Nachoem M. Wijnberg
First This, then That
Writing, then waiting;
waiting, then writing;
a poem, then a goodbye,
then visiting someone.
Longing, then choosing;
exams, then waking with a start from exams;
then making him leave his house.
He’s run away frightened,
won’t be coming back.
Waiting the night in his house,
in the morning doing what I would otherwise forget.
I talk to doctors who have won the lottery: immediately after they have heard the news and then every two, three years.
The first time I ask them what they are planning to do with the money, later I ask what they have done with it.
They are almost always willing to answer, even if they have lost it all again, and the first time I talk to them I do not contradict them if they think I work for the lottery.
There are only a few who have lost it all, most of them have bought a new house and something else they had always wanted and put the rest in the bank.
Of all the doctors I talk to, there is only one whose wife left him after he had won.
It made him feel sick at heart for a few days, but once he had also spent a week longing for a woman who was dead.
At the end of that week the longing diminished, but then he realised that he had now really lost her.
Most contented are the ones who give some of it away each year: to a local hospital, for instance, to buy a new bed.
If I could do something new this late in life I would study medicine, because doctors try even harder for colleagues.
The sick doctors I talk to tell me that this is really true, and that it’s a shame that I am not in any way a colleague.
Not even if I have studied everything they have studied, because if I had already done something else before, I could be a doctor and do something else on the side, or I would know what they know in a different way, because of studying it so late.
When I was a child I could have pretended I was sleeping next to someone I loved.
Perhaps later I would have needed less nights to learn how.
All the things I shouldn’t have done when I was a child, didn’t I have anything else to do then?
Every night I tried to imagine what it would be like if I loved someone, isn’t that enough?
If I can say that I am so slow I always arrive late, then I have something.
If I can say that there are more examples than necessary, I can take one back.
My father said it helped to think of something I can look at for a long time,
A sailing ship on the water for instance, or whatever I can look at for a long time.
Poetry is the creation of meaning, nothing else.
Each time Ghalib thinks up a new meaning, God wants him to exchange it for something else.
A poem brings the day of deciding closer, a dream about a poem gives a day’s respite.
Where words mean something, Ghalib’s are law.
Nachoem M. Wijnberg (b. 1961) is a highly prolific poet and novelist whose poetry has received many Dutch and Belgian awards, including the prestigious VSB Prize for the best book of poetry in 2009. His work covers a wide thematic and stylistic range and has been translated into many languages, from Chinese to Italian. Books in English include Advance Payment (Anvil Press/Carcanet, 2013), Divan of Ghalib (White Pine Press, 2016) and Of Great Importance, forthcoming (Punctum, 2018). Wijnberg is also a professor at the University of Amsterdam Business School.
‘First This, Then That’ and ‘Research Report’ are from Advance Payment, Anvil Press Poetry, London, 2013
‘Something Else’ is from Divan of Ghalib, White Pine Press, Buffalo, New York, 2016;
The originals are from Eerst dit, dan dat, Contact, Amsterdam, 2004; Het leven van, Contact, Amsterdam, 2008; and Divan van Ghalib, Contact, Amsterdam, 2010 respectively.