from Calf’s Caul

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld


How do you go to bed when you have just run over a sheep? Trembling on the
edge of the bed your cold hands like raw steaks over your eyes, her hand

forms half an orange which presses heavily upon your knee, back and forth
it moves, squeezing out everything that has happened to you but don’t forget the speed

of speaking, without pause everything remains a void, sadness has little chance
of coming through. Please speak of wine you think, of how the children

are growing and of all the poppies recklessly springing open but her head has
long been an autocue, you know what you must say to comfort her:

playing fair weather has more to do with rain and it’s raining as though we once
invented the sun. You walk circles round the bedroom, trying to click your thoughts

together like a bracelet, wash your hands again and again and examine them
testing their purity, body hissing like a rusty barbeque.

She says there are glasses and a bottle of wine in the nightstand, left from the last time
that you trembled and all that blood. After two glasses she gives up, you shrink beneath the sheets

like the sheep beneath the tires, you think of everything that has ever perished and the slap
that it brought with it, you carry this with you until your heart becomes a grave, your head

the granite stone above it, finally at rest you weep wine until it is
no longer about the sheep but about who will comfort the driver, you poor, daft dog.


After a month I knew how it sounded when you were thinking: like the hissing of
heating pipes, the slow flushing of your cheeks before the warmth of
your musings would reach me. In the beginning we placed each other’s glances just as we
had moved the furniture to places where we expected
silence in conversations or by the breakfast table in the corner where we might
entertain doubts and how, later, you would share these without it having the atmosphere
of a lecture: I would like to speak about the sparrow I say
each evening, against my better judgement because sparrows easily

converge and come apart again without flying at each other, love is a
theatrical bird, air acrobatics my father said once and after retiring
he only looked above: for the birds and for a glimpse of God.

I hid my sweaty hands underneath the table, if my fingers were wings
then my armpit would rest between my thumb and forefinger, I
move them like beaks, a body has many ways of not
being a body. We transfer to the couch to make room for
questions, there alone is space for sighs of relief, we see before
us how our thoughts cause clouds of sparrows and shapes we cannot express, as usual

you ask how many birds make a swarm and how many acts are necessary
to fuse us together as lovers, when you might place my glance
so that it hangs like a painting in which you can see much, but never everything,
that is the art of adoration. The mattress is there where speaking
is superfluous and silence is included like caresses but as the cold floor reaches
my feet I seek a place for you in a house where everything
remains unmoved unless we move it ourselves, only the murmuring of our
heads causes us to converge without coming any closer.

A lecture is a speech on a subject about which you know
so much that you cannot free fall, whereby your vocal chords do not change
like the plumage of the sparrow at the end of the summer when he has become
homesick, flying over the introduction to get to the thank you at the end, sleep softly

my love, there in the horizon of my sight, if I didn’t know any better my head
would be a watchtower, without you knowing I see everything that rages within you.


We weren’t allowed to ask any questions but could invent answers, Mama cried
lots in the time when we were not yet a meter and she taught us that death had an echo
that rang deep inside your eardrums, I kept forgetting to stick my cold
hands in my pockets, not to make a fist but flat

the way I let them fall upon the glass pane of my brother’s coffin like two
damp starfish, the sea suddenly found itself above our heads
someone had shoved the floor away and not replaced it said Grandpa who
made doves of my fears: to tame them

should I have stroked them from head to tail and once a week let them loose in
the field behind the stall, watching as they flew away? But at night they tapped
again with their beaks against the bedroom window, in panic Grandpa called the local plumber
because there were holes in his grandchildren, they were leaking liters of tears.

Then, consolation was just like parking, to measure is to know and still sometimes
your estimation is too narrow, you continue searching for the right place, sometimes an embrace
can also require several circles around each other. On the table tea cups stood
filled with gin, strange fingers stirred ice cubes making a cheerful

tinkling while death had yet to make a sound, just as answers need a couple
of seconds to land in the heads of an audience, were
we the audience here or did we need other people’s pockets to feel
the warmth of another body? I took a forefinger and opened my mouth, just stir it I

thought then let us pretend that we want to grab each other though we keep
slipping away, withdrawal meant that the sound did not enter everyone in the same
way, those not hollow enough to hide an echo.

Beside the preacher stood the dentist, the only man in our lives who knew
everything that got between our teeth and understood that at night our ears
became seashells in which we heard not the rushing of the sea but the dead
brother, constantly in our hearts, being driven up again.


We begin simply by coming closer, slowly pressing away the air
between our bodies like jars of summer vegetables that suck themselves vacuum:
preservation always begins with the application of a label.

Go then, on your knees, plant my hand upon your hairs and rub back and forth—
a reversed way of waving until your locks become sticky.

We know of people that stand too far apart even for waving
where waves of dismissal have become a form of breathing, the air must
always be declared pure before they proceed: this must not happen to us.

You were nine when you said that you were like a bathtub, something that would always need
another to fill itself, I let the water run and you showed me where
the gap was, how it began at the top, then fell

a film in a museum showed a rabbit thrown into the deep, to see which
animals, like cats, could land on their feet, no, it touched the ground,
appeared for a moment at one with the structure of the floor until it bounced—
this they called art but you screamed: touch me here, now

because wasn’t I the man who caused you to fuse like a jar
that has burst open from too much warmth, who should know the gaps like
crawl spaces in a hollowed-out loaf.

I’ve let you wallow so long, continuously refilling the bath until the day your skin
no longer soaks up the water and a shadow that is strange to you seeps into every pleat.

Come, show yourself now not so nakedly, this flesh has been strange to me since birth
but do let me stroke you—that’s part of it, they say—it’s allowed.


I think of doors that slam harder when someone leaves the house
for the last time, of corners in rooms that are actually armpits and
spread anxious sweat, leakages. There is no uneasy atmosphere,
it is the windows that tremble when someone leaves.

Such sadness is comparable to putting out the garbage
you see no one doing it and still, on Monday morning it is out there on the street,
some things you only do alone in bed when the night becomes a sail
from which stars tumble, falling on the roof like firecrackers.

In the distance two factories stand together smoking—
when the door slammed shut behind you, I hung out of the window,
there they were, safe under the awning of some grey clouds

and I called after you while they lit another cigarette, spoke about us
smokers put themselves eternally in the mist, so that they’re always looking to the other
and I shouted at you, causing the wallpaper to tear itself loose from the walls
because we will call even if they cut through the lines like umbilical cords

send letters with perfume and ink spots as contradictions
to conceal that we might just love each other too much
throw messages in bottles filled with thoughts and concerns to keep
our heads above water. Put the house on a postcard.

translated from the Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey