Seven Poems

The Bird

I was drinking tea on midmeadow.
The sun sparkled in the saucers.
Small birds crumbled their crumbs
and fluttered at me.

The wrought-iron table was warm,
and wobbled as I took a cookie.
The birdies said their tuts and teehees
and brushed their lips on my arm
(one-two) before hopping away.

The mushy ottoman on which I sat
made itself sweetly felt
but above my head was a blue as dense
as if I wore a skyhat
up to the distant, hardened city.
There the sky shone pale green.

Suddenly there was a difference,
and a bird, as large as a well-dressed man,
a conductor e.g., planted himself next to me.
His breath came in gasps, then there was silence again.

I put an arm around his neck
and noticed under his feathers the commotion
of veins and an indeterminate emotion
throbbing and streaming between breast and break.

‘Please sit down,’ I said, ‘and cheer up.’
But he could not make himself relax:
I had to put an arm around his legs
and bend him somewhat double.

I held out a cookie to him, but to no effect
and I asked: ‘Is it because you are sad?’
He answered: ‘I really have no idea.’
He sounded like a kazoo of ivory.

He stared at me uncertainly
like a peering reflection
and whispered:

‘Because of too much mixing
with people, and also on account of my belly
I really lost it,
but I wish I could soar
in between the horizon
and the descending sky
to my Father, land in his valley
under the seaweedtrees
where skypearls descend
at the long day’s end.
My beak-traits get besinewed
and my eyes frogfilmed
will sprout two fountains of tears
as I recall the virtuous beaks
of my father and my brother
and the arbor where I would seek
a quiet spot to read.
My Mother seemed to fear us;
a limp bird was Mother,
she was almost a pillowbosom.
On the other hand, my Father
was more a featherduster
but not home as often; rarely rather.
So our gazebo was all mine
and under its foliagegreen light
I would read, every day from nine
in the morning till late at night
I would read your drab would read
your drably enchanting books
full of your pedestrian greed
till I could no longer fly,
lost the power, or the need.
Here, feel this thigh.
I have hips now.

Yes, I am a female indeed.
When I flew it made me shy.
Now that I walk it does not satisfy
me either, for from this low point-of-view
people are just dusty beasts.
If you stand too close to their mouth,
evil spirits will sling out
and twist around your shoulders.
Where have the eyelashes gone
of the deer, the musing children?
What do people learn to think?
To stiffen, and then to shrink.’

Then the bird didn’t say one more word.
I could pry and jerk, and squeeze
with a spoon, she wouldn’t release
one more word, but again she started to wheeze.

So I clutched her neck, in fear,
and a soft and feverish thigh.
‘Fly’, I cried and threw her … no,
too heavy, she came down flowing,
sprawling with heat all over me.

struggled from under her,
but large patches of feathers within
her already replaced my clothes
and my mouth was filled with her skin.
Once more I crawled toward her,
pulled her up by the wings
to a faltering trot,
but her eyes were withdrawn
her interest gone.
Throbbing and weak from the sprawl
she clasped me like a vault.

Morning returned
and found me alone.
A fleet of giant feathers drifted
on the ditches, shifted shifted.
Around me the field had been churned.

My God, what did I mean,
if all this never occurred?
What primordial bird have I seen?
Don’t leave me alone
with this verse that is blown
in shreds over me.

From Going Sleepwalking (Uit slaapwandelen, 1957)
By Leo Vroman
Translated by Leo Vroman and Kees Snoek

 

Space and Time

‘Put anything you want in me’
said Space to Time, ‘and you’ll see.’

‘See what! And where would I begin?’
‘Why fret, and why not first come in?’

And so they squabble to this date,
hardly kiss and never mate.

MORAL

If Time is unable to,
who, dear readers, tell me who?

From House and Yard (Huis en tuin, 1979)
By Leo Vroman

 

Wrong Time

Time, a little faster and I’ll win.
He sweats already, galloping on
at my side, his antique weapon gone,
and sawdust blowing from his tattered skin,

and the stench worn off his hoofbeat hints
of chickenfeathers crushed upon
pillows full of shame-begone
kisses during lovebegin.

In the wake of his imagined face
call out for a chance of turning
back to earth a lifetime later

without the same compressed embrace
of air from nude birds, torn kids burning
and that icepuke nuclear crater

From Fractal (Fractaal, 1985)
By Leo Vroman

 

Route

The solemn stalling line of days
tells me I am sailing past
on their windless waterways’
widening avenue at last

onto the polished marble sea
under which the garbling deep
hides the voices born with me
that I awakened in my sleep

once echoed in its marble halls
to steep me but their inwardbound
choirs grew to waterfalls
their thunder melting in the ground

Now I shall fathom what it is
not ever once to search again
in story quarry and quatrain
for history as short as this

Half completed crownreports
crooked gourds of blood and wine
golden quills lolled by the tide

I shall go through empty courts
shall recall this all as mine
and shall be gone inside

From Fractal (Fractaal, 1985)
By Leo Vroman

 

Honing the Silence

I recognise the cogs wear off my cogs
not as a mechanism going dead
but like the toothlessness of weary dogs
tired of biting others’ gods and brides and bread

Oh yes they wear because I kick my brake
scaling them down to slipdiscs bless their hides
they scream so softly in their sleep when rubbing
sides
at every grinding curve I take

Soon I need no longer steer this cot
grown so light it sails without a puff
it can be laughed along by one dear tot
moonlight can polish it to dust and fluff

Shadows will stay with air behind them
still scratching symbols swirling off the ground
they will endure till morning to be found
by the sleeper who will never find them

From Fractal (Fractaal, 1985)
By Leo Vroman

 

Cathedrals

We are cathedrals
dark with hallways
marked with doors
barring the halls
and fallen gargoyles
guarding the floors.
On the walls
are drawings of hallways
hung with coils
of unstrung foils
and always the choir
hides in the height
of its hollow night
its lore unsung
of doors flung wide
to something outside
in the sunlight

From All Godforsaken Night (De godganselijke nacht, 1993)
By Leo Vroman

 

All Godforsaken Night

All damn night the top shelf full
of narrow vases and all the while
no smell of moldcorrupted tile
giants in the slumberpool

range dangling from the chimneystacks
the house prepares its minicracks

beyond: cracks among continents.
Under the crust one lavahand
gropes along the fissures and
finds another hand and vents

One more deep breath and then
China tilts over Japan

Relax my darling earth it’s only me
trying to grasp your death instead of mine
to grope the soil of your uplifting mound

blind as a visionary
to the side-effects of own decline
grope for traces of myself I never found

feel the tremor, see the nightgulls far below
circle the cyclone as I am hurled

down

help me remember how to know
it’s only me, it’s not the world

From All Godforsaken Night (De godganselijke nacht, 1993)
By Leo Vroman

All poems first published in The Low Countries, 1995