A radiant bed, white silhouette against the bare
and even whiter walls.
What background for his saffron skin.
A lifelong abstinence, convinced teetotaller.
And yet, the liver did not last.

That old man – my Frisian granddad, my Pake.
Lying there, like ‘t is a work of art.
Japanese he seems, at any rate a print from there.
Caravaggio’s yellow – perhaps a shade too bright.
But positively picturesque and beautifully finished.

This is not Pake anymore, more like a thing.
An object of surprise, a thing so unexpected.
Already spirit, this before he dies.

The word comes to a standstill.

Then, of a sudden, I see the big, red butterflies again,
Who, miles away from Yankee land,
Flew out to sea that afternoon, towards our ship,
Extending weary travellers their vibrant welcome.

Flags without a barge, colours unsustained.
His yellow and their red now blend.


Translation from the Dutch poem:


Een stralend bed, wit afgetekend tegen kale, witte muren.
Een achtergrond voor zijn saffranen huid.
Een leven lang geheelonthouder.
En toch – een lever die geen levenlang kon duren.
De oude man, mijn Pake, hij ligt erbij als kunst.
Japans lijkt ‘t wel, Japanse kunst als ’t ware.
Het geel van Caravaggio – of toch misschien te helder…
Maar zeker, o zo schilderachtig mooi en klaar.
Geen Pake was het meer, veeleer een ding.
Een object, dat ik daar niet dacht te vinden.
Een geest reeds, voor het sterven zou.
Het woord staat stil.
Opeens zag ik opnieuw de grote, rode vlinders
Die – kilometers nog van ’t Yankee land –
ons op het grote schip een ijl en kleurig welkom heetten.
Vlaggen zonder schuit, kleuren zonder dragers.
Zijn geel, hun rood vermengen zich.


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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