On my back I carried the coffin in which my father lay. Bent low by its weight, I staggered forward step by step. My pace slowed, the burden was too great, it was beyond me. Carefully I lowered myself full-length to the ground, slid out from under the coffin, raised the lid without hesitating and whispered, Father, I can’t carry you. I’m sorry. Could you maybe walk a little?
It took him a while to open his eyes. His face was unshaven, his hair tousled. He was wearing long johns and a white vest. Then he sighed and shook his head, mocking and pitying at once, like always. He sat up, climbed out of the coffin and moved on with calm steps. I walked along behind him and I too said nothing.
The coffin remained where it was, in the middle of the path.
We reached the grave, which was already dug. Without a word he settled down, lying on his side, then turning over to lie on the other side.
His god wants him to face east, I thought, towards Mecca. Fortunately he didn’t ask me which way east was, because I didn’t know.
He folded his hands together, slid them under his head as a pillow, sighed deeply again and closed his eyes, and I, I fell to my knees, threw my arms back and began to fill the grave.
The Roman Catholic Church intends
to do away with limbo,
I read in the newspaper.
The section of limbo
that accommodates the souls
of stillborn babies and unbaptised infants.
An alighting crow reminds
me of the remains found up the street:
lower body, tattoos included, fairly intact;
upper body unidentifiable,
head and chest deep black and riddled
with maggots (high on cocaine).
Of all birds it’s mainly crows
that make me feel there is another creature,
most probably a human, trapped inside a bird.
Another part of limbo accommodates
virtuous but unbaptised fellows like Moses
and Plato, Homer and Abraham.
It is not in the sense of reincarnation
that I believe that another creature,
most probably a human, is trapped inside a bird;
it’s not some pet theory of mine,
but a feeling in the face of which
I am defenceless.
It’s to negate the competitive advantage of Islam,
particularly in Africa, where infant mortality is high
(according to Islam dead children go straight to heaven)
that the Church wants to abolish limbo.
I toss the crow a grape, other crows descend
and in no time I am surrounded
by crows scoffing grapes. By people
trapped in crows scoffing grapes.
Clerks of the early-to-mid twentieth century.
Confession of Faith
On leaving the bar I heard
a painter say that astronauts
often grew up without a father.
I repeat: on leaving the bar
I heard a painter say that astronauts
often grew up without a father.
The same with prophets, I thought.
Muhammad, amongst others, grew up
without a father. On the way
home, it was nighttime, taking
the shortcut through the park, I heard
a squirrel say your death will be
the first real thing to happen to you.
I repeat: your death will be the first
real thing to happen to you. If that is true,
I thought, then squirrels sometimes speak
the truth. I repeat: then squirrels
sometimes speak the truth.
Mustafa Stitou (b. 1974) is generally counted as one of the leading Dutch poets of his generation. Born in Tetouan, Morocco, he moved to the Netherlands as an infant and grew up in the provincial city of Lelystad. Stitou now lives in Amsterdam, where he studied philosophy. His first collection of poetry was published when he was just nineteen and met with widespread critical acclaim, including praise from established Dutch poets. Thoughtful rather than prolific, Stitou has published three collections since. A collection of his poetry in English translation is currently in production with Phoneme Media (USA).
‘On my back I carried the coffin’ was first published in a slightly different translation on Poetry International Web,
‘Confession of Faith’ was first published in Ambit 198 and
‘Clerks’ was first published on Five Dials.
The originals are in Tempel, Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2013.