While one has never known what makes him morose, the other is morose because of everything he knows and wishes he didn’t, I sit here on my mattress in the late afternoon with bubble solution in my hands, see in every soapy bubble myself mirrored and then shattered, there are so many versions of my being, but not one that lingers.
Beside me is an open diary and between some of the pages are silverfish that come not after moisture, but for the grief. A question: can you search for a father figure if you’ve never had a role model, if hankering is mistaken for approval? A figure that can be outlined on a piece of paper: Papa has been searching for a daughter for years, when he sees me, he sees only the contours and descriptions of the ideal measurements.
But just like crayons these add colour and say nothing about what fills it, words, touches. Page three April 2007, my first kiss with a real man, pertinent discoveries; tonguing is something other than rolling honey drops around your mouth, and mama’s de-worming drink does nothing for the tingling in my underbelly.
Once saliva had been exchanged, I seemed suddenly two heads taller, as though I had drawn him inside to form a part of my mind, hey Sweetiesweet I thought often, but never said. I dreamt of the sea and of his blue eyes, how clichéd and not even blue enough to write home about or have anything in common with a lake in France, just a t-shirt that’s been too often through the wash.
Silverfish are wriggling over a photo of him that has yellowed from the long nights I lit it beneath my blankets with a torch, my mouth pressed against my forearm and moving around, thinking of an ice cream but without the cream, just a cone, hollow enough to push your tongue inside so that no one could see you were practicing, boiling days.
Papa says that practice bears perfection and I think if I keep my arms separated and wide apart that one day a daughter will come out of me. I would then wake him and whisper: practice bore a daughter, now you try for a father. I’d lay my head between his hands where I once perfectly fit, for a moment forgetting that in every touch doubt lives
just as all bubbles hide a breath and an afterthought. If I could only make detergent from my grief, open my window and blow all worries out into the city, just fly I would call – and wish them all the best, watch them leaving damp patches behind and everyone will think it has been raining; indeed, it has been raining and now it is dry.
Notes on this poem
The poems in Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut collection Kalfsvlies (Calf’s Caul) are unapologetically youthful and adventurous. Rijneveld’s lines are long and uninhibited; a series of almost breathless revelations which disarm the reader, drawing them into a world teeming with surreal imagery and unconventional wisdom.
Opening with the sudden death of a sibling, the poems in Kalfsvlies compulsively dissect the creatures, objects and rituals populating the unnamed narrator’s consciousness to expose the grief and estrangement rupturing their family. At the root of the inquiry is the narrator’s uneasiness with their rural religious upbringing and profound struggle to make sense of gender and sexuality in a repressed milieu.
‘Grief Eaters’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’ are two poems in which Rijneveld explores gender identity in the context of the parent-child relationship. ‘Grief Eaters’ is a remarkably intimate reflection of an adolescent’s fraught aempts to fit their father’s ideal – and the inevitable disappointment when both parent and child fail to meet expectations. ‘New Year’s Eve’ is the final poem in Kalfsvlies and in it, we see the young narrator’s first real bid for freedom from their past, tentatively introducing their male identity at a party in the city and acknowledging the potential for growth and transformation. Both poems showcase the intense vulnerability and juvenescence that make Marieke Lucas Rijneveld one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Dutch literature.