Tag Archives: The Netherlands

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.

Here I am walking …

trotting-3598639_1280

Photo credit: Digwen on Pixabay

 

These are my neighbours. Yes, camping Duinhorst backs onto a racecourse. Duindigt opened in 1906. Most of the races held are trotting races, with the jockeys sitting on a sulky as in the picture. Some days I can hear the faint sounds of commentary, or a national anthem at the end of a race. And, very often when I’m out and about I come across horses being exercised. That is where the writing started.  It is the second poem in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.

I was going to fly to Holland on 5 April, but things are serious and dangerous. I managed to get a flight out on Wednesday 18 March from Manchester to Schiphol in the Netherlands, and went straight to my caravan. You know from following my blog that I am a Dutch national, long-term resident in the UK. Faced with “social distancing” and a possible four-month’ quarantine, I felt it would be easier in the caravan. It has a small garden and I can go for a bike ride, or a short walk in the nearby dunes – as long as I keep my distance.

 

Here I am walking …

 
Here I am walking with a small horse.
I found it on the path to the supermarket
where it stood, eyes closed, by yellow gorse.

All this happened a long time ago,
before I was born, before the war,
and the rope in my hand smells of horse.

We can turn to the right, walk over
the dual carriageway, head for the dunes,
four bronze crosses to remember

the war dead and we’ll arrive,
place our feet on the beach
where it’ll soon be night.

St. Nicolaas, 5 December 1957

 

_Groeten_van_St._Nicolaas!__St._Nicholas_and_a_helper,_St._Nick_is_in_a_white_robe,_orange_cap,..._(NBY_1458)

 

Traditionally, both St. Nicolaas and Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) arrive in ports in the Netherlands on a steam ship towards the end of November. A white horse awaits the holy man who rides through the streets. In the week or so before St. Nicolaas’ evening, children would leave a carrot for the horse in their shoe (few of us wore clogs!) by the fireplace. The evidence that St. Nicolaas and Zwarte Piet had come down the chimney to visit was there the next morning: some sweets, chocolates or a small piece of marzipan in those shoes.

Black Peter is a helper, distributing sweets to the children who’ve been good. However, he also carries a large bag. Any child that has been misbehaving during late November-early December risks being noticed and being carried off to Spain in that bag.

The competition from Father Christmas has become stronger over the last decades. In recent years, there has also been a controversy in the Netherlands about Zwarte Piet and a small UN Human Rights deputation even came to investigate the accusations of racism and colonialism. Some councils and schools now have a white helper (not blacked up) and elsewhere St. Nicolaas visits on his own. The controversy is ongoing with demonstrations, petitions and activism.

On the 5th of December I will be in the UK, on a writing week. I still love marzipan, but I am cutting down on sweets and I have asked St. Nicolaas for a large batch of good, new poems! The poem is from my debut collection Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd).

 
St. Nicolaas, 5 December 1957

We’re crowded in our dining room.
Grandmother has closed her face.
There’s me in pyjamas, smiling.
I’m next to my father’s father.
His heart will give out soon.
I’ve just been given a book;
animal stories with illustrations.

My brother too smiles, because
our mother isn’t there.
She may be in the kitchen
or upstairs, ill, thinking
about walking out on us.
My father has taken this photo.
He too will have closed his face.