for Noeleen and Bert Van Es
We come out into light,
drink coffee, eat apple cake;
rain paints an acre of windows,
dissolves in the canal.
We watch a black cat leap the gap
between a houseboat and the street
where bicycles are chained in gangs
to railings, lamp-posts, anything
that can’t be taken. At the bridge
a crosswind tears the map
out of my hand;
I feel as if I’ve lost
a layer of skin,
a present tense.
Writing it down makes sense.
In the Hotel Amsterdam,
behind wine velvet curtains,
my portion of the neon sign
MTV a heartbeat leads
a bass guitar’s wombed echoes
to a dull drum, a piano pulses notes
like blood through veins, a baby’s voice
Earlier today, in a shop
beside the Bob Marley Café
I walk away, my bag full of bangles
and a scarf, claret-coloured
satin on one side, the other
the man who sold them to me smiles,
I say Slán leat.
What will I take back?
The constant rain?
A view from the train
on the way to Rotterdam?
(Real windmills, clustered
in the comer of a wet field.)
The light around the easel
in Rembrandt’s room?
The queue outside
The Anne Frank House?
The blackout clouds
the window like a swarm of flies,
the day outside is aspic, miles off.
In front of me a man tries not to cry,
a woman sobs. Close beside me,
in this space, a hand-stretched width
of two thin beds, a table and a chair,
daughter’s eyes are pale
before the cut-out pictures, saved,
still pasted to the wall.
But afterwards, one image rises over all:
a woman who was there describes
how, on arrival at the railway siding,
after three days, three nights standing
in the box car, they fell down
to what she knew for certain had to be
strange, uncomfortable, lit
by the high arc searchlights
of three new moons.