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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

Raptors: A Selection (translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson) Toon Tellegen

Preface
Years ago I invented someone whom I called my father.
        It was morning, very early, I couldn't sleep anymore, I remember it quite clearly.
        My father didn't seem surprised at having suddenly appeared out of nowhere and, in his turn, invented my mother, my brothers and myself. He even, that very same morning, invented the life we should lead.
        We led that life for a long time. My father made sure that there was always something inadequate about it, something painful, like a shoe that pinches.
        Occasionally he would take us out for a walk. He would walk ahead of us, look around, accost passers-by and say something like: 'I make lonely people live together as a family. What do you do?'
        The passers-by would shrug their shoulders and walk on. They didn't have the faintest idea what it was they did.
        One day he lost his balance, fell awkwardly and landed in a ditch.
        My brothers pulled him out. My mother wiped the duckweed from his face.
        'Why did you have to invent me?' he said to me, looking at me in a way I have never been able to describe properly.
        That evening he asked me to invent an incurable illness for him, one that would spread very quickly. As it grew light, he died.
        After he had died, my mother asked my brothers to join her in the room.
        'You must forget him,' she said.
        I was standing in the corridor and looked in through the keyhole.
        'Right away?' my brothers asked.
        'The sooner the better,' my mother said.
        'All right,' my brothers said and they forgot him.
        But I did not forget my father. I have invented poems about him ever since.
I call them raptors. I picked that word from a dictionary, with my eyes shut.


My father
applied a double standard,
was Cain and Abel,
beat himself to death

my mother was already worm-eaten then
and my brothers were chickens born without heads

golden mountains loomed on no horizon yet

my father cried:
'surely I am not my own keeper?'

'you are! you are!' the earth droned

my father buried himself,
the first dog eyed him with curiosity.



My father
was in the air, like a rumour,
like wildfire

my brothers stirred him up
so he could light up the world

and it grew hot and pressing
and my mother smouldered, caught fire

then my father fell on the ground,
changed his character and froze

and my brothers hacked a hole in the ice,
fished in him for comfort and resignation,
built houses on him, and little palaces

and my father spread
                       like restlessness and standoffishness
despite himself.



My father
created the world:
heaven and earth,
simplicity and ambivalence,
greed and shabbiness,
my brothers and their rage,
but not my mother

'she's not finished yet,' he would say
whenever the sun came up
which he had earmarked for the sky
and allowed to shine through curtains

and there was fighting in the streets and in the squares,
bad judgement was rampant,
false promises were made,
and there was dying and squandering

peace had to wait
until my mother was finished -
she lacked will.



My father
was coming to an end,
overflowed the banks of his will

my mother let him ripple, surge,
and my brothers set their course by him,
rocked on the long waves
    of his decline,
fished for the secrets
     he no longer possessed,
let him think,
let him be unable to put anything into words

evening came
and his sun let itself go under in him,
let him grow cold and remote,
his storms died down
and his winter beckoned to him: here! here!

but my father was asleep -
his gulls were tired
and settled on him.



My father
was in the seventh heaven,
my mother visited him

she asked if she might kiss him,
my father said:
'that's what the other heavens are for'

they sat together in silence,
their hands in their laps,
there were begonias and cyclamen
and the smell of death

now and then an angel peered through a window
and asked if there was anyone who wanted to fight

my father shook his head,
my mother asked if she might continue to love him,
if only superficially and with reservation

doors creaked,
'hold it!' my father cried
and jumped up,
eternity was over

my brothers sat at table,
sadder than ever.

My mother stood in the doorway,
she stood there in a blue dress with a red waistband,
her hair was tousled,
my brothers called out for her to come inside

my mother always did what they asked,
but she no longer knew what was inside
and what outside

she went outside,
this is inside, she thought, this must be inside,
everyone is here

it was a fine day
and everyone was there, everyone, everyone,
she took a deep breath
and didn't think of my father

I thought you were always thinking of him, she thought,
yes, but now I am not thinking of him

everyone loved her, that was obvious,
and loved her more and more, more wildly, more hungrily,

how odd, my mother thought,
why do they do that,
she cast down her eyes

and my brothers called her again,
slammed their fists on the table,
plates bounced up, glasses fell over

and my mother went inside
and thought of my father,
spring had come, and no mercy.



This poem is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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