“Virgula,” a Poem by Sasja Janssen

(translated by Michele Hutchinson)


there is eternity in height, there is eternity
in hanging from a height
longing sometimes to eradicate the distance between sky and earth,
to let yourself drop just past the short gardens with empty benches fridges
plants bicycles, but mostly there’s a longing
to enter the sky like a room

my room that consists of a large window and has no
centre, there is some cheating with a square,
in it a low bed, cheese cloth used as curtain, pale blue
linoleum like a clear February
a small table suitable for a single chair, when you wash
the window from the outside the depth spins beyond your shoulder

Virgula, you were here too, in the closeness you can touch
the four small walls, the concrete with knots of air that rot
in the stairs stuck to the side of the building,
my eyes live with the greyish-yellow concrete from which rectangular
rooms have been carved for students, sometimes I imagine them as dogs
maybe because they fuck in the afternoon

there is the eternity of calm window, planes disappear into it
when I lie on my low bed
which isn’t mine but belongs to the flat and
I think of the girl down the corridor in her smart apartment,
always dressed in a twinset, the Afghan who cooks bones in oil,
the young Iranian who shows me drawings, his eyelashes are butterflies

it’s like they don’t exist when I’m in my room
having to read P C. Hooft until a boy
with murky eyes kisses me in the room next to my own,
he has nothing left, he says, except for a raised bed a fridge
a stereo, we take a young cat from the pet shop that falls from the snowy
balcony rails three weeks in, the days are as still as winter

I celebrate Christmas with the boy in an almost empty tower block
I count how many rooms on the other side have their curtains
shut, we laze around and cook our chickens,
nuts, no plums, we watch Der blaue Engel
on the flat’s tv channel and smoke rollies
the stringy tobacco tastes of smoked blood

in the new year we get two more cats, the white one is mine
the black-and-white one his,
until I move to a different block of flats because we’ve broken up,
we split the metal cutlery
the bleach I used to scrub the bathroom so I can hand back
the place clean make me and the cats throw up

and that’s where you really come to life, Virgula,
in the view of a large spruce tree, in the green solitude,
I spend one last night with the boy, then the morning
blares for me to leave and I steal the low bed
with my woolly blanket, stiff with age, the white cat
and together we wait, we wait for someone to fetch us from this room

I hang rattan in front of the window you rattle at, I get a sideboard
from the street and paint it white,
it’s no use, all of eternity has moved house with me, Virgula.


From Virgula by Sasja Janssen, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison. Used with permission of the publisher, Prototype Publishing. Copyright © 2021 Sasja Janssen. Translation copyright © 2024 Michele Hutchison.

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