,
Horizons promise history online -

You often live and die - you do the rounds.
Tomorrow’s followed by today so fast -
Perhaps that whirligig’s just marking time.

The collector

It rattles and it whirrs in his retreat.
Chronometers and time-clocks, clocks for chess,
Alarms and mantle-clocks - all seem to meet
In his museum. A time-capsule, no less.

Silence is also part of his domain:
Hour-glasses, also sun-dials. He acquired
Mighty church carillons and minute chain
Linked watch-cases. Time-keeping as desired.

Among his ticking sculptures he is beckoned,
By what might be a voice inside his head,
From his rich store of time-pieces to try

By an experiment to gain a second.
He tightens springs. He solders. Probes and pries.
Seizes his chest, is instantly stone-dead.


He sees ahead the future as lush grass.
Just hear his jaws go. Sense his appetite.
A businessman finds looking back too crass.
Tomorrow though too little time’s in sight.

He has time managers, and his briefcase is
Full of prognoses, till the crack of doom.
From sheer excitement steam fogs up his glasses
When for one small gap more he may find room.

Once he has grazed the future bare he sets
About refilling it with hope. An age
That can’t be emptied does not make him fret.

The future is the hayrack where he eats.
That’s where life lies, he thinks but he forgets
The now - his only chance to turn the page.

In love

Then, with great clamour, came the universe.
And hot breath blew the vacant cinders - shock
Upon shock - outwards, making them diverge
Ad infinitum. There was still no clock.

A century and a half each landslide
Took. A couple of million sunsets later
The raging fire at last solidified.
And only then came poles and an equator.

That’s what they say. For me they simply lied.
For me it all - the earth and sea and sky,
With all that breathes - was ready in a trice.

A minute saw the last red embers die.
But when, just walking on the other side
I saw you pass, a thousand years went by.


His eyelids start to droop. A greyish veil
Is drawn across his face. His pupil still
Contains a look which, growing pale,
Cannot get out, though that is what it wills.

He murmurs, prior to fainting, one more thing.
No light dream comes, no darkness, in its wake:
It is a state, precisely inbetween -
Although he’s quite convinced he’s wide awake.

After about five minutes his whole frame
Begins to judder, like a wired-up frog.
He roars away. His mind begins to roam.

Then all his limbs grow stiff. His jaws the same -
Locked open. For an instant, all agog,
He can see heaven in a metronome.


I’d lost my way inside a labyrinth.
(A blunder which in labyrinths is OK.)
I searched. Around I rushed like a whirlwind.
In vain. Even my watch was off its stroke.

Close to a granite bench, a welcome seat
Where a thousand paths met, I changed my tack.
I sat to get my breath, white as a sheet,
And saw the exit - I was back on track.

Behind it a primeval world was plain.
A dinosaurus niddle-noddled. And
A rotund rock lay basking in the sun.

No fast lane here, no hot pursuit of gain.
No bomber ever flew across this land.
One waited for the good in man to come.


Just as the world’s invisible at night
In power-cuts - with no hint of shadow-show -
The butcher’s shop and flower-stall in white,
The country-fair, but is there even so -

Just as no pain or anguish can exist
In vales of tears where language is denied,
And yet the dawn lays bare in spite of this
Blood, flower, shooting gallery - more besides -

So too will I, one day - just like the sun
Gushing open - speak with a thousand tongues
And every tongue will be a revelation.

I who am now sealed in just like a tun
Cannot but burst apart, with gasping lungs,
And all that pours out will be tribulation.


At first the clock was something really grand.
A prop. An amulet against all fear.
That Presently changed into Now, yes and
Present to Previously - her tick made clear.

She ate each moment that stood in her path.
With her apparent course set on damnation
- For death is all that has not come to pass -
She got off quite scot-free. What recreation!

It seems a cruel batallion has begun
To drive the clock-face back. An ugly stage.
Time’s in reverse. The clock is round the bend.

Death gets the hiccups on the rebound and
Is forced to skip a day. Just look, the sun
Is freezing. The moon hangs in a bird-cage

Weather report

Buckets of blessings shower down unrestrained.
Bright forks of opulence flash through the air.
From a celestial Eden golden rain
Is emptied on the earth and all those there.

Mercy descends like manna from the sky.
A hail of silver spoons falls and a swish
Of mascots. Valhalla’s milked. From on high
Everything comes for which your heart might wish.

A certain man’s delousing all his head.
Another’s counting his umbrella ribs.
A lady wears a walking hat with feather.

A hunchback dons a bathing cap that’s red.
A sage’s shiny skull feels sudden nips.
And no one pays attention to the weather.

Peep show

I see a merry group of beauties leap
About in sheer transparent silken gowns.
Under a canopy of grapes and heaps
Of mandarins on what are sun-drenched lawns -

There too I see a temple slowly rise
Where negroes stand like chosen sentinels
With platters full of food that tempts the eyes
And glistening upstanding genitals -

I see a column made of precious stones -
Yet at the same time there’s the nondescript
And mangy dog that pees with lifted thigh,

At which the peep show suddenly is gone
Just as if God had moved on in the script.
Art is the flash that freezes in the eye.


Ten years. Each Sunday I could with my friend
Sit in the Luxor with its silver screen
From three to five. We saw from start to end
Laurel and Hardy. One shot was obscene.

The Thin Man lastly crawled inside a tun
In which - experiment or just sheer folly -
He found a potion that could make him young.
Was it too strong - Stan stayed too long from Olly?

No matter - he emerged a chimpanzee.
A young and slippery quite naked ape.
I turned that afternoon centuries older.

It seems years later I’m still fast asleep.
Then my friend gently taps me on the shoulder
And says: it’s over, mate, come home with me.


The city boils. And people rage and burst
From alleys, hands outstretched and quite dull-eyed;
All of them phantoms, idiots and worse.
Everything crackles, though no fire is spied.

Black fragments tumble earthwards from the sky
Which richochet through streets, diverting streams
In new directions - and the swarming tide
Is indistinguishable now, it seems.

For everything rotates and then gives way
So blindly and so madly, so apace -
It’s like a still life where all motion dies.

Though high up on the bell-tower, on display
Instead of the familiar clock’s round face
Is a still head, with mournful open eyes.

Man from 1799

As envoy for the many million dead
That under grass or stone live with their peers
He was sent on to find out in their stead
Just how things were after two hundred years

His frame in yellow raincoat quite encased,
His finger-joints all with gold rings arrayed
And jaws set in a stout-hearted grimace
He led a mortal life just for one day.

He saw the building of an architect,
He caught a whiff of gangrene and of cancer,
He listened to a snatch from Lohengrin,

He sampled how things stood with intellect
And politics, and left without an answer.
Nobody’s tried to do the same since then.


Oh, when you built small dams in every stream
And drew your hopscotch figures in white lime,
Shot pellets and were given bugs, it seemed
An eternity. Time had always time.

Time likes to be where there’s a box of bricks
And pigtails, dolls, stale urine, childhood dreams,
You live beneath a sunshine glass dome which
Just lasts and lasts. Stagnation reigns supreme.

But twenty marks the changing of it all.
Eternity starts looking like a sieve.
Minutes just vanish - cannot be retrieved.

And time quite simply goes into free fall.
A decade soon is shorter than a day.
A hollow laugh comes from a milky way.


I lived inside a toy dome made of glass.
A hemisphere where snow would slowly start
To fall in heavy flakes should a child grasp
And shake it. That could give me quite a start.

The grass above me soared up still and high.
The sky was painted blue. I saw the clock-tick
In someone’s finger, not a sound or sigh.
There were small stars that quite resembled pin-pricks.

Then I woke up. Stretched out there in the grass
I saw the blue dome of the heavens quiver,
The stars still infinitely small though plain.

A wind got up. The grass began to shiver.
From somewhere not so far from where I was,
There came the howling of a high-speed train.

Star Trek

The know-all said: if I were to outdo
- Per sec three hundred thousand kilometres -
The speed of light, I would be taken to
The time of Wodan, Caesar and Demeter

Or, farther still, that of the lotus eater
Or Eve, giving that apple a good look.
I glided to the origins of ether:
Oh, science fiction, all my boyhood books.

The old man still recalls his first conclusion.
He gives a scornful smile. Then he spits blood.
For him the world’s an optical illusion.

He coughs. For him there’s plenty in one season.
He gasps. And when he pukes a tepid flood
The sick-bay patients clap for no good reason.


A youth of shammy cloths and bacon rind,
Of vegetating with hydraulic jacks,
No understanding skill of any kind
And all that fuss about death at his back.

A middle age where he just feels constricted
By job careerists who display disdain,
While a pinched leering wife’s on him inflicted
And he just longs for summer nights, in vain.

During his final years his drunken spouse
Picks on his dentures and his gammy bowels.
She blows her top. She’s always on the moan.

A gallant noose comes gently floating past.
He puts his head inside it and, at last,
Three seconds of pure joy – the first he’s known.

The year 3000

Metre-high beetles move along a floored
Tunnel of greenish sand and leaves that glow,
Follow a perspex track securely moored,
Their progress unimaginably slow.

There is a square which like a picture-book
Can swiftly change - peaceful then, without warning,
It is a square where in each distant nook
You see a time-bomb underneath an awning.

Explosions leave cold everyone at large.
- The pinprick also hides gunpowder smoke. -
The head of beer defoams. Then a steam train

Cast in bronze flies past. A triumphal arch
Floats past airily. Look, that’s me, that bloke:
A body driven by a phantom pain.

Degree of difficulty

To squeeze a summer into just one hour,
To build a marble palace on a cloud,
To save a dear friend from a pool of fire
To scale an alp peak and to trust in God -

I wanted all of this. The crock of gold,
The rainbow. Wanted to set off with sailors
To distant harbours on a raft of wood.
I wanted to see dead men lose their pallor.

But I awoke. It was as if a man
Passed by me holding a divining rod.
And from my face I pulled a cling-film dream.

I saw a world quite bare and bleak and wan,
And how from real wounds there flowed streams of blood.
And for the first time I then wrote a poem.

Solar eclipse

A candle helped us coat a small glass strip
With soot and we’d sun-glasses for a day -
Great eye-protectors that were quite a snip.
An eclipse of the sun is on its way.

The whole class congregates out on a meadow.
Slowly a black crust moves across the sun.
We peer up at the sky, with craning heads and
Waiting in disbelief. All warmth is gone.

A cold sets in that no one has foreseen.
The grass now quivers. In the sudden night
Light that for centuries seemed still now gleams.

From an end house come a baboon’s shrill cries,
Though such beasts never lived there. The earth’s vault
Is silent. We’ve become pillars of salt.

Ugly Time

I came across a massive cuckoo clock.
Tall as a man with carved whorls without number,
So ugly that I felt a passing shock.
She must have been the mother of all lumber.

I stood before her with broad-shouldered stance,
Planning to give her one great dressing-down.
‘Madam, I hope I never get the chance
To hear you strike. Such backward time’s unknown.’

Two seconds still remained before the hour.
Her little door shot open - out of cover
Came, on a spring of steel, a boxing glove.

Since when I must atone for my faux pas.
I’m but a restless figure on the move -
The days when I can blow my nose are over.

Eleventh century

Pocatuotl of the Toltec breed
Had a sun-temple built in Yucatan -
To get close to the light-god and to plead
He and his faith might prosper in the land.

A staircase of a hundred thousand steps
Was built, with one that could go even higher.
Pocatuotl was hard-pleased: perhaps
His need of blessing by the sun was dire.

The whole earth quaked, reducing the great temple
To rubble, that magnificent example
Of harmony and power and linear grace.

The landscape soon eroded every trace.
There was no stair. No concrete evidence.
And yet Pocatuotl still ascends.

Twelfth century

Blind are the four walls of the low squat tower
Which in the field rears like a citadel.
Air-tight, that fort - and yet at every hour
You can hear ghostly voices in their cells.

Their hellish tumult makes your flesh quite creep
The men all shout as loud as they are able
And rail, though savagely and at such speed
That you are none the wiser for their babel.

Although you hear such scraps as Allah, God,
Or fragments of the word Jerusalem,
It all remains a meaningless refrain.

Crusaders are holed up in that cachot
Who set off with such smirks for promised lands
And who returned with sadly scrambled brains.

Thirteenth century

That century I was a mendicant.
Often, when hiding, there buzzed in my ear
An unknown code - and signals were first-hand
In the stake victims’ final screams of fear.

I’d heard a certain something in those sounds.
An arrow, searing hot yet cold as ice,
Beneath my coarse brown habit struck me down,
A wound in both my heart and in my side.

In the encoding of the Cathar sect
Or in the damned soul’s shrieks of pain,
Like it or not, there also was contained

Weeping of vast human hosts who, unchecked,
In eight times a hundred years, I suspect
Will still seek asylum, time and again.

Fourteenth century

Suddenly, scythe in hand, the Plague was guest.
A dove lay resting in the lion’s mane,
A bullet slumbered in the swallow’s nest
And on the purple grapes the snow was plain.

Out of each hundred dead there was but one
Still able, just, to raise a bier or spade.
But he abstained. Instead, he had begun
To see to it his sinful flesh was flayed.

Out of ten thousand flayed there was but one
Able to curse for good, as his last act,
The God of that sick joke. What a to-do.

Out of each million zealots who’d begun
Only to search for scapegoats was in fact
But one righteous person and he died too.

Fifteenth century

Now maps are made of the entire earth.
The scent of nutmeg’s the magnetic urge,
The clove outdoes the emerald in worth,
The globe is reforged as one single church.

All the Columbuses and the Da Gamas
At one or other monarch’s beck and call
En route for India, for the Bahamas,
And the Cape of Good Hope, Pirates All,

Would never slacken speed, sailing from Saigon
To Volendam - as swift as lightning flies.
They yearned from that time on like desperadoes

With fervour for the newest eldorados
And did not understand: paradise lies
Eternally beyond the far horizon.

Sixteenth century

A tempest raged up from the depths of hell
Smashing the images in fearful spate:
Mary, Joseph, Anna - Michael as well -
Only a single saint escaped that fate.

He was abducted among flour and loaves
By a young baker’s man who was devout,
He ended up concealed behind an oak
Church-panel in a village farther out.

The saintly man, still ghostly white with fear,
Was found centuries later at that spot,
From what he’d seen still speechless, stripped of sound.

But if in truth a century for God
Is but a second, we may quite well hear
At any time his blood-curdling account.

Seventeenth century

When sea and land had all been quite divided
With globe and compass, calipers and maps,
When all the magic world-picture subsided
And was consigned then to the rubbish heap

And Ptolemy with worms made conversation,
Nothing at all remained preventing God
From taking on a twin manifestation:
That of the windmills and of Don Quichote.

Since then you constantly can hear man quail
At phantoms which he has himself invoked -
He bobs around in paper jolly-boats,

He preferably duels with a frail
Skeleton and he’s seen - more than a little
Distraught - rushing around his village idyll.

Eighteenth century

The muted rumbling had a threatening air.
Sulphurous clouds moved in across the sun.
A gala carriage toppled unawares
Into the abyss. Earthquake in Lisbon.

A tremor, then a second and a third,
Like porcelain the great cathedral smashed,
The bronze clock the infanta quite interred.
Screaming and fire. The city was laid waste.

The guiltless on the gallows scorched and glowed,
The villain in the ruins had free play:
An earthly branch of hell had come to stay.

A day’s journey away, a dream maybe
Where silence always reigned and honey flowed,
God sat and guzzled in a cherry-tree.

Nineteenth century

In one great valley everything is stored.
There, row on row, rise great majestic silos -
Books, photos, year’s accounts and a great hoard,
Of newspapers, regardless of the kilos.

In that vast valley each calendar year
Has its own temple. A new multi-leaved
System sends paper in a jumbled smear
Until the ideal sorting is achieved.

Till, so to speak, the year of eighty-eight
In warehouse eighty-eight finds its abode.
They shift and order. It’s some sort of charm.

But in mid-valley towers, despite its weight,
The Silo of Uncertain Date - a barn
Where everyone’s in constant online mode.

Twentieth century

A century of profiteers, disasters,
Mines, bombers, vitamins and sellotape,
Of concentration camps and first-aid plasters,
Of doctrines and psychiatrists – all shapes.

A century of radios and lighting,
Of trenches, vendors and of nervous wrecks,
Of petrol fumes, commercials, advertising,
Of frozen food, statistics, architects.

A century of bonds and bourse cave-ins
That of the Tomahawk and Messerschmitt,
That of the lyric and the aspirin.

Of John and Claus and Liz and Frank and Pete.
In short, that of mass murder and delusion.
Much for our race to relish, in conclusion.

Hours, days, and months, and years

The world employs a pedestrian time.
He just plods straight ahead and can’t escape
From his determined rule and number scheme.
‘He flies just like a shadow.’ Commonplace.

Even with his own self he’s synchronous.
He never shortens, never once dilates.
He is, let’s face it, quite monotonous.
He ticks alike for queen and kitchen-maid.

It’s an enigma. I’ve so many times.
They dance and gently glide, they often waver –
A mesh of years in abbeys, tropic climes.

When I see you, with streaming hair, another
Century starts. Were I to count my sins,
Two seconds at the most is what I’d win.

Rejuvenation clinic

His eyes grow weak, small blond hairs on his neck,
As fine as gossamer, begin to bristle
Whenever he thinks of a luggage-rack
And of a hut that’s lifted by the sea-swell -

Her dreamy eyes light up and at her throat
Tiny pin-pricks of red begin to glow
Once high-class gala balls invade her thoughts
Where tango-dancers are and gigolos -

Even if you pump tons of oxygen
Into your blood, and make the hurdling team,
Keep up with fashion’s every slightest whim:

On pills spend all your money, train, jog, swim,
Your name, Adonis, reads Methusalem.
You’ll never, fearful man, buy of their dreams.

By the tree

An urban park. A young pair runs away.
Into a tree they’ve carved an arrowed heart.
Two initials. Death’s out of luck today:
Their love’s death and the tree’s he cannot part.

They play a game of tag round a thick tree
Not all that far off, in the dancing light
Of leaves and sun. They’re living in a dream.
They laugh and then they disappear from sight.

You close your eyes and hear an old refrain
Return. Tralala. Just as love-struck, dazed
And jittery you squandered all your days.

As if a lightning flash seared through your brain,
You eye the tree trunk and you see, amazed,
A crusty heart that’s got a greenish haze.

The salvation

She was the housemaid of Piet Mondriaan.
She polished all his pots and all his pans,
She always made his taps gleam like a charm
And toiled till every ball of fluff was banned.

She wound up his alarms and mantle-clocks,
Since anything not right made Piet annoyed.
She checked Piet’s brushes were all left to soak.
Day after day she did this - without joy.

One day when she arrived, though, she was singing,
Scattering bits and pieces all about.
A pot got broken and the clocks destroyed.

And on that day the muses cried for joy.
A sudden curly tail adorned Piet’s linen
And from his box of bricks a fuse stuck out.

The cleaning lady speaks

My deadly enemies are dust and fluff.
I am the scourge of cobwebs great and small.
Just watch me turn out, empty, clean and buff -
I won’t put up with any wisps at all.

A house that’s quite in order, spick and span,
Means life can always have a new beginning.
My boss calls me - he’s never wrong, that man -
‘The Mondriaan of hearth and table linen.’

His fine arm chairs were never to my liking.
His standard lamp has now become strip lighting.
I’m a broom artist when all’s said and done.

I let the junk man have his bed - along
With thick and down-filled duvets. He’s quite sure
To dream both sound and sweet upon the floor.

What I like most

What I like most is life when it’s slowed down,
A time-forgetting that is absolute
In a decor of graveyard wall and moon
With only fitful weather, solitude.

The taste for working hard and for performing
- From 6am till far into the night -
And meeting inspiration without warning,
Without the least suspecting it’s in sight.

The torture that’s the doing of a friend,
The joviality of dwarfs who’re bald,
The wet-cod grip of someone’s flabby hand,

The pence you get but don’t deserve at all,
The sovereignty of what’s called common sense
Horses at sea and ships on mountain land.

Postponed déjà vu

The light is changed, and changed too is all scent.
The air gives less, and the blood circulation
Is rather indeterminate than red,
My eyes swim in a treacly inundation,

There is a knot in each straight piece of rope.
It is as if despair’s a hidden danger
In what just now was clearly full of hope.
The same old game, a prompting perfect stranger.

I don’t know why my mood’s a bit downcast.
My memory has taken something in
And what this thought’s about I fail to grasp:

Something that I’ve once lived through in my past
Or something still to come, yet to begin -
And probably it’s imminent, I gasp.

Wanderer’s prayer

I need a home if my home’s to be nowhere.
I need a roof above my gipsy life.
The pain of being homeless, which I know there’s
Every sign of, will if not stay alive.

That something might exist as a domain
With easy chair, lucarne, clock on the wall
And kitchen dresser stacked with porcelain,
Complete with china bull. - Longing’s sheer hell.

I need a home right now to get away.
I need a room where I don’t have to stay,
A bed that won’t have any truck with sleep,

I need a stove that’s at the farthest cape,
A housemate out of whom I kick the shite,
A desk at which I do not have to write.

Photo album

I view the photo of the imbecile -
With great self-satisfaction the brute fellow
Strokes his penis. The fool’s been dead some while.
The photograph is full of cracks and yellow.

Almost no nerve of his could ever rest,
Yet all were frozen in a single shot.
And like a full-fledged archaeologist
I count the cracks. My eye is that of God.

I look the madness fully in the face.
The idiot has a skull completely bald.
His prick is more than twenty centimetres.

Both light and shadows meet my long cool gaze.
I count the finger-joints. God looked far better
For I’m not sure that I quite trust it all.

World on the go

The entire town has set off on the move.
The shops link arms and walk off, row on row.
A squat on Shanks’s pony’s on the rove.
The lawcourt limps. The theatre crawls real slow.

One sees a wholesale walking near and far,
A sauntering, a coming and a going
From cinemas, town palaces and bars.
No single property can stop itself from strolling.

I’m frozen in a corner of it all.
A round kiosk that’s capped with a green hat.
Sometimes a church or law court pays a call

Or baths now on the run stop just like that.
Today with extra care I count my money
And pass a paper to them from my tummy.

Catching up exercise

We’ve been abased and mocked enough to date
By half-baked experts with their bookish knowledge
And with their line to God so ruler-straight,
While we are relegated to the Ice Age.

We’ve been declared retarded quite enough.
Come, friend, the revolution starts today.
We’ve had our fill of attributes and stuff.
Kill Galileo with a chainsaw blade.

Treat Voltaire to high-power electroshocks,
Erasmus to an overdose of speed.
Make Bacon, Nietzsche, Swift quite orthodox

With laser, centrifuge and turboprop,
As for the Lord: don’t crucify him please,
Just slap a yellow sticker on his nob.

The Family of Man

Inside my brain there’s a small, black incision -
A hole near the pituitary gland,
Between my sense of balance and of vision,
(To help the more precise to scan the land),

And all the images, restive or still,
Which you let tremble or which spark and flare,
Images of a gesture, look or shrill,
Of razzias and rails, of flesh that sears,

Of entire cities which you saw explode,
Of seas of people with their arms upraised,
Of plague-struck regions, places torn to shreds,

Pristina, Ypres, Sharpville, Stalingrad,
Of bones, skulls, limbs, intestines - the whole load
Vanished in that black hole without a trace.


With running after heroes and concurring
In chorus with their hollow cries, with wearing
Cotton and ohropax in its ear, churning
All helplessy omnivorous in bearing

To mincemeat, with like a meteor burning
Into the earth, with attacking and searing
People with gas and chlorine, with discerning
Torture when interrogating, uncaring -

With running up the flag at break-neck speed
For every blatherer one could conceive
Whose wrist-watch has gone haywire, lost its time,

With sowing, at a rabbit’s pace, the seeds
Of cannon-fodder, thus did mankind leave
Through all this century its snail-trail’s slime.

Sonnet of hope

Review your century. No summer’s day
Without a mortar marring it a moment after.
An air-raid warning - and each child at play
Lay buried beneath rubble with its laughter.

Consider man. He whined. He never flinched.
A real dab hand at murder - nothing easier.
Nerve-gas was his best friend. - You’re quite convinced
You’re not like that. - You glorify amnesia.

Look in the mirror. See just what you get:
A man or woman who’s averse to plunder,
Who takes hard looks at everything - and yet

Can laugh, who’s kind and true without effusion,
Who, before hitting, counts up to a hundred
And who’s not heard of optical illusion.

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