Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 32, 1992
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb

Riemke Ensing


The son is named after his mother's
father. Theo for short. Gift from God. His
sons carry the respective names
of grand and great-grand fathers. Men
are important.
Hendrik Joseph
Theodorus Dirk
One way of keeping close
to family we'll never see again
except in photographs. Two
for Calvin, one catholic
and a communist who rolled ball-bearings
down the street during the union strikes. He lost
an eye on a wharf loading timber and didn't
smile much. Our son too bears the weight
of history. Generations of settlement
here and elsewhere across oceans / all leaving
their small stories on the postage stamp
landscape of our existence. All scattered
and gone / on journeys into pages
of mythology.
The younger branch opts for modernity.
They are not migrants.
They name their children after clowns,
a Russian princess counting pence
in Woolworth after the Revolution. Anything
not to hear those schmaltzy songs
expatriates might sing, hand over bleeding
heart in postures of melancholy. Everything
to avoid the pain of past / images of eyes
asking too many questions / arms raised
in wavering


In all the stories round the table
we were always going
back. The table too
did a lot of talking. It gave a lot
away. Brood met kaas en worst,
uitsmijters, biscuit met muis, koek
en Kerstkrans at Christmas tied with red
ribbons. After three tries
we gave up oliebollen on old year. Too
hot and all that blue haze
getting at the pictures. The smell
hung around for days and it wasn't the same
outside on the bar-b-q. You had to
have snow and anijsmelk and we weren't
in a Brueghel painting "skating on the edge
of a pond." (Auden)
Flowers though were constant. Always
on the table a vase of sun
on the thick rich tapestry hanging
quite like a 17th century 'still-life
with roemer.' Even the plate (Willem Kalf)
reminds - 'blue-white porcelain
symbol of longevity. K'ang Hsi
dynasty. Cobalt of purest sky and big
bowls of fruit de Heem would have treasured. (1606-1684)
Brass candlesticks aglow with polish,
a 'pronk juweel' under colonial verandah-
end windows in kauri and red, green
and timeless Vermeer yellow
but different entirely. A reality
Siddell might have painted, catching
and reflecting off objects in a room
not even half a lifetime old where everything
is straight-backed and upright. Solid
heart oak, well travelled, diffused
with a warm light also
from the portraits on the wall smiling
a little sternly at their own
predicament. A view from Delft
in Dargaville. "Vanitas vanitatum /
ijdelheid der ijdelheden /
all is vanity."


All the past was what you remembered
and were told. Every street there became
a memory, an imaginary journey
you could walk in every day
from any paddock on the bottom
of the world. The map was in your heart,
your head, in all the stories told you
by candle in the cellar under the kitchen ('39-'45)
waiting for the planes to take their terror
over. Everywhere
you came across ancestors, far-away
family and friends in movies full
of cowboys reeling through the darkened
afternoon of the local pictures next
to Mrs. Thurston's milkbar in the main street
of a Northland town. Fictions
made up from memories, stories, letters
and bereavement cards, the fly-leaf of the Bible
a register of births and deaths marked by crosses
in mother's writing. You took to reading
everything, sang battle songs for wars
400 years ago. You tricked the language
into thinking it was now, your eyes
into seeing a Vermeer cloth on your own table.
Every house there, you recognized and all
who lived there, 12000 miles away. You could
follow your shadow step past the linden
along Schuitendiep and all the time be fishing
for eels off the butcher's wharf on the corner
where the river churned brown and ripped
past the log carrying the Taniwha upstream
to 'the place where the woman was taken' (Tangowahine)
You could walk for weeks
and not get tired. Small clouds of ash
whirling behind on your heels in the far interior
of dreams. You knew how the wind would blow
round the south-east corner, through the rose
trellis of Het Princenhof where the sundial spoke
an ancient language you didn't believe. "Tempus
Praeteritum Nihil" (The past is nothing.)
On the 16th century clock-face the sun
went down and you could feel a storm,
run for shelter from the flying
tiles on the old, old gables in Mangawhare
where all the roofs were tin.

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