A Poem

Delft Streets 2 | *Turin231

It’s all right,
You did your work, gardener,
And so did you, hundred-year-old captain.
And you, carer of the sick, you did your work too.
Be content with that, be glad,
Take a rest and begin again.

Our paths cross and I recognize you,
Just as I recognize others, and yet others.
We aren’t kept separate
By unbearable suffering
Or dangerous streets or arid plains
Demanding to know what we’re up to.
Take a rest and begin again.

I look at the dead,
I look at the living.
We call up memories
And smile at the kids passing by,
And drink water from small cups.
If there’s any fig brandy around, we drink it,
With great gusto.

The chairs and the stools are their considerate selves,
Doing their work even in the bitter cold.
The motor-engines of the bus help us,
As do the overhead wires of the tram.
We lie on the ground and listen, open-mouthed,
To the crows and the blackbirds.

The bricklayer sweats his guts out,
The head librarian grabs his coat,
I recognize them and smile.
And you, who raise boys and girls
And deliver newspapers and mend clothes
And study math at night
Then wash your hair, dead-tired.
It’s all right.

I recognize you and smile.
Take a rest and begin again,
Put lipstick on or leave it off.
Prick bread on a stick and go roaming for the day,
All ages will recognize you and cheer you on,
You are a flower.

The bushes and trees aren’t into violence,
They protect you and offer shade,
The wind defies your molecules,
Just as well, too.

Don’t mind about the sun and moon knowing who you are
Without ever saying your name.
The seasons and the months,
The nights and the days,
They recognize you, they recognize us all.
We go up the hill and down again,
And eat with more experience.

You too, bicycle repairman,
And also the swimming-pool administrator,
And also he who adjudicates bankruptcies,
And also the musician playing to full houses,
And also the rice farmer, and the goat-herd.
All of you work hard.
Take a rest and begin again.
The wood of the rafters
Is just as strong as the wood of the gangplanks
Because it was felled with a smile.

I know no more than you do.
I spit on my shoes and polish them,
And go on my way
Past the monks in their monastery,
Past the huddles of concrete fixers,
Past the black-eyed beggars,
And I remember you all.

I love women and embrace men,
I talk nonsense to kids,
Lift them up in the air.
I model myself on nothing,
Each second is a new era.

We are not kept apart by silence
Or by the thunder of the clouds
Or by the heat of the flames.
We talk and then shut up
And go outside for the rain.

I recognize you and smile.
Take a rest and begin again.
Put lipstick on or leave it off.
Prick bread on a stick and go roaming for the day,
All ages will recognize you and cheer you on,
You are a flower.

Translation by Ina Rilke

Arjen Duinker
About Arjen Duinker
Arjen Duinker (Delft, 1956) has published one novel Het moeras (1992) and eleven volumes of poetry. In 2001 Duinker received the Jan Campert Prize for his volume De geschiedenis van een opsomming (2000). In 2005 De zon en de wereld (2004) won the VSB Poetry Prize and has been published in English translation in Australia. Further book-length collections have appeared in France, Portugal, Italy, Iran, Russia and the UK, and are in preparation in China, Finland, Croatia and Mexico. One of Duinker’s poems was translated into 220 different languages for a project called ‘World Poem’. His most recent collection is Buurtkinderen (2009).