THE HARD WAY

Two buildings fiercely kissing,

teeth onto teeth – stone bedding stone.

A chilly smacker – what vehemence.

Past meeting past, time digging in.

Divergent stories shyly mating,

 yet also desperately.

Incongruous, barren fornication,

transforming tourist into Peeping Tom,

downcast his eyes, ashamed somewhat,

singing this song, his petite verse:

the granite’s sole and solitary offspring.

Sierksma, Monpazier 16.8.2017

THE PROMISED LAND Catalogic 6

Our house is a very, very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
‘Cause of you…

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Our House

Si tu n’aimes pas faire l’amour qu’avec un seul home, alors, c’est que tu n’aimes pas faire l’amour.

Margueritte Duras, Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia

Catalogic 6 – read the other 5!
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There you go, at a speed of 130 km/hour through the deep dark night, leaving behind your fatherland for ever. This time the two cats, Sebastian and Abe, did not have a visa or a passport – or any document establishing their identity or good health.

When we brought in Matz from Bretagne, years and years ago, he had been vetted by the vet and his papers were in perfect order. No fear of being held up at the border which, at that time, was not as porous as it is now since we have the European Community.

What, then, is a porous or for that matter an open border? The French are still calling Abe’s and Sebastian’s country of destination a Narco-État – Holland, a Drug State in which, so they believe, everybody is rolling around in hash and coke and heroine all the time. That there are many more people dying from drug abuse in France than in The Netherlands they tend to forget, also the notion that there might be a causal connection between their own rough attitude towards drugs and these deaths…

Now, of course, I was taking Abe out of the country. So if he were a threat to France, drug wise or ISIS wise, I would be doing them a favour. So I decided not to go to the vet this time. The migratory problem would not be so much French as Dutch: would Sebastian and Abe be able to integrate in a Dutch home, and in a country where lately rather unpleasant politicians are talking about “closing our borders for those foreigners” and about “keeping high our Dutch values and our Dutch Identity”?

As I do not have the foggiest as to what this Dutch identity might be, and as the main problem will be integration into the society of our own cats – what the heck! Integration by the way would be good enough, assimilation is not required.

 

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Sarah and Soof

There are only two cats left out of the stable of animals that inhabited our home, the rest of the ménage has died in the last few years, one of the reasons why I argued for the arrival of these two fresh animals. Red Soof is so old, that she does not really care anymore. Sarah is also old and has glaucoma which prevents her from even recognizing me and the wife, let alone the newcomers.

Not to forget the fact that France is far less animal friendly than The Netherlands and England are. In France people think of an animal first of all from a food-perspective. For the Dutch, animals are primarily mates. Rudy Kousbroek, a keen observer of the cat race, once wrote a little book in which he explained that for him the whole of mammal species was divided in two: those animals that possess the caressability factor and those who do not.

Now inside the subspecies of those caressable, the cat surely occupies poll position. This is why many of us cannot do without cats and perhaps also why many cats cannot do without us humans – after all those who caress.

Once we arrived in Haarlem – Sebastian and me that is – the very moment the two Frenchies came together they teamed up again. Abe had been here already for almost four weeks. Bien enchantés de se rétrouver ensemble… From then on Sebastian took the lead as he had done in La Roche. He seemed to stay lean from pure inquisitive exhaustion. Abe on the other hand could still go wild, now and then that is, but had decided that living in my wife’s lap was the reason why he had been brought into this world.

 

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Up till now – that is: two days before I shall leave Haarlem again for another half year in ma Douce France – Sebastian is still as crazy as before.

 

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Trying to keep him out of the study and the bed room has become a martial art in itself; you cough once and he has slipped in. He is still eating my fingers when I do not instantly cuddle him, even though I seem to have been doing nothing else all these months.

Abe on the other hand becomes more and more a little Dumbo. Food has primacy in his universe. When the other three have finished with their breakfast he feigns to follow them into the house, then sneaks back into the kitchen and finishes off whatever is left in the dishes.

The moment my wife is cooking he will come into the shrine of the kitchen and place himself elegantly so as not to miss a thing.

 

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They have finally arrived in the Promised Land. The only thing which is missing in this Utopia is language. There is a little poem by the Dutch cat lover Frans Pointl which ends like this:

…if they looked at me so set
I do presume how well they knew –
that gaze of helplessness
because they do not grasp
man’s speech.

In my younger days I wrote a little piece on Animal Talk which ended like this:

At home my wife and I talk to our cats in their language – at least the language of which we presume it is theirs, so full of arbitrary and high-handed accents and all those most dubious terms. The seldom guest in our home thinks we are crazy. The cats by the way do the same, because unknowingly we speak their language complétely false. This however they do not tell us.

The torment of the mystery of cats – to be sure that they can talk, however still to be confronted with their incessant silence. Now and then I know the moment has come. An answer will be given, at last their meowing will transit into understandable talk! Alas.

Once their time had come to be castrated, Sebastian and Abe had to be moved into their respective Portable Homes again. They were not averse, as if they had undergone the metamorphosis of sedentary into globe trotting animals.

Once at the vet, though, there came our surprise. Both Abe and Sebastian turned out to be female. A case of Trans gendering? Should I rewrite my whole series of Catalogics? Do these two need a new name?

I’ll tell you: Being a cat lover is both a blessing and a burden.

Sierksma, Haarlem 30.3.2017

TRANSMIGRATION Catalogic 4

You cannot grasp reality only by way of logic.

Dürrenmatt, The promise

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Catalogic 4

The decision has been taken. From now on I ‘won’t serve my little cats their dinner in the left barn but in the middle shed where my garden tools are stacked away. The door of the second little barn on the right, in which my mountain bike and racing bike are stored and where there is small attic ideally suited for a kitten’s hide out, will have to be shored with a hard, dried branch of hazel wood from the tree I pruned last year. That door is so skewed that the gap between wood and stone is wide enough to allow two little ones access. Can’t be.
After a few days shuttling back and forth between their hangout and their feeding place they now know exactly when food is placed there. They also know that every day, once their food is ready, I sit myself at a distance so that they don’t risk being caught. Our sympathy is, for sure, still somewhat one-sided.
Tonight, however, I shall take a different approach. A second branch of the hazel tree is waiting next to my chair which, this time, I have placed somewhat closer to the left shed, their home. Once they have gone to the garden shed for their food I jump up, throw the door of that left barn shut and also trestle this one with a stick. Cheated you, Boys!
Immediately after my retreat they come out of their feeding place to inspect what has been going on, how I’ve tricked them. I had already installed nice blankets in the food shed to make them feel at home. What more could they want?
However, now it’s me being tricked by them. When, an hour later, I enter the courtyard with my own food and sit down at the table, I hear them scurrying inside the ridge of my préau – the attractive, skewed wooden hood which rises from the low wall separating courtyard and garden, allowing me to sit outside throughout year.

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That support beam was hollowed out a long time ago by rats, wood biting insects and God knows what other vermin. The insects still return every summer, so in the end this préau will collapse. The previous owner planked up these holes with a few ornamental boards, between them however there are still slits large enough for my kittens. Not only have these two saved their own skin to relocate themselves there, they also seem to have taken their souls with them.
Migration and transmigration.
Before their departure into the wild outside of nature I need to catch those little devils, so I am now even further off from where I started. The moment I come near them they shoot up like crazy against the trunk of an acacia which I kept as a souvenir – and you never know what you can do with a piece of wood. That trunk is just visible on the left side of this photo.

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Also visible are my two treasures. Especially in this spot they are enjoying life to the brim, sometimes they sleep here at night – until I come too close and they sprint upstairs. Admittedly the cat is a domesticated animal, but only in the sense that it defines its own housing and its own interior decoration. The cat never submits to someone else’s rules.
“The cat” as a New Yorker cat therapist put it delicately, “just is a cat.” The problem with this is that the cat from a human perspective is never a normal cat, one can act in a normal way. Despite all man’s cat-love there is forever an impenetrable incompatibility of the juices.
In his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats the poet T. S. Eliot answered a lot of questions, but precisely not the one question which is invited by its title: Is the cat practical? In other words: Is there even one cat that is practical? From a human, from a humanitarian and thus from a utilitarian perspective I would say: ‘No!’
The cat is a nuisance per se, the cat is undeniably and always impractical. From the perspective of the cat this is of course completely different. Here the cat is eminently practical, always functioning in the most effective way to enjoy a dolce far niente, occasionally interspersed by an outrageous hyperactivity.

Now, from my past infatuations I remember one thing: Before you have any certainty about the reciprocity of feelings and you do not yet know whether The Other feels the same bout you, you better not know or even give her (or him) a name.
Nameless there is still a way out. Nothing is more binding than knowing the name, especially if you gave it yourself… Once the beloved has a name, it keeps swirling through the lover’s head.
So I made sure not to name my two sweety pies. In that case I would get attached to them for good and thus could not follow the instructions of my wife in Haarlem, as far letting them become Buzzard’ Feed in Nature.
But Love itself made me forget all good intentions; perhaps it was even Eliot who pulled me over. This is what he wrote in The Naming of Cats:

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

This then did me in. Given the uncertainty regarding their sex, headstrong I called them Abe and Sebastian. Nevertheless, there still had to happen something drastic in order to lure them from their wooden tent. Naming them, I had now also promoted them to the status of emigrant, something I mentioned in a telephone conversation with the distant homeland. For that coming exodus ties between me and my furry friends had to be tightened, so that finally I might cage them just before their long journey in autumn.

After the unforeseen migration into the beam of my préau what is surely needed now is regular domestication, that is one about which I have something to say. Domestication comes from the Latin domus, or house. Time has come that these two find out that what is involved here is their agreement with my definition of home, not my acceptance of their interpretation of the word domus.

Assimilate! – the order of the day.

Sierksma La Roche 1 August 2016

SUICIDAL ANTIPODES

 

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Did I then come to Malaga
To end a love I took to be eternal
As well as end myself in suicide.
Yet – ‘t is what occurred:

That love did break,
And having left her vast hotel room,
My mind lost all its poise.
The self thus barely balanced,
The suitcase weighing in one hand,
And battered pride, so heavy, weighing in the other.

And so:

I ended up in yonder station,
Seemingly still normal,
But contemplating my own end:
A forlorn ladder,
High up there and mighty empty,
Left there by window cleaners,
Having their smoke outside.
Stretching so celestial – up the Milky Way.

Climb up there, man, and jump!
Either down, into the pit;
Or straight into the bliss of heaven.
Or would I still be saved in that last minute,
And, like Old Ludwig,
push away those useless steps,
My naked feet glued to the bird’s,
And rescued by our antipodal gravity,
Suspended in mid-air – face down.

Perhaps even survive my lonesomeness.

Sierksma, November 2016

2 COATS – a poem

An essay in rendering one’s own poem in a foreign language, a hellish undertaking. Yet an exercise in linguistic modesty – minor poet, minor translator.

The third English sentence misses the double entendre of the Dutch original; the last one demands some semantic acrobatics. Ai! Perhaps some reader, out there in the icy universe of electronic communication, can appreciate this.

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Henk van der Haar, 1975, etching

2 COATS

Two overcoats
For the eternity which etching takes
So prettily suspended

Once worn
Perhaps that one a woman
Virile no doubt the other one
And now – never again

Only the gaze of the admirer
Wears them out

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2 JASSEN

Twee jassen –
Voor de eeuwigheid die etsen duren
Zo fraai verhangen

Ooit gedragen
De een wellicht een vrouw
De ander zonder meer viriel
En nu – nooit meer

Alleen wiens blik dit beeld bewondert
Trekt hen zich aan

Sierksma October 2016

OLD MAN’S LOVE [2]

Abraham fought with that old woman, the one who survives everything –

he wrestled with Time.

Abraham hatte gekämpft mit jener alten Frau, die alles überlebt –

er hatte gekämpft mit der Zeit.

Kierkegaard, Furcht und Zittern

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bootje

A Meditation

A light-weight lover I’ve become.

So, why not throw me to the storm!

Those vast desires: for little barges,

like the one I navigate, sails grown too large.

It takes some time to measure these:

Those meters square of cloth

against the winds of lust

and the diminished carnal powers.

One should suspect, to be a celibate

is just an old man’s silly ideology.

And yet, do not forget how delicate

it is: to be imprisoned in pornology.

Whatever metaphors and rhyme the bard makes up,

the sorry facts of old age stay the same:

One’s ship sails towards Finisterre,

in the abyss from which one came.

Sierksma 25.9/2016 La Roche

TWO SONNETS

Whoever labours to be Pindars’ equal,

Iulus, mounts on wings that are fastened with wax,

Daedalus-fashion, and will give his name to

glittering water.

Horace, Ode IV.2

 

And again an essay in companion poetry, odes last time, sonnets this time, risking the whip of Horace…:

I

Keats, 1818

WHEN I HAVE FEARS THAT I MAY CEASE TO BE

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,

Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,

Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,

Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

And think that I may never live to trace

Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,

That I shall never look upon thee more,

Never have relish in the faery power

Of unreflecting love—then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think

Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

 

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II

WHEN I AM CERTAIN OF MY LIFE TO CEASE

When I am certain of my life to cease

And count the blessings of its miserable gains,

Fruit of my loom, once published and released

From private meditation and its mental pains;

When I recall how soon our love decreased,

Receding like a wave from Paradise’s shore;

How high romance first faded, then deceased,

Leaving the poet’s soul and venture sour;

When I feel darker shadows of our past,

Yet know now that I will not meet her ever,

Never feel again that fear inspiring blast

Of a love lost, — then, however sad, I sever

The poorer self from both this world and thee,

Letting the things that were and are – just be.

 

Sierksma, La Roche 13.9/2016