And that afternoon they left the world behind.
Spinifex on the roadside, animals with names like flowers.
The sun was someone driving towards them,
only at dusk did their will diminish,
the road slinking out of the mirror, a sense of completion.
Now they would find somewhere to sleep,
arranging their naked bodies
in a place with nothing to go by.
Everything of their own invention, as lonely
as a beginning, a conversation
in an as yet non-existent language.
Filling a room with their presence,
gestures, voices, questions.
As if seeing an angel for the first time
and knowing he doesn’t exist,
his wings tattered, dusty and mouldy,
his feathers too old to take wing.
That was what it was like when night fell,
the angel combed his hair,
arranged the wings he couldn’t
remove and slept
in the only bed.
April auf dem Lande
It was summer and winter.
The water by the river,
how it rose.
Mist between the hills.
In the valley the expensive villas,
shuttered, white and pink.
Fox and owl
hidden out of sight,
a work day for herons and mice.
And the man who loved women, lonely,
not thinking about the birds.
Dew or rain
on the serrated leaves,
the call of a train
from the depths.
How many, he thought,
how many spokes in the wheel
of a single
from Monk’s Eye
Why don’t the dead leave us in peace?
They scatter their names over the road
we have to walk, insert their lines of verse
in our last bit of sleep before morning,
then go again, absent as if
it’s a profession, turning away, eyeless,
hidden in their own jargon, the private
dialect of the dead, inaccessible
to us, a race that’s stateless and voiceless
and breaks into our memories
without appointments, walking next to us
or sitting on the side of the bed where they
Cees Nooteboom (b. 1933) is a poet, novelist, essayist and travel writer, and one of the Netherlands’ most revered living authors. Translated into many languages and the recipient of many awards, he came to international prominence for his fiction and nonfiction, but has always seen poetry as an essential part of his life and a key concern, returning to it regularly in essays on and translations of other poets. Although Nooteboom’s own poetry has been less widely translated than his prose, this has been changing recently with many new publications around the world. Seagull Books have led the charge in English with two volumes published in the last few years and a third in preparation (Self-Portrait of an Other, Light Everywhere and Monk’s Eye respectively).
‘Lifelines’ and ‘April auf dem Lande’ are from Light Everywhere, Seagull Books, London, New York, Calcutta, 2014
Originals in Licht overal, Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2012
‘Monk’s Eye, # 27’ forthcoming in Monk’s Eye, Seagull Books, London, New York, Calcutta, 2018
The original of ‘Monk’s Eye, # 27’ is from Monniksoog, Karaat, Amsterdam, 2016