There Is Always
by Hester Knibbe. Translated by Jacquelyn Pope.
There is always a first
head that you draw
arms and legs no
hands and feet. There is
always a first
mouth that appears
in the slapdash
though you quickly
is how smiles are drawn
how sadness seems.
Even when the nest
is a mishmash
the egg gets laid
in the end.
What you’re after is
not the shell
that protects you
but a frail
without awareness of
Meanwhile the egg
scratches its happiness and
as the hand belonging to
starts an uncompleted
curve: it’s time it’s time it’s
time for études cantatas
escapades a nimble-fingered
exploration of questions with the whole
body fervently confessing
the complete catechism
of love and
There is always a first
doubt: what for. Knocked at the gods’ door, but
they were not in, had other hassles to manage: grass
that modified, suddenly denigrated its roots wanted no more to do
with them, air was enough for it. I dug and dug in the earth
constantly finding under and under but once exhumed it was
a mountain where each answer every surprise
had to find itself among the others.
Then I went walking in wind and into a light
that did not cease as long as I walked in that light
as long as it skimmed over my earth. It had
no above or below, no left or right, nowhere
a middle, I could not put my hand on it, it laid
itself on my hand and my head and slipped sparkling
from under my feet when I tried to walk over it.
Like a jay bird
setting stores for winter I keep
a stock of snatched moments. In that
photo they are far
stronger than us, power flexes
in their muscles and we stand by like
their begetters: marginal figures
who re-read even now, shut books
search in cupboards for passwords,
who—their heads a woozy place for drifters and the blind—still
know how to crack codes, retrieve
the most fleeting names in a tangle of webs.
Now that the land is being robbed of foliage
the trees stand dressed in their evening wear of bark
the honey sugars and we
scrape summer’s fruit from the jam pots
something in us inaudible as snow begins
to loosen. The eye in the slapdash
head, without the burden of hands and feet, finds the way
to the path by the buckthorn, above it
a flight of drunken birds, walks back into a light that
just won’t, sees in that light banally prophetic: there is always a final
breach of membrane and shell.
Let us burn
the old letters, watch all the beautiful
rain-drenched sun-bleached words and lines
go up in flames while shamelessly
retaining their contents. We’ve been
lucky, oh what we’ve been—
explore other cities, wander through new
streets, past buskers and rough sleepers,
get used to leaving.
eat there and drink and give
the singer enough to get drunk on
the beggar what he deserves.
About the Authors:
Hester Knibbe is one of the leading Dutch poets writing today. She has published fifteen collections of poems, including Archaïsch de dieren (2014), which was awarded the VSB Poetry Prize.
American poet Jacquelyn Pope is a widely published poet and translator and author of Watermark from Marsh Hawk Press (2005). Her translation of Hester Knibbe’s poetry has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, a PEN/Heim Translation Grant, the Academy of American Poets, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.