Neeltje Maria Min
My mother soon forgot my name,
my daughter hasn’t learnt it yet.
How could I feel that I’m safe?
Name me, lay down who I am,
let my name be like a chain.
Name me, name me with your breath,
oh, name me by my deepest name.
For my love, I will be named.
From where I am I can hear it all.
I hear the table creaking under heavy bowls.
I hear that there are children being born.
I always hear those children being born.
I hear the sound that slowly fills the room.
I hear the rusting of the locks.
I hear the rotting of the fruit.
I always hear the fruit that slowly rots.
All I can do is listen in, I cannot speak.
I only listen while my father reads.
Each word begins with that short restless wheeze.
I am not there. I never was, nor could have been.
Like What We Saw
Like what we saw up the sleeve
of that worn threadbare,
that herringbone, that humble
disguise of my mother’s,
without a button left
but still wrapped tight,
that old grey inward-
that’s what our future would be:
as dark and familiar,
as spanking new.
Neeltje Maria Min (b. 1944) published her first collection in 1966 to popular acclaim and high sales. This volume, in which she focusses on love and death in family relationships, has been reprinted dozens of times since. Although hardly prolific, Min is highly regarded by younger Dutch poets like Menno Wigman and can be counted as an influence on them. One of the participants in Amsterdam’s Lonely Funerals project, in which a team of poets write poems for the council funerals of those who have died without family or friends, she will be included in the anthology of poems and essays currently in production at Arc Publications.
The originals of ‘my mother soon forgot my name’ and ‘from where I am I can hear it all’ are in De gedichten, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 1989
The original of ‘Like What We Saw’ is from Kindsbeen, Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1996.