The Dutch Riveter: Poems from CITY OF SANDCASTLES by Hagar Peeters, translated by Judith Wilkinson

ILLUSION
This morning while I wasn’t yet awake
and not asleep either, doom crept in
on cloven socks, nestled invisibly
against me and spoke my name, a whisper—
not wanting to wake me.

Without opening my eyes I saw him
look at me, though his eyes too were shut.
He stroked the pillow, he mistook it for my lips
and it kissed him back the way I would have kissed.
We embraced in the assumption of each other.
MY GRANDMOTHER WAS A FRONT SOLDIER
In my grandmother’s village
the women came to fruition once a year
developed new shoots bore fruit
there was blossoming round the clock
bloodiness from the dead, the miscarried
the misshapen and the ordinary viable ones.

In the village a front mentality
reigned;
the women were soldiers
pitted against the dominant majority
of the dissenters
approaching from all sides.

Armed with pregnancy
they obeyed submissively
but when the viable foetuses
had matured and grown up
and had left the battle field
it wasn’t the emperor who was checkmated
but the mother who had no heaven
to rely on, nor a life
to look back on.

Just as the father’s leather belt
and the teacher’s ruler
beat the hand of the disobedient
so the church bell beat out its calling
to the medieval rhythm of sowing
and mowing and harvesting
whereupon the pastor would arrive at the door
to inspect the armour of pregnancy
and every year he’d check the belly’s curvature
of the pregnancy-armed front soldier and serf
my grandmother was.

The toll of a bell
is like a blow to the face
of the man who listens to the tolling
and bends until he’s on his knees
in the corn in the field
that wouldn’t grow otherwise.

By Hagar Peeters

Translated by Judith Wilkinson

From CITY OF SANDCASTLES

Published by Shoestring Press (2018)

By permission of Shoestring Press.

Read The Dutch Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy this title through the European Literature Network’s The Dutch Riveter bookshop.org page.

Read the review of CITY OF SANDCASTLES here.


Hagar Peeters is an award-winning poet and previous nominee for Dutch Poet Laureate. Over the past two decades she has published multiple Dutch-language volumes of poetry, including City of Sandcastles which appeared in English translation in 2018. Her debut novel Malva was awarded the Golden Book Owl 2016 and has been translated into six languages, including English.


Judith Wilkinson is a British poet and translator living in the Netherlands. She has won many awards, including the Popescu Prize for European poetry in translation (for Toon Tellegen’s Raptors) and the Brockway Prize. She has also translated Miriam Van hee, Hagar Peeters and Menno Wigman.

Category: March 2021 – The Dutch RiveterTranslations

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