The Dutch Riveter: Poems from HOW THE FIRST SPARKS BECAME VISIBLE by Simone Atangana Bekono, translated by David Colmer

FRICTION (II)
Who made the young me sweat in bed
with visions from the psychiatric ward
girls who’ve grown obsessed with the man
and the touch of the man, and the touch of the woman
that makes them realise they want to be a man

I fear the man and want to eat him up
but I am also scared that he has eaten me up
that I was born in the man’s stomach
or ribcage or in a toe
and escaping from his body
has made me lose mine
I want to eat the man up the way I eat Facebook
and installation art
and have for years now eaten up
enormous amounts of light
shining on my face

I hoped to be able to eat the man up
to protect my sisters
but I feel what’s left of the man gnawing at my insides
searching for a way out through my womb
my navel, my open mouth

Every inch of my body
of my thinking brain
is split into two camps
I am a single moustache hair
fallen onto the chin after an attempt at union
and the attempt at union has failed
only my silhouette seems right
I will wash down the drain of the shower or I will crumble
I will drown or suffocate in the woollen jumper
removed to facilitate copulation
meanwhile I search for electricity pylons
to hang out my shrunken body
charge it, fuse it together
because my body is more than just one body

I require a state of being that will make me superfluous and all-powerful
I want to build a corridor that leads nowhere
and lock all of my bodies up in it
so they won’t harm themselves or each other
so they will be present as a single whole
without context to confirm it
billions of cancer cells that have established themselves in my father
established themselves in my mother
billions of cancer cells that have established themselves in me
waiting for the right moment
silent in a waiting room

All my poems are quiet and still
my poems have been smeared on the side of the bed
my poems are not poems
I am a puddle of blood seeping through a carpet
that tries to turn systems into words
the systems asked, ‘What can you do, now you know?’
and I was quiet, deciding to go on holiday
FRICTION (III)
I wrote a poem about myself
I wrote five versions of myself that were male
broken, disembodied and confused
I wrote myself into the hell of being an artist and left me there to rot
I wrote beyond myself and came up with a lot of empty words:

That the moment of ignition makes or breaks all memories
that context mustn’t be added, but has to arise by itself
that I put my father’s urn in the fuse box when he slapped my wrist
for my dubious breasts and strange way of carrying myself
that I only exist as a projection of the brain of a white Western male:
I borrow money from a white Western male
I buy toilet paper for a white Western male
I am the white Western male’s thought experiment

I am lying drunk on a floor and he asks who I am
and I am a version of Kunta Kinte forced into a mould
I feel no bond with my given name

I lie on the floor drunk and see patterns on the ceiling
the boy on the floor next to me is a child I want to acquaint
with my darkest thoughts
to destroy him
to educate him
I am an apelike jazz musician’s doll
I am Sylvana, Louwiya, an enormous bum people pay money to stare at
I can present myself in hundreds of forms

I am a cool afterthought, a drum kit, I am a religious fanatic
with yellow eyeballs and a hoarse-screamed mouth, I am a court jester:
I put on a dress, I put on a flesh-coloured dress and I am
one hundred and fifty pounds of flesh without a name
language or country of origin
a nail-chewing, collapsing, bleeding anonymous entity
without a concrete goal
all energy and no purpose
I do have a good report:
well done, well brought up

I am a virus that eats itself due to a lack of matter to feed on
I am the most flesh-coloured dress you can wear
a daring choice
and oiled on a snow-white beach
standing among those hundreds of versions of myself
I ask, ‘Are we already on holiday?’
I get no reply

By Simone Atangana Bekono

Translated by David Colmer

From HOW THE FIRST SPARKS BECAME VISIBLE

Published by Emma Press (2021)

By permission of Emma 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.


Simone Atangana Bekono graduated from Creative Writing Artez with her first poetry collection how the first sparks became visible, which went on to win the Poëziedebuutprijs Aan Zee in 2018 for the best Dutch-language poetry debut and is published in English by Emma Press in 2021. She also writes prose, and published her debut novel Confrontaties in September 2020.


David Colmer is an Australian translator, writer and editor who lives in Amsterdam. He has translated more than sixty book-length works of Dutch-language literature and has won a host of international prizes for his work.

Category: March 2021 – The Dutch RiveterTranslations

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