:: Article

Five Poems

By Jan-Willem Anker


Morning, noon, night, morning, the stubble pins through your cellulitic jaw,
a beard beards your mug and keeps coming, runs wild despite you. A thing
within you approaching completion without you. Mesmeric.
Someone tells of his father buying a dead matador’s uniform. He’d washed out the bloodstains, helped his son into it, and photographed him like that. Your face will be pine forest by morning; picture stables in Spain where fighting bulls loll in uneasy sleep. The arena dark, deserted still.


Hungry Fish

The smell of insecticide drifts through the train; you know this section of branch line by heart, can tell when the job-site lights have been shifted down track.
Inside your mobile swims a goldfish — the goldfish is you. You’re morphing greedily, by stages, into a yellow monster. Without you in the game peace might obtain. But what game is peaceful, exactly?
Whatever, you’re famished. There is no winner, no opponent to vanquish. Only a point score. You’re showing well, or not at all — who but you would know?


The Keyboardist

Deserted stillness past midnight; mouse carcass drifts up at you on the kitchen air. The smell wafts out from behind the fridge where the animal died of hunger, or chewed through wiring. You think of the keyboardist you’d seen performing
in a band from around here.
Like she was taking dictation at a rolltop desk, writing up the minutes from a meeting about music. The relation between the tones produced and her fingerpads on the synth’s keys lost. Music emanating direct from her hands rather than the machine’s workings.
When not required to play she’d disappear back in the wings. From that obscurity—a space like a Sunday warehouse, dark arena—she’d wait for her cue to perform again.
Her bandmate—she’d missed this—had hung his guitar, for kicks, from the overhead rigging. The sound guy hurled protestations down from the balcony seats.
Before the closing number began, the keyboardist secluded herself, as before, in the shroud of black curtain; then, again, picked her way down stage after the gig.
Her face cinched up, drew to a point. Standing very still, she sought out a halo of that hall’s spot-lit space; it held her gaze.


In The South

From this milk-run bus I watch helicopters do a fly-over,
seeding the sky with paratroopers like jellyfish
that sway toward their drop point, only later
a citadel, off-shore, in afternoon’s light show
couples photographing themselves, as couples and alone
men in leather jackets, their girlfriends in pumps.
Kids’ voices flash from the basketball court,
pneumatic drill, honking, clog of excavation trucks,
a motorbike going full throttle. I can see
the athletics oval, its track and empty bleachers,
the pier, its local fishing fleet tied in the slips
and the island fortress out in the bay, inaccessible relic.
On the quay sits a pedestal missing its monument,
scratched with the names of people unknown to me
dates conjuring thoughts of other places.
Boys playing backgammon at sidewalk café tables,
the girls with iced lattes, this year’s sunglasses
sphinxes posing their riddles each to the other
cinched parasols, muzak from the pavilion
speakers where old men are recovering
after a half-hour breaststroke along the buoy-line.
The wind’s getting up, ruffles my hair
I sip at the air and it’s shot through with shellfish
light like a blindfold, gusts of sudden warmth
White glare—the sea outshines the limits of itself
the deep green like water colour washes to turquoise
transforming soft slaps in among the rocks.
At some point the sun will sink behind a backdrop
of mountains, broad-shouldered in the mist
the birdless light draining away with it.


The Neighbour Opposite

From behind the fence wall
suddenly the woman pulls
her blinds towards her
the Siamese darts forward
out of the darkness of the room
a shadow that doesn’t move
then she herself follows in her housecoat
puts her hands on the window-panes
finger by finger by finger
as if placed under house arrest
it leaves a greasy glove print
when she turns to the cat
her lips mold themselves to
the contours of a word
our glances happen to graze each other
then re-enter our quieter rooms.

Translated from the Dutch by Ken Babstock (with the help of Liedewij Hawke)


Jan-Willem Anker was born in 1978 in Rotterdam, and grew up in Oosterhout, in Noord-Brabant, in the south of The Netherlands. He studied Literary Theory at the University of Utrecht. From 2004 until 2008 he worked as a programmer for the Poetry International Foundation, host of the annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. In 2005 his poetry debut Inzinkingen (Relapses) was published for which he has been rewarded the Jo Peters Poetry Award 2006. From the Dutch Foundation of the Arts (Fonds voor de letteren), he received a stipend for beginning writers. In 2006 his second poetry book Donkere arena (Dark Arena) was published. In 2009 his third volume was released, twenty love poems called Wij zijn de laatste geliefden in de wereld (We Are the Last Lovers in the World).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 18th, 2010.