Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What if

Early May 2012 I caught an interview, on Radio 1, Hilversum, with the Dutch journalist Ad van Liempt who has just published an account of the 1947 Dutch/Indonesian conflict, “The Netherlands attack” (“Nederland valt aan”).

I hadn’t really been aware, being so far away from day-to-day discussions in Holland, that, up to now, the conflict had been officially known as a Dutch policing, rather than a military, mission.

I felt that my own post-colonial poems were also a reflection of this new awareness, so I sent Ad van Liempt three of the most recent: “You know” “sorry, he” and “What if (1947)”:

What if (1947)

My father’s
diagnosed aberration,
the beings he saw?
defying all comprehension?
unreachable? out of control,
hostile? roaming inside
the ceilings of Dutch
Navy Administration
Buildings? grotesquely
giant, a motley lot,
with sharp yellow teeth
like rodents discarded
from all consciousness,
at night, in the dark,
could sense them
scratching and gnawing
at the rafters, ever getting
closer to breaking through
the flimsy ceilings with
ceiling fans crashing
to the ground

Irrepressible something
he both marvelled at,
and, feared,
impossible to trap,
just won’t respond to baits,
Sundamys infraluteus
the Giant Mountain Rat,
or, the Giant Rat of Sumatra
(from The Adventures of
the Sussex Vampire,
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Bad Press Rat but actually
never seen on ships,
giant rat of the woolly sort,
quietly fossicking
for bark beetles, lizards,
half-decomposed leaves,
shoots and twigs,
accidently spreading,
on the moist forest floor,
a messy smelly trail
from hidden scent glands

Telling of my father’s
unhinged state,
rejecting post WW1
brazen and borderless,
boundless wantonness
but, still duty-bound,
facing a vicious
colonial war
the horrors of WW2,
fervently longing
for lasting peace
and, finally,
for justice

And his affinity to regions
both densely forested
and highlander rice,
on the
Indonesian Archipelago? 

You know,

Examined by medical officers of the Immigration Department
we all acted “normal”    sorry, nothing was 

ever noted down, not even my persistent heart murmur
stopped my mother acting like a Pioneer    we saw 

“How the West was won” before we left, and my mother
said: “You know, you just keep on rowing the boat” 

and she did

sorry he,

when Father finally left us,  
back at the house their neighbour

heard the alarm go off, 
thought she saw a hovering light 

to say a final farewell, my mother said,
sorry, he must have returned to the house  

and who were we to contradict her