Poem of the Week / This Is Your Chance to Be Present

What happens when you see the person who is never in the picture? Dutch poet Ester Naomi Perquin conjures the invisible.

The Last Unknown Person

Ester Naomi Perquin

So you’ve lived in secret, were born
underground, have never been in the picture.

So you lived in places where no one came to look,
no dog roamed desolately, nose close to the ground,
you were never tempted to
stroke anyone in full view.

You didn’t utter any well-turned phrases,
did not show a careful face – how,
if we did not see you, did you live?

Were you hiding from someone somewhere?
Did you see it the other way round – did we vanish
as long as you had no part in us?

You can’t leave the way you arrived,
in the dark, as a secret. Sit as
you are, and we will zoom in.

This is your chance to be present.

Translated from Dutch by Paul Vincent. From “Namens de ander” (On Behalf of The Other), Uitgeverij G.A. van Oorschot, Amsterdam, 2009).

***

Ester Naomi Perquin, a recent guest of the Sha’ar Poetry Festival in Haifa, is blessed with the gift of being able to see the invisible and show it to readers, as this poem demonstrates.

Born in Utrecht in 1980, she has been living in Rotterdam for the past 12 years. She supported her creative writing studies in Amsterdam by working as a prison guard; in 2011 and 2012 she served as the City Poet of Rotterdam. Her three volumes of poetry have won her prestigious prizes in the Netherlands. Read more of Perquin’s poetry in English and listen to her reading in Dutch here.

In an email to Haaretz, Perquin writes:

“I believe the world revolves around fragments of lives, details, little objects and twists. A smile can save a life. A look can change history. Maybe that is why I feel such a strong love for poetry. The fact that you can unfold a single line and unfold it again and again until it completely covers you.

“One of the first things I wrote was a play, actually, a series of monologues for different kinds of women. Women who I am, probably. A personality is almost a group of people, isn’t it? I rarely agree with myself. My head is such a limited place and it would make me nuts to stay inside. And if you look closely at someone else it is hard not to wonder: What is their story? Why do they behave in this particular manner? I am just a lot of coincidences wrapped in skin. I mean: I could have been someone else so easily.

“My father became seriously interested in Jewish religion and culture at an early age (and chose to become Jewish). He studied Hebrew fanatically. In a short time he became a Hebrew teacher, speaking the language fluently. He felt at home amongst the Jews he knew, he felt like he belonged. There were a lot of visitors those days. Hebrew students, a rabbi, Jewish friends. I remember the conversations they had in the living room, loud and passionate, filled with laughter. The joy of debating and gaining insight and knowledge. Because my father died very young, at the age of 34, much to his regret never having seen Israel, it was very emotional for me to visit your country.” 

Musings:

*Have you seen the person in the poem? Where?

Sagit Arbel-Allon
Sander Vermeer