Elmar Kuiper is the RIXT poet of the month January. In November 2019 he wrote the poem cycle ‘Mother Ganges’ in Kolkata (Calcutta), where he performed at the Chair Poetry Evenings. On the last day of the poetry festival he and some fellow-poets made a long pleasure cruise on the Ganges river. Kuiper: ‘I stared into the water and had to think of my mum, who was terminally ill this summer. In the poem I make a link between the polluted, holy river and my mother whose illness was incurable. She always used to say: ‘when it’s my time it’ll be my time.’ The cycle will be included in Kuiper’s new poetry collection: Wite Mûle, Swarte Molke (‘White Mouth, Black Milk’), which will be published by Hispel in the spring.
For Kuiper’s other poems of the month, in Frisian, see here
In the source bathes a word, from the river bank
a cow bell rings. Mother Ganges carries her pain
in her vest. A bird with pointed wings
hangs still in the air. Another bird circles
rings around grey apartment buildings. Yes, God
I flung overboard. Yes, the mind pounds away,
its mouth filled with dirt, shouts filthy
things, shouts with a mouth full of poison.
The sun above Arundhathi’s eyebrows
is Prussian blue, as our boat pushes off
a priest sings. Lovely, isn’t it, being here
in a country where English sounds so funny.
But you’re distracting me, with your rank body,
floating sweetgrass and the refuse of the city.
Are you my mother, who says humanity will be
wiped out? Do you dare to call yourself mother?
I listen and lean over the railing and look
into your mustard yellow visage, Ganges.
You are my mother on the floating help and I
stay with you, hold your hand. Your veins, so
strangely thick. Yet another scan and you don’t
believe the results. But the spot in your head is
not an island where we can just sail to and
go on holiday and sunbathe. It is death,
mum, death who plays hide and seek with his
black face in your frontal lobe, making you so
quiet and mild. You whisper hoarsely: Then it’s
my time, my son. Are you giving up? You are
and will stay my mother, who washes my sins, incredulous
though I am. A raptor cries out in the air particulates.
When evil cleanses itself from evil, I will be
clean and pure, mum, and I shall stream
quietly, until death will shiv me violently with his
sickle. When there’s no end or beginning, I’ll lie
on your bank and drown in the source. Oh well, let me
leave it there. Someone says: ‘Hello sir, picture please’
and I make strange faces, can’t think of
any excuse and say abashedly: ‘Okay!’
We sail a long way upstream. Kolkata lies like
a white haze in front of our eyes. Katyayani wants
a picture with the friendly giant. Humanity still
lives in the dark; I can almost hear you say it.
I stretch my back and put on a routine smile. Good
will triumph even though I don’t believe in evil.
Ashutosh laughs and Anindina says my eyes
are as clear as the Himalaya.
Tagore, I want to wash the clay off of me, strike
a light tone, throw a coin into your being.
You don’t have to check the lights, mate. The tongue
of your lantern burns. What could I curse you with?
After all, life is just a dew drip on a lotus leaf.
But what about death, Tagore, it’s so hard and hungry.
God, I’ve read Krishnamurthi over and over again, but what good
does it to me, 7500 km from home, I stare over the railing
into the water and see my father under the cow’s udder,
squeezing and pulling on the teats. I catch a glimpse of you:
your tongue sticks out and you stitch and iron
the seams. I hear Brian, compatriot, war veteran
and great poet say you have to put the parts in
different bags. He writes verses like cat’s-tails, like
smoked eel. Now I fly back and wrap up this poem,
mum, as Keisang serves me, pours water into
a plastic cup, the steel bird quivers
above the ocean, only for a moment.
© Elmar Kuiper Translation: Trevor M. Scarse