Kabul
A tour of senseless devastation
Coming around a corner
A girl with a red cap
Coloring the rubble
With her smile and hint of hope
She isn’t growing any older
She’s been here all these 20 years

How did she survive,
And keep her cap so flaming red?
Memories of youthful adventure
A new beginning, long ago
a lapis gift, embroidered boots
and all those countless promises

But now this city is no more
The one we got to know
While over on the other side
Where faith is smiling blankly
We navigated once again
This second intersection
Of war and love and borders

Barbed wire, angry guns
And the hesitant start
Of a life long love
And in the passage of time
The little girls grew up
And hid their caps and their faces

It’s late now, the story
Has added some length
But underneath, all the same
Love crawls around
Amidst the ruins
Seeking the girl with the red cap
The comfort of her smile
In this tired dusty land.

I’ve seen it all

I’ve seen it all
The thousand outer landscapes
Exist already in my mind
When I sit still
and close my eyes and face the sun

I see the radar of the weatherman
The brain scan and the doctor
pointing at the thing that has to go
A military map
With all its colored blotches
That show the heat, where humans are

I’ve seen it all before or after
The red and green, the yellow and the blue
The outside as an echo
Of what the sun paints
On the inside of my eyes

I see the golden vein
crisscross the bright green leaf
The little crabs between the pebbles at low tide
A desert, and red dry mountain range

I see the sunset in a fiery pink
Through white and purple thunder clouds
I’ve seen it all through eyelids in the sun.

Change afoot

He stood by the side of the road
Memorial Drive, near MIT
Bald-headed, a dark three-piece suit
and shiny black shoes.

He was untying his laces.
Something is going to change today.

Busy

Always having something to do,
‘om handen hebben’ in Dutch,
to have around one’s hands.
A fear of being left
with just my thoughts,
hands idle.

Waiting for something else to start,
someone to come
while the clock is ticking away
there’s time to waste.

Knitting will do,
or a computer
with files to manage,
pictures to sort;
a piece of paper, a pen
for a poem, like now;
or better still, water and a brush
for painting a coffee cup,
my own hands
or the dead daffodils
in the middle of the table
that stand in stale
and useless water.

The minds, the hands
never still.
Never still in the car.
Commuting to radio tunes
or news from parts of the world
that are falling apart.

I am practicing stillness now.
No pens, brushes or something
‘om handen.’
I am practicing just being present
With nothing to do.
But my thoughts
have another idea.

Thinking of Holland
(inspired by and loosely translated from Marsman’s “Denkend aan Holland”)

Thinking of Holland I am dreaming
As I see broad rivers streaming
Majestic flows through low green lands
Inching past thin poplar stands
Like tall and graceful wisps of smoke
Under the sky’s oppressive yoke.

Farms are scattered on the land
As dice thrown by the master’s hand
Trees and villlages clustered tight
V-formation ducks in flight
Flattened towers, ancient elms
Meeting of land and water realms

And overhead a sky so low
It touches where the waters flow
And smothers rays of a timid sun
That cannot complete their earth-bound run
And always waters lapping ends
Of the wet and fertile lands

The omnipresent voice of water
Whispering to wife and daughter
Of their hushands’ life and fate
When the ships are once more late
foretelling storms and loss and grief
And a happiness too brief

This then is my land of birth
Where even without sun is mirth
Where waters come from soil and sky
And boats forever passing by
To this is where I keep returning
A hearth that keeps my fire burning

Herm’s navy trunk

Uniforms, khaki for everyday,
White for protocol
Maps of where the mines were,
like the one that blew up the ship
and earned him a purple heart.

The yellowed logs,
books filled with entries
of life on board.
Boring in between all the mines
in the Mediterranean Sea.

Records of night watches
and dog watches,
interspersed with longitude
and latitudes
endless lists
of meaningless numbers.

Brown paper bags with cufflinks
Hints of beauty and forbidden sex.
Delicate boxes
with faded flowers on cheap cardboard,
erotic figurines
Evoking a feminine touch.
Whose? Where?

Something unmentionable,
things that she at home
was not supposed to see?
Or was it all part of a
homecoming gift?

But he is dead now
And all is forgiven.
No more use for report cards,
handbooks and other windows
on American lives at sea
that war is history now.

We took everything out
of the musty navy trunk
But now don’t know what to do,
we can’t put it back,
to keep for what? for whom?

His years of glory
he lived his life
standing on the contents
of this battle trunk
which entitled him forever
to a tiny flag on his grave
for that day when we remember.

Watercolor words

I start neatly: clean water in one cup
Colors lined up, from light to dark
A rag to clean my pencil
Ever so controlled I start
A light wash with translucent words
The darker ones are for later.

I survey my work – nothing to it
White and wet with a hint of baby blue
I drop one very dark word
In the uppermost corner
It explodes in tiny veins
Searching their way across the page

I hold the paper at an angle
The dark runs faster
I should have used red
Like blood, creating life
But then I discover
you can never exactly control
where it goes.

Capetown airport

Three women workers
Sitting quietly
In faded and ill-fitting
Blue uniforms
Waiting stony-faced
in the airport lounge
for instructions from on high

Nothing moves on their faces
Not even when
The supervisor
descends
And tells them to move

She said, “move it,”
The voice of power
And a different color skin
But nothing moves
not their faces, not their eyes

Then their bodies go
Taking them away
Only their legs move
Faces frozen
Telling the entire history
Of this country
To me, the stranger,
Sitting here, watching
Not understanding a thing

Haiti on the brink
(just days before the elections of 2006)

1.
Blue helmets hover in darkness
gay lights swing gently in the breeze
Haiti: half smile, half tear

2.
Marble women cradling their young
Men with heavy arms circling an SUV
The earth is holding them all

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