Tag Archives: The Netherlands

A poem about my father …

Building prev. Middelaarkerk, Beverwijk, NL

My father was born on the 2nd of September. Here is a short prose poem about him. That so-called High Street was the Breestraat in the small Dutch town of Beverwijk, a few miles from the coast. In 1996 the building was last used as a church. When looking for a photo I came across a website offering accommodation. There is an apartment with a stained-glass window…

Hat

That Saturday afternoon my father had been drinking with the sales reps who had driven in to collect their bonus and, of course, being pleased with their bonus, they would have bought my father a drink. My father, being generous and liking his drink, anyway, would have bought them a drink. How the subject turned to hats, I don’t know, but around three, or three-thirty, my father came back home and picked up my mother’s hat, the one she would wear to church the following day: a large peach-shaped, red-wine-coloured, black-velvet-edged-bonbon-of-a-thing. I watched my father put on this hat and leave the house. I went out and followed him. The three sales reps stood outside the café at the end of our road. With the disdain of a Spanish matador, my father strode past them, heading for the High Street.

(published in Another LIfe, Oversteps Books, 2016)

A walk in summer in Holland

Heide by Steinchen via Pixabay

It’s only days since I returned to Manchester and I’m slowly getting back into the English language. It has been a great pleasure to feature poems here this year by my friend Kathleen Kummer. I hope you enjoy this one.

A walk in summer in Holland

No ditch, no canal, no river here,
no heron to remind me, as always, of Gandhi,
hunched up, as it studies the text of the water.
This landscape, the heat at Blaricum,
its sandy paths moist from yesterday’s rain,
never seem to be still. It moves with a gentle,
rocking rhythm. The mass of heather,
shrubs and trees, the tipsy ladders
of vapour the jets leave behind like litter,
the cirrus snagged on the sky, the flock
of sheep, horned flecked with brown,
expertly nibbling between each dainty,
filigree sprig – all of these
frolic round us: moving pictures
on a frieze like those in a child’s bedroom.

An illusion? Call van Gogh as a witness.
His olive groves writhe, his crops are waves,
cypresses rock on an ocean of fields
or boil with the stars in a fiery furnace.
But here, there is no such fever. Under
the huge Dutch sky, we are cradled, rocked
on a warm bed of purple heather.

Item – a poem

Photo credit Stux via Pixabay

This week I am featuring another one of Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It’s short and the neutral title belies the heart-breaking content. The poem is addressed to her adult son.

Item

You left behind: your silver spoon –
there are days when I stir my coffee with it;
the drawing of yourself with the Mona Lisa eyes;
I sometimes wonder how you got the chestnut avenue
from that angle, and I’m suddenly happy, as though
you’d just sauntered in from school and were upstairs
moving your table, shouting down you were hungry;
all the photographs of you – if I flicked the pages
fast enough, would those in the top right-hand corner,
at least, spring jerkily into life?

Item: a bank account – didn’t you need
the money? Your sisters; me. People hope
I don’t mind them asking about you. As if
in a language I’m learning, I say, no, I don’t mind.

They came at night

Credit Diane Moss on Pixabay

In the Netherlands, on the evening of 4 May, the war dead will be remembered. Here is my friend Kathleen Kummer’s poem about an event that happened in Holland during the Second World War. Kathleen’s mother-in-law was a published poet.

They came at night

Then there was the night they came for the horses.
There would have been no warning before
the clang of jackboots on the cobbles in the yard
of the outlying farm and the hammering on the door.

By the time they reached the edge of the village,
the farmers were up and had slipped their bare feet
into clogs. Behind the door, they were waiting
for the clattering of the hooves on the road to cease.

Not that there would have been silence as this farmer
moved, if need be at gunpoint, to the stable:
the shifting of hooves, the neighing, the whinnying,
he would know, without finding the words, meant betrayal,

his, as far as the horses knew,
which may be why he came to my mother-in-law’s.
I want that poem you wrote, he said,
that’s being passed round, about the horses.

And now I write mine, seventy years since then,
for when I can’t sleep, I often listen
as the clatter of hooves on those roads in Holland
swells in the peace of a night in Devon.

Valentine’s Day

Credit: Peggychoucair, via Pixabay

Valentine’s Day: a love poem by my friend Kathleen Kummer. She lived and worked in the Netherlands when married to a Dutchman. Poems from her debut collection Living below sea level featured here on 25 June 2018. To celebrate our 20-year friendship, I will be posting more of Kathleen’s unpublished work over the next few months.

Credit: Leo65, via PIxabay

Hiding Place

Like a holy relic rarely exposed,
they lie in a drawer, not handled,
let alone read, for half a century,
their violet ink on airmail paper,
your, my, dried blood on a membrane
which is beginning to flake. If touched,
it would instantly turn to dust. If read,
the dried blood would flow again and burn.

The drawer is hard to close: coarse strands
of pain, regret and grief obstruct it.
I am able to ease it with the memory
of lying with you by the sea, unseen
by those who walked through the marram grass,
throwing up little showers of sand on us.
Nothing has been as soft,
as caressing as the sand dunes that summer.

Clogs – a poem

Volendam, the Netherlands. Credit: Mel_88 via Pixabay

I’ve been typing up notes from a Zoom writing workshop with Liz Berry. The focus was on short poems – some of them only two or three lines long. One was a two-line poem about a chess game and a raised hand by Charles Simic, the Serbian American poet.

In the early days of the spring lockdown, Dutch TV showed famous places somewhere in the Netherlands which are usually thronging with tourists: Volendam, Giethoorn, Kinderdijk, Zaanse Schans. One night the Red Light district in Amsterdam, empty and quiet.

Here is my short poem about clogs, a cliché along with the tulips, bicycles and cheese. I hope you remembered to put your clocks back!

Clogs, Volendam

Poem of the Clog

The clog was crying.
It wasn’t lonely: there were
thousands of shiny clogs.
I am addicted, it howled,
there are no tourists

World Animal Day

Photo credit: Artcats via Pixabay


World Animal Day was started in 1925. I was looking for an animal poem in my file. Looking back on this experience, we might question the animal welfare aspect. The horse seemed happy enough at the time.

Circus

The Arabian thoroughbred
and his blue-blood spinster
lodged with a middle-aged couple
living in the Dutch bible belt.

My parents despatched
my younger brother and me
that summer to acquire
circus skills in two weeks.

Each morning a child took
turns standing on the horse
as it walked round the ring
inside the stuffy canvas tent.

In the afternoons we swam
in the local pool, tried to get
the couple’s fat ponies to obey.
There were prayers, a lot of eggs.

By the end of the holiday we
balanced, arms outstretched,
on the trotting horse. We swung
off and on as it cantered.

Neighbours Day – poem

Photo Credit: andrewlloydgordon via Pixabay

Yesterday was Neighbours Day here in the Netherlands. The Neighbours Day initiative was started in 2005 by Douwe Egberts, one of the traditional Dutch coffee makers: social contact starts with a cup of coffee. A few years later they were joined by a charity called Oranjefonds. Each year they provide funds, support and advice for a large range of social and community activities, such as Dutch language support for refugees, mentoring, club houses for the old and young.

During the lockdown earlier this year, many new initiatives were started by people volunteering in their own street or local area. A good fit with this annual initiative. My neighbours here on the camping have cut their hedges and have gone home. My day always starts with a good cup of coffee made in a cafetiere. It happens to be D.E. – a firm started in 1753 in a small shop in Friesland, a northern province.

Earlier this year I talked with my brother about events in our childhood. This memory came up.

Getting to know the neighbours

We’re snoozing after lunch
in a Sunday afternoon garden.
One of our family, still awake,
sees silent orange flames rising
that side of the opaque glass.

It’ll be a small insurance claim.
As evening turns pink, the old
Belgian couple walk their Borzoi.

Photo credit: akunnen via PIaxabay

Father’s Day

 

40th Wedding Anniversary
The picture shows me and my parents at a dinner to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 1984. At Christmas 1988 I became the scapegoat for the difficult circumstances around my sister leaving her husband. My father, my brother and that husband were all called Theo. My sister was living with someone else by then.

So, one Theo told me off for keeping in touch with that Theo and the third Theo collected me from my parents’ flat and took me to the airport. My father and I became estranged. Late September 1990 my father was taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack. He was doing okay, my brother told me, no need to rush and book a flight. Two days later my father died in hospital, instantly, after a large heart attack.

 

Almuerzo con mi padre

My father’s eyes behind the spectacles sparkle.
There’s wisdom in his moustache,
and dreams of fino sherry, chilled in a thin glass.

There would be time to wait and wander,
criss-cross a square, look at people,
the statue of a famous general on his horse.

The dead will be around us on the hills that hold the city.
My father claps his hands, decides where we will eat.

He’s learned his Spanish from reel-to-reel Linguaphone.
I’m online with Duolingo: Vino tinto, pan, conejo.

My father would have found it hard to choose
between the crema catalana and helada.
His moustache would have selected ice cream.

The light streams in …

 

Keukenhof 18

Yesterday afternoon I watched a TV programme about the Keukenhof, a major Dutch tourist attraction. Annually visitors come from over 100 different countries. A team of 40 gardeners has worked for three months last autumn planting around seven million bulbs – tulips, hyacinths, narcissi. Easter w/end is usually one of the busiest times; this year the Keukenhof will not open to visitors.

The photos are from 2018 when I went with my sister and brother-in-law. Now you cannot visit the Keukenhof, the Keukenhof will come to you. On the website they will be posting more videos. Go to de Keukenhof

 

purle tu;los

 

The poem is by Thomas Tranströmer, from his collection The Sad Gondola, 1996. May you and those dear to you be safe and sound this Easter.

 
The Light Streams In

Outside the window, the long beast of spring
the transparent dragon of sunlight
rushes past like an endless
suburban train – we never got a glimpse of its head.

The shoreline villas shuffle sideways
they are proud as crabs.
The sun makes the statues blink.

The raging sea of fire out in space
is transformed to a caress.
The countdown has begun.