The Dutch Riveter: Poems from KALFSVLIES (‘CALF’S CAUL’) by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated by Michele Hutchison

THERMOMETER

If you’ve got two people and one of them does synchronised swimming and the other

doesn’t, everything goes wrong. In the end we put thermometers into each other’s

mouths to understand the meaning, words are usually linked to temperature or

how often synchronisation occurs like when we’re sitting at the kitchen table

with the ocean between us, the butter tub as a dinghy and you reach

out your hand and I respond too late. I say I’m all too familiar

with situations like this and that the sea isn’t the same level everywhere either

but nobody notices because it’s just too gradual, the same way the riverbed

never suddenly disappears beneath your feet, you having had wrong thoughts

or longed too much for the other side where the world really begins. We found

ourselves at a halfway house where they sold lukewarm coffee, cheese soufflés

and plastic globes which we couldn’t plug in anywhere, never knew how much sea

to cross or how many hours we would have on the road in which to practise

synchronicity, flexibility of thought and turns under water,

out of the question: drinking coffee without talking, just sinking and making

bubbles. I clamp your hand between my head and shoulder, tell you about

my childhood when God was a father figure and my mother still lonely, that

my truth in the village was later my lack, everything I said scrubbed away with

green soap. Thermometers broke before but never had this effect. I still

remember what my dad said on holiday when we were little and went

to the seaside, he stood at the side with his water shoes on, yelling at us

never to go deeper than our navels because they served as

an overflow like in a sink, otherwise you would drown

and your neck would become a U-bend.


THE LICE-CHECKERS

The party goes by faster if we push some of the guests to the edge

like beer glasses and are either no longer able to take stock or keep

things on a level to investigate what happens when you mix alcohol

with melancholy, we allow the furniture to wear socks

against scratches in the linoleum so that no one can find the party

again until the heads on the beer consist of so much air that

something heavy has to be thrown into it: someone says that melancholy

is just like a mother checking for lice at school and how much we long

for it: that tickling of strange fingers through your hair working their way

so much more carefully than your own mother’s, as if she were looking for a

reason to comb out the loss, to make you recall this later, but now

with an adolescent brain instead of the childish fear of a note

in your coat pocket with the message: louse found, four o’clock tomorrow

behind the bike sheds, the itching not yet a deficiency, but too many

heads together asking Mr Wolf the time in the hope that getting closer

would be passed on. Mum, who put your well-intentioned attempts

in the washing machine this school day.

There were friends who caressed the hair of unknown girls, some

danced as if the itch were trying to find a way out of their limbs and

someone said this made her happy, this party on this date, the

shifting of the hours; lice mothers who were objects stuffed

into a buttoned-up pocket never to be brought out again, too much

beauty can give you a head full of worries and all those desires that were

ironed out by your mother and laid on the stairs, the summer, about to burst

open again, like then, tomorrow we’ll awaken with thunder in our minds.


HOLLOW ENOUGH TO HIDE AN ECHO

We weren’t allowed to ask questions but we were allowed to think up answers, Mum cried

a lot back then, none of us taller than a metre, and she taught us that death

hadanechothatwhispereddeepinyoureardrums,meforgettingtoputmycold handsinmy

trouser pockets, not to make them into fists but keep them flat

the way I placed them on the glass plate of my brother’s coffin like two

moist starfish, the sea suddenly above our heads, someone

had pushed away the floor and failed to put it back said Grandad

who turned my fears into pigeons: to tame them

I had to stroke them from head to tail and release them once a week

in the pasture behind the stable, watch as they flew away but at night

they’d tap their beaks on the bedroom window, in panic he called the plumber

from our street because there were holes in his grandchildren, they leaked gallons of tears.

Back then, comforting was like parking, to measure is to know, and yet you often underestimate

things, you keep looking for the right place, an embrace sometimes needs you to

circle each other several times. On the table were tea glasses

filled with jenever, strange fingers were stirring ice cubes, there was a cheerful

tinkling while death still had to strike a blow the way answers take a few

seconds to land in the minds of the audience, were we the audience

or did we need other people’s trouser pockets to feel the warmth of

a body, I grabbed a finger and opened my mouth, stir away I

thought let’s pretend we want to grab each other but we keep slipping

away from each other, pulling back meant the blow didn’t strike everyone

the same way, they weren’t hollow enough to hide an echo.

Next to the pastor stood the dentist, the only man in our lives who could see

how we grit our teeth and understood that at night our ears turned

into seashells in which we did not hear the roar of the sea but the dead

brother who kept floating to the surface of our hearts.

By Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Translated by Michele Hutchison

Poems from KALFSVLIES (‘CALF’S CAUL’)

Published by Atlas Contact (2015)

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


Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has emerged in recent years as one of the most exciting new talents in Dutch literature. After winning the 2015 C. Buddingh’ Prize for their debut poetry collection, Kalfsvlies (‘Calf’s Caul’), in 2018 they published their debut novel The Discomfort of Evening. The English translation saw Rijneveld and translator Michele Hutchison jointly awarded the International Booker Prize in August 2020. Rijneveld’s latest novel, Mijn lieve gunsteling (‘My Dear Favourite’), was published in Dutch in November 2020.


Michele Hutchison is a literary translator from Dutch and French. In 2020, she won the Vondel Translation Prize for her translation of Sander Kollaard’s Stage Four, and the International Booker Prize together with author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for The Discomfort of Evening. She is also co-author of The Happiest Kids in the World: Bringing up Children the Dutch Way.

Category: March 2021 – The Dutch RiveterTranslations

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