Ester Naomi Perquin
That day I tumbled, unsuspecting, into someone else’s life, someone else’s
driving lesson, shopping list, lecture, into someone else’s
hesitations, beginner’s legs at ballet.
And nowhere was I lost, I walked countless orphans
to respectable parents and taught a drinking man
to trust his glass would last,
I stormed bruised and battered women out of houses,
shuffled beggars into castles, made a cold mother
kneel in time beside a fallen child,
I was that fallen child.
I taught a soccer player to believe in God like the smack
of the ball on the crossbar, a blind man to find
everything he lacked without asking,
I was the talent the painter had
to rise above his light.
Only a skinny, early-morning swimmer’s
totally unquestioning dive into
the pool between the trees,
came out too forced.
Powerless, she hovered over the water while I slipped back,
in motion once again, leaving her to shiver, losing heart,
the swimsuit already starting
I can only tell this story once. The second time I tell it will sound rehearsed
and round here they’re not so keen on stories that sound as if
you’ve given them a lot of thought, they want them blurted
and bleeding from your lips, like something happening
here and now before their eyes.
I can only tell this story once and that’s a lot more difficult
than I’d have guessed. It seems that guilty consciences
really do exist – who’d have thought it – but I
could also say: it’s modesty.
I can only tell this story once and that’s why I’m going to tell it
exactly like it happened in real life, in other words, including
certain people not knowing anything about it at all.
I can only tell this story once, that’s why I want to tell it properly
right away. That’s why I’m telling it to you.
This is the story. The story starts now.
One Day You Slap the Child
It is coincidence that the child no longer fits its recently purchased shoes.
Coincidence that it left its wet swimming gear on the stairs
to cultivate a selection of fungi.
It is coincidence that the child has grown taller than your belly button,
developed opinions and poor table manners. That on the white wall,
in very small letters, it has written its name.
After all, it doesn’t get slapped for getting too big
or because of what it’s done wrong.
It gets slapped because the tenderness has run out. Everything falters.
‘Tenderness brought us a long way,’ you say. ‘But the tank
is empty. The engine coughed and died.’
And you look down. And you slap the child.
Ester Naomi Perquin (b. 1980) is the current poet laureate of the Netherlands. Perquin grew up in the Dutch province of Zeeland but has lived in Rotterdam for most of her adult life. Unusually, she put herself through writing school by working as a prison guard for four years and drew on this experience in her award-winning collection Celinspecties (‘Cell Inspections’, 2012). A selection of her poetry, The Hunger in Plain View, was published in English in 2017 (White Pine Press, USA). Perquin also writes prose, presents and programmes at festivals, and co-hosts a national arts and culture radio show.
‘That day I tumbled, unsuspecting, into someone else’s life’ and ‘I can only tell this story once’ are from The Hunger in Plain View, White Pine Press, Buffalo, 2017, originals in Celinspecties, Van Oorschot, 2012.
The original of ‘One Day You Slap the Child’ is in Meervoudig afwezig, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam, 2017