Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

16

That thing I’d been meaning to say just now
before you suspended hostilities with a cynical frown,  
got up and neatly knotted your hair,
collected your bags with a hurried air,  
sighed and hoisted the strap of your vest,
paid half the bill and pointed out a stain on my breast,
called off your troops, their armour pristine,
and slipped past me like an ice-cold breeze,
leaving me there distraught, a hamlet turned to dust,   
you sighed again and gave me a look of disgust,
raised an eyebrow, tutted and walked away,
it  wasn’t  ‘I love you.’  I’d said that anyway.
A singing head will float down the Hebrus,  
fat eels will come slithering out of its ears,
they say if you won’t feel, you will have to hear,
I heard what it was singing, of women’s hands
that shimmer like visions of gentle torture and
tear the skin and clothes from a pallid corpse
like groupies plucking madness from the stars.
It’s a simple enough song of shattered words,
always that same triplet of exploding chords,
belief and hope and love. Always those three,
spoken identically. If you put out to tender
your own existence, you invent another being.
And all those who exist, seek a cure for existing.
So you create a lover to mirror your conceit,
you make sure she resembles it. You pay
respect to the terrestrial world, and you pray
because it’s prayer that counts. And they call this
happiness.  A projection of your deficiencies
onto somebody else, who remains somebody else.
The animals have been listening with bated breath.
The raucous birds are still glued to the screen.
The monkey has his nose pressed to the glass.
None of the lions yawns. The giraffe stoops to
watch the stones swirl around the circus tent.     
I tap the mike, ‘Do you folks have a moment?’
I clear my throat. ‘There’s a song that goes like this:
he who loses his heart loses the freedom that was his.
I’m grateful to the minstrel for teaching me that.
I am still myself even when I am not.’
Not a wing begins to flap. No claws are on show.
When the animals hush, there’s something afloat,
the scent of blond prey descends like dusk,
my antlers itch and the air fills with musk.
If you’re looking for me look under the mistletoe where
I’ll be counting all the blond wrists I’ve broken there
until mad green nightmares come over me
of bloodhounds growling behind white trees.
Because what I wanted to say with real hope –
before you beat the ash from my dirty coat,
shook your head and called me oh so romantic,
located your bike keys in your bag after all,
a bag pre-packed with accusations, with a smile,
with rotting fish, justifications and the facts, when
you looked at me again with that withering look,
rose onto ten pink-painted toes and took off –  
was ‘sorry’. I fell short of your image of me.
You don’t want me. You want someone more like me.
The rivers thunder. You invented me all wrong.
Salmon leap upstream towards blinding suns,
they cast themselves into the nets of lazy fishermen
with rolling tobacco faces and crepe-paper skin,
the kind of men who kick their daughters, and
will soon set out to sea through dark green mists
where a strangely singing head will be fished. 

16

16

Wat ik je eerder eigenlijk had willen zeggen,
voordat je met een cynisch fronsje het beleg en
beschietingen beëindigde, je haar opstak,
de tasjes samenpropte in een plastic zak,
het bandje van je hemdje op je schouder hees,
de halve rekening voldeed, een vlek aanwees
op mijn colbertje, met een zucht de aftocht blies
in ongebutst kuras, als een verkilde bries
voorbijgleed, mij als radeloos ontvolkt gehucht
kapotgeschoten achterliet, met nog een zucht
nog één keer naar me keek als naar een zielig ding,
je wenkbrauw optrok, klakte met je tong en ging,
was niet ‘ik houd van jou’. Dat had ik al gezegd.
Er wordt een zingend hoofd uit blubber opgedregd.
Een vette paling kruipt uit een van beide oren,
want wie niet voelen wil, die moet maar weer eens horen.
En wat het zingt, hoor ik dat vrouwenhanden zijn
die zinderend als groene dromen, zacht als pijn,
het bleke lijf uit vel en zwarte kleren rukken
als groupies die waanzinnig aan de sterren plukken.
Het is een simpel lied van stukgeschoten woorden
op steeds dezelfde drie ontploffende akkoorden.
Geloof en hoop en liefde. Steeds weer deze drie
die alle drie precies hetzelfde klinken.Wie
zijn wezen uitbesteedt, verzint een ander wezen.
En ieder die bestaat, wil van bestaan genezen.
Dus schep je een geliefde naar je eigen beeld
en zorg je dat ze daarop lijken gaat. Je veelt
het ondermaanse als haar eredienst en bidt
omdat het om het bidden was te doen. En dit
heet dan geluk. Het is projectie van gemis
op iemand die voornamelijk een ander is.
Tot zover hebben dieren ademloos geluisterd.
De drukke vogels zitten aan het scherm gekluisterd.
De aap zit met zijn neus tegen het glas gedrukt.
Geen leeuw die nu nog geeuwt. En de giraffe bukt
om in de circustent de stenen te zien zweven.
En ik tik op de microfoon. ‘Dus. Heeft u even?
Er is...’ Ik kuch. ‘Er is een lied dat komt en gaat
dat wie zijn hart... pardon... verliest, zijn vrijheid laat.
Ik ben de speelman dankbaar dat ik dat lied ken.
Ik ben mij evengoed als ik mezelf niet ben.’
Geen vleugel klappert. Klauwtjes gaan niet op elkaar.
Als zelfs de dieren stil zijn, is dat een gebaar.
De geur van blonde prooi daalt neer in de vallei
als duisternis en ik krijg jeuk aan mijn gewei.
Als jij me zoekt, lig ik onder de maretak
te tellen hoeveel blonde polsjes ik ooit brak
totdat de furieuze groene dromen komen
van bloedhonden die grommen achter jonge bomen
in pisgeel bos.Want wat ik jou nog zeggen wou
voordat je as afklopte van mijn vette mouw,
hoofdschuddend zuchtte dat ik zo romantisch was,
je fietssleutels dan toch kon vinden in je tas,
die al bij voorbaat volgepropt was met verwijten,
verrotte vis, pleidooien, glimlach en de feiten,
nog één keer naar me keek als naar een soort van ding,
op tien gelakte teentjes roze deed en ging,
is ‘sorry’. Ik voldoe niet aan je beeld van mij.
Je wilt me niet. Je wilt wie beter lijkt op mij.
Rivieren kraken. Jij hebt mij verkeerd verzonnen.
Stroomopwaarts springen zalmen naar de blinde zonnen
de netten in van luie vissers met hun koppen
van pruimtabak en crêpepapier die dochters schoppen
en binnenkort op zee bij donkergroene mist
een zingend hoofdje zullen hebben opgevist.
Close

16

That thing I’d been meaning to say just now
before you suspended hostilities with a cynical frown,  
got up and neatly knotted your hair,
collected your bags with a hurried air,  
sighed and hoisted the strap of your vest,
paid half the bill and pointed out a stain on my breast,
called off your troops, their armour pristine,
and slipped past me like an ice-cold breeze,
leaving me there distraught, a hamlet turned to dust,   
you sighed again and gave me a look of disgust,
raised an eyebrow, tutted and walked away,
it  wasn’t  ‘I love you.’  I’d said that anyway.
A singing head will float down the Hebrus,  
fat eels will come slithering out of its ears,
they say if you won’t feel, you will have to hear,
I heard what it was singing, of women’s hands
that shimmer like visions of gentle torture and
tear the skin and clothes from a pallid corpse
like groupies plucking madness from the stars.
It’s a simple enough song of shattered words,
always that same triplet of exploding chords,
belief and hope and love. Always those three,
spoken identically. If you put out to tender
your own existence, you invent another being.
And all those who exist, seek a cure for existing.
So you create a lover to mirror your conceit,
you make sure she resembles it. You pay
respect to the terrestrial world, and you pray
because it’s prayer that counts. And they call this
happiness.  A projection of your deficiencies
onto somebody else, who remains somebody else.
The animals have been listening with bated breath.
The raucous birds are still glued to the screen.
The monkey has his nose pressed to the glass.
None of the lions yawns. The giraffe stoops to
watch the stones swirl around the circus tent.     
I tap the mike, ‘Do you folks have a moment?’
I clear my throat. ‘There’s a song that goes like this:
he who loses his heart loses the freedom that was his.
I’m grateful to the minstrel for teaching me that.
I am still myself even when I am not.’
Not a wing begins to flap. No claws are on show.
When the animals hush, there’s something afloat,
the scent of blond prey descends like dusk,
my antlers itch and the air fills with musk.
If you’re looking for me look under the mistletoe where
I’ll be counting all the blond wrists I’ve broken there
until mad green nightmares come over me
of bloodhounds growling behind white trees.
Because what I wanted to say with real hope –
before you beat the ash from my dirty coat,
shook your head and called me oh so romantic,
located your bike keys in your bag after all,
a bag pre-packed with accusations, with a smile,
with rotting fish, justifications and the facts, when
you looked at me again with that withering look,
rose onto ten pink-painted toes and took off –  
was ‘sorry’. I fell short of your image of me.
You don’t want me. You want someone more like me.
The rivers thunder. You invented me all wrong.
Salmon leap upstream towards blinding suns,
they cast themselves into the nets of lazy fishermen
with rolling tobacco faces and crepe-paper skin,
the kind of men who kick their daughters, and
will soon set out to sea through dark green mists
where a strangely singing head will be fished. 

16

That thing I’d been meaning to say just now
before you suspended hostilities with a cynical frown,  
got up and neatly knotted your hair,
collected your bags with a hurried air,  
sighed and hoisted the strap of your vest,
paid half the bill and pointed out a stain on my breast,
called off your troops, their armour pristine,
and slipped past me like an ice-cold breeze,
leaving me there distraught, a hamlet turned to dust,   
you sighed again and gave me a look of disgust,
raised an eyebrow, tutted and walked away,
it  wasn’t  ‘I love you.’  I’d said that anyway.
A singing head will float down the Hebrus,  
fat eels will come slithering out of its ears,
they say if you won’t feel, you will have to hear,
I heard what it was singing, of women’s hands
that shimmer like visions of gentle torture and
tear the skin and clothes from a pallid corpse
like groupies plucking madness from the stars.
It’s a simple enough song of shattered words,
always that same triplet of exploding chords,
belief and hope and love. Always those three,
spoken identically. If you put out to tender
your own existence, you invent another being.
And all those who exist, seek a cure for existing.
So you create a lover to mirror your conceit,
you make sure she resembles it. You pay
respect to the terrestrial world, and you pray
because it’s prayer that counts. And they call this
happiness.  A projection of your deficiencies
onto somebody else, who remains somebody else.
The animals have been listening with bated breath.
The raucous birds are still glued to the screen.
The monkey has his nose pressed to the glass.
None of the lions yawns. The giraffe stoops to
watch the stones swirl around the circus tent.     
I tap the mike, ‘Do you folks have a moment?’
I clear my throat. ‘There’s a song that goes like this:
he who loses his heart loses the freedom that was his.
I’m grateful to the minstrel for teaching me that.
I am still myself even when I am not.’
Not a wing begins to flap. No claws are on show.
When the animals hush, there’s something afloat,
the scent of blond prey descends like dusk,
my antlers itch and the air fills with musk.
If you’re looking for me look under the mistletoe where
I’ll be counting all the blond wrists I’ve broken there
until mad green nightmares come over me
of bloodhounds growling behind white trees.
Because what I wanted to say with real hope –
before you beat the ash from my dirty coat,
shook your head and called me oh so romantic,
located your bike keys in your bag after all,
a bag pre-packed with accusations, with a smile,
with rotting fish, justifications and the facts, when
you looked at me again with that withering look,
rose onto ten pink-painted toes and took off –  
was ‘sorry’. I fell short of your image of me.
You don’t want me. You want someone more like me.
The rivers thunder. You invented me all wrong.
Salmon leap upstream towards blinding suns,
they cast themselves into the nets of lazy fishermen
with rolling tobacco faces and crepe-paper skin,
the kind of men who kick their daughters, and
will soon set out to sea through dark green mists
where a strangely singing head will be fished. 
Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
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