Persephone Abbott, musician and author, settled in the Netherlands. While living in Gouda, the city center inspired her to write an English language guide book to her neighborhood. Written as part of a collaboration, the guide without ads demonstrates a difference: it leads someplace. In this blog (started in 2007) she posts thoughts of an integrated foreigner and writer living in Amsterdam. Postings only once a week, mainly on Fridays.
The other day I received an email saying that my submission had been accepted as part of a composite multi-poem piece of music commissioned by the Haarlem Studentenkoor. I remember writing the poem before I left Gouda, having drunk all the alcohol out of the cupboards and cold sober contemplating the big bang Creation out of Chaos, a choice topic. I wrote about night. I think I did, but more so I remember sitting in my old dining room trying to distract myself. Who knows what the musical composition will be at the end of the day, but having written three more poems this week sitting in the dark at my office listening to the electricians battle with the electrical meter at 7 am, I figured I might as well post them in celebration of poetry. Of course, I composed all three of them hours beforehand giggling to myself in the shadows waiting for the alarm to sound, worried about oversleeping.
When I fled
I took with
me the jar of peanut butter
And the ten
Euros I possessed.
It would get
me through some
like the vagabond
the steps behind Magna Plaza,
A slice of
floppy brown bread
In his hand,
swiping the inside of the jar
A tinge of
honest repulsion and a bit of awe.
peanut butter was mine
even though you paid for the jar,
I placed the
item in the trolley, to make
Sure we had
emergency food in the larder.
place to place with the jar,
Kloveniersburgwal and finally standing
sandwiches purposely with knife in hand
Spuistraat, ready to eat them waiting for the tram
Full of the aimless
tourists behind the Dam, I gazed into
brown jar, still half filled with goo, astonished
At the alternative
nutrition that had rotated my way,
filling, like those cans of beans in tomato sauce.
butter looked more relaxed, offering itself up
easier times, a rare minute to hour not hour to hard day,
probably last past Christmas.
into the jar with consideration
I felt a
slab of honest repulsion and a smidgen of awe
within my heart, folding over on itself.
to Sugar and Cream
Once again I
stand resolutely before the freezer section
supermarket inspecting the ice-cream.
earlier I purchased a ginger scoop on the Rozengracht,
barely rendered myself to swallow the swank smudge,
my purchase with wanton distaste, frowning in the sunshine.
the cold ball on the Herenstraat revolted me.
How is it I
suspect my heart pleads for ice-cream when my stomach holds
Appeal to communist
taste buds? Eyes down in the blue basket hanging
elbow, I check my groceries again. Just to be sure.
before another unwise decision.
The plain 46
cent beaker of basic yoghurt. Mildly interesting.
grapefruit, on sale, four in a net. More appetizing.
water injected slab of turkey breast. I chose it
someone recently mentioned they’d eaten turkey.
Rarely seen in the country. Nougat flavoured France.
It now lays,
alone, unloved in my freezer, chipped at by two teaspoon nibbles.
about throwing it out, note keeping it perhaps
Just to temper
my unreasonable urges for unhappy bourgeois ice-cream.
practically, I stand in front of my near empty mini freezer,
Weighing up why
I am attracted to hardened sugar and cream with all due disrespect,
Being only pleased
with myself after all to discern the A label:
At first I thought that a new church had set up shop in my Amsterdam
neighborhood. The tune was different.The idea that suddenly a church tower had been erected nearby is, of
course, ludicrous. I just spelled the
rapper’s name right there and became completely confused at the fact that I actually
quasi believed in the alternate spelling of the adjective. It was the capital L
in the spell check that confirmed my suspicions.Anyway, where have I been and where was I?
Bell tunes. It finally occurred to me, walking to yoga one night, that the
Westerkerk bells had been rewired to a different set of chimes.The odd thing was that I recognized one rendition
of the tune immediately and became quite confused. What was it doing hanging
out at the Westerkerk on the hour? It wasn’t Dutch at all. Was this a case of plagiarism?
Years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother decided to join
a church.She hadn’t been a church goer in
years, that is years well before my birth when it was part of her family obligation
and duties. She avoided the Lutherans this time and chose the posh Episcopalian
Church in our area.St. Albans.Of course I then dutifully went with her on
this family bonding moment; my father stayed at home alone without even a
sliver of Christ. It turns out I liked the music at church.Since being introduced to the 1941 red bound
collection I’ve grown inordinately fond of hymns. The Reverend D. was the church pastor at that
time, a tall, vague and childlike figure married to money. A lot of money. In
fact, his wife was a socialite. A well-known socialite. She was tall and horsey
and wore designer togs and heaps of gold jewelry. She looked like she’d whack
plebs with a polo stick from down the slope of her long nose and long legs. She
and her Chanel suit didn’t come to church often, and most of us developed a tendency to avoid her strings
of startlingly devoid of compassion conversations. Father D. and Mrs. D. had obviously
a way of having separate lives and still like each other very much.
Father D.’s favorite hymn was I Sing a Song to the Saints of
God. One verse includes this refrain:
one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild
And there's not any reason, no, not the
Why I shouldn't be one too.
was my favorite part. Perversely alert and aware that it was, well, taking the
mickey out of the glory of Christianity. (Hey, I grew up in Berkeley where hedonism was rampant.) We sang this hymn a lot at church,
every chance he got Father D. would include it in the service. At times I
wondered about his intentions. The words to the song were written by a woman
named Lesbia Scott. What a name. The music by John Hopkins. Maybe Mr. Hopkins lifted
it from a quaint old Dutch folk tune.
suspiciously enough on the half hour the Westerkerk is demonstrating a snippet
of Tis a Gift to be Simple. The last time I heard that in the Netherlands was
when HRH Princess Christina sang it at her father’s funeral. Was there
something going on with the royal family?
mind, lastly a mere two days ago a crowd gathered below my office on the
Westermarkt. A cute van, a pimped DJ mobile, was ready to perform a duo with
the carillon in the Westerkerk. “You can ring my beelllll, ring my bell!” the
two call and response sang to each other while people danced in the street.
Green bits, much to my dog’s dismay, are not found nearby
where I live in Amsterdam.She always
needs a little green patch or some true grit dirt bit to use for her daily
constitution. At first I located a grove of mature trees that had just been
ensconced in brand new raised flower beds securely blocked in by curbs of virgin
grey cement so light and unstained like a fall sweater just out of the shop
nestled in the exclusive bag with silver lettering. But then tender young
plants were lodged in the black earth and I felt it really wouldn’t do to have
my dog stomp all over them or continue to mar the beauty of the pristine cement.
I happily spied a side of a canal used by houseboats which had obviously been cordoned
off a while ago as a result of needing to shore up the side of the canal in
front of the moored boats. The area now features little clumps of weeds growing
up through the pavement. My dog and I hang around this particular block twice a
day.A few red light establishments have
a view of this overgrown patch. I’ve noticed that when I am in the company of a
man, the prostitutes will gently grind their hips at him. Otherwise they don’t
grind their hips and focus their dewy eyes on me.Not that I mind being ignored; my upstairs neighbor
and fellow dog owner is not susceptible to feminine charms – he has a few of
his own with those big blue eyes and Tintin hairdo.
My dog has attracted the attention of a large orange tabby
who stalks her from behind while she’s sniffing around trying to decide her
spot.It’s never nice to be snuck up
upon when doing your business. The cat even followed us down the block, leaping
from along the stairways on the grand canal houses to get a better view of my
dog’s swaying back as we made our way to the trees, a desperate measure for
both of us.The evening didn’t seem to
We often walk along the canals and small streets found
parallel to the canals. We often walk up our street early in the morning when
the prostitutes’ rooms are being cleaned, the tiles being swiped down with
antiseptic, the front steps receiving multiple buckets of soapy water. “Good
morning!” the tattooed man says to me, eyes in back in his middle aged head, as
he inspects his handiwork the room, a mix between a butcher’s shop and a toilet
with patches of flocked Gay 90’s wallpaper here and there. The blue plastic
cover, as a new born weak and defenseless, wrinkled and wailing on the stripped
matrass, the bar chairs without towels on them, devoid of bikini bums.
Some of the buildings are remarkable on my street. It’s hard
to notice them though at times round the bustle and hustle, rough 17th
century warehouses, the bricks painted black, the shutters red, the ceiling
beams white. Pure Amsterdam. Then, to my astonishment, a sign saying that Hans
Brinker, the boy that stuck his thumb in a dyke, was born in That House in 1799
Right in This Alley Street, one that has many small lanterns hanging on the
outside walls, all with red light bulbs. A propos, I think, more fantasy, fingers and