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.
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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.