Feeda - a prose poem by Justin Tuijl (2015)
Pass me your cup, and look at this Picasso I have. No, this is just where nature didn’t meet up with industrial waste. I wonder where the next rain storm will come. Feeda looked at what was left of her dinner as she dropped it on the floor. The dish had burnt her hand as the cockroach had surprised her. Now she would go hungry. The cat would be ok, if she had a cat. Gradually the dark clouds gathered, and now the rain came, too late to get the clothes in. She watched them get soaked again. And looked at the mess on the floor. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I should be a cat. At least the cockroach was an Asian cockroach, as big as a cat, which makes it ok to drop your dinner. The view of clothes and trees blotted out by rain, and a memory of visiting the Tate Modern. It is not enough. Not enough. I once loved in a far away land, but not here. And her name was not Feeda, nor even Asian. And yet, she could have been Feeda, the loss is the same. Loss. That’s what it is all about. There is nothing to see but the rain. Nothing to hear but the cat looking for dinner. Ideas of American Diners. Far away on a route beyond 66. Spin the globe and follow the rutted road through palm oil plantations. My time is near. I think of Feeda again. I wonder if the cat is with her still. I think of art and deep oceans; one of them but be better than… than, I don’t know. My heart is wounded. Possibly for good, at least, it will be, soon, soon as the earth spins… once, a hundred times. Abstract ideas fill the mind. As abstract of dinner splashed across the floor or a careful impressionist canvas, or a cockroach, squashed, full of goo, spread out with the dinner for the cat, the cat that isn’t there.
Today it does not rain. I sit by the window and think of the river. We lived by the river. Some days a roaring monster as the rains came a long way up stream. A river yellow with silt. The water tumbled from the jungle, fed by streams, fed by the trees. Roaring so loud that it was hard to hear anything. Then, even the next day, the river would be placid, and the water translucent, clear to the stones at the bottom. There, on the edge of the rainforest, water was plentiful, for bathing, washing, playing, but not for drinking. Here, in ‘civilisation’ there is plenty to drink, but water costs, for bathing, washing, playing… The rain it does not come. Outside the window the birds sing. It is dry, the plants are wilted, the grass yellow. Yesterday I saw fox cubs playing in the woods beyond the dry garden. Briefly I was scared of the little red dogs; or perhaps I was scared of their big elusive father or mother. Stupid of me. The cubs played, oblivious of me and ran off into the deep shade.
I spent the morning birdwatching. No news had come. A wind had built up during the night, rattling the leaves. Out on the now placid water I watched groups of Tufted Ducks, all pared off for the spring. Paired off for the season. Overhead the mournful cry of the seagulls, living inland for the summer in these days. Nearby a nest with a great swan and the mate feeding nearby. I watch the ducks dive and re-appear after an unfeasibly long time. I thought of the wind last night and the news that had not come. I knew it would never come. The time had gone. Gone last year.
Today the rain came. I thought of van Gogh as I fell asleep last night, his drawings. I thought of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. I thought of anything but my past. This morning I watch the rain, there are no clothes on the line. Distant thunder. Soft rain. I know all day it will rain, no sun. A horse points towards the wind. But even the wind is now gentle. The electric stays on as I type. Memory of someone I’ll never see again. Brown skin, white skin, brown skin white skin. The rain came there with wild abandon, hard, hard rain, hard thunder. Smashing into the roof and the concrete and the trees. Filling our ears like the thunder of the river. Dominating. “I am here!” it said. It smashed the electric. The metal roof shouted back. Great rivers formed around the wooden house, washing all away, and bringing more from other places. In the bedroom we lay, nature thundered about us. And then it was gone. For an hour its voice had spoken. Now the hard sun was out and mopped up the tantrum. Later the electric would come back. Now; here I sit and think of van Gogh, his drawings. I think of Shakespeare and his brown lover. I watch the female black bird in the garden dig for a worm as the soft rain takes a short break. She flies to a gutter and takes a drink. I hear her mate sing. I know when the rain comes again the electric will stay on. I wait for more thunder, I wait all the time.
I was wrong about the rain. The dark clouds cleared away, replaced by eggshell and cloudlets. Sun washed the soft rain away between gentle caresses on the land. I think of cloud forests where the trees live in a fog of a clammy embrace, a long way from Feeda. A long way from here. And here I see dry trees. And think of dry canvas. In my wardrobe are cockroaches. I leave them and imagine they are eating my bed linen. Small cockroaches. She told me she was an Orangutan. An insult I thought, but she said it means person of the forest. I once watched a wild Orangutan in the jungle eat fruit. Like a small hairy ginger man. Soon he was cross with me and broke branches to show his mite. She said she was a jungle woman. Woman of the jungle. What am I? A quarter from Holland, from Rotterdam. She said she once had a Dutch lover, a bad man. All men are bad. I think of a motor boat on a wide lake, windows wide, spray from the keel. A kind of freedom. Or a kind of trap. Time to keep moving, always moving away, running away. Always running. The good stay. Once I found a Robin’s nest; inside were tiny blue eggs; blue like the sky. Egg shape sky.
This morning I watched crows chasing a tiny bird. The sun beats down harshly. Outside, last night, a drunk man wanted a fight with his brother. Yesterday a man took my computer and dumped the box outside my door. There is no food in the kitchen. I drink coffee instead. As the sun set last evening I sat by a building by the wide lake, the security machine telling me to leave or the police would be sent. There were Goldfinches nesting in the roof. Swallows and swifts in the air. A cold north wind took away the warmth of the dying day. Nearby is a ruin. I think of a dream long ago, my childhood house in ruins as an angry sky builds behind. Crows gather above and all the people who lived there are long since dead. A broken bottle lays nearby with writing telling how good it had been long ago. At home the box blows around the garden in the bitter wind, my writing on its sides.
She had no love of cats. Stray cats stole chicken from the kitchen. Soon they could bankrupt us. Feeda. The wrong name, not her name. Sometimes the food did not come, not for me, not for the boy, her boy, but it came for the visitors. Across the wide marsh I see a windmill. It will take an hour to get there. I am deadly tired. Swifts fly near, questing for food. Flicking away quickly before they collide with the lone figure. The bitter wind still comes. It gently howls across the flat great marsh. I’m a long way from home. Where is home? A marsh, a jungle, a city? I think of the drawings, how van Gogh would show it. How can I remove myself from the scene? If he’d drawn me here I would be trapped for decades, or centuries. But van Gogh is gone and no one is around for miles. No one will draw me. No one will ever know I had been here.
For hours I moved across the landscape. Of rutted path and coarse grass. Reeds on the fringes. Mother sheep and new born up ahead. They run from me, I’m briefly scared of them. Weary of this path; I see a closed pub up ahead. Broken windmills break the view. A board shows me the old miller and his ghost fills my mind. This bleak place, a place he spent his life and gone from long ago, but now I think of him. I think of my trail. A blank trail. No board will remind anyone of me. Swallows fly around, looking for food for the young. The sky is of Constable. Vast. There is a Roman fort on the skyline and I think of their ships on the river, long before the miller. Such a long history. How many lone figures had there been? How much time? The chill wind still comes, soon I will be gone. Yesterday I was there and now I look back at memory. More lone figures will pass. Some to the East and some to the West. My own ghost joins the miller, but only for me and the wistful thoughts of more lone travellers. The wide marsh is gone and I will never pass that way again; just as the tall sky moves on; not frozen in the moment like Constable. I had stopped by the broken mill where the swallows nested. I heard the calls of the nest. I look back and know that already the babies would have grown.
I think of tomorrow; plans of escape, plans of moving again. Another landscape, more ghosts. I embrace them, the forefathers, to learn from them, to learn more before it is too late. This moving brings hope. I crave the marshes again, but there is no energy. Remembering Belgian beer, once in Antwerp drinking and eating cheese. Drinking and cracking monkey nuts; ah but that was Holland, sitting by the canal. Boats pass, bicycles steady flow on the cobbled roads. And the rainforest. Rice. Rice and beer. Chatter and laughter. So much talking. So much I didn’t understand. On my own by the window I look across the dry garden. There are no birds. I hear the man above coughing. The wind still carries a chill even as the sun spreads over the green. The chill draws through the cracked open window. The room is cold. Outside is yellow and green. I make plans. Plans of movement, but now I remain still. The window is enough. Yesterday I saw a Cormorant in the river. The head like a snake, the body under water. It dived but I didn’t see it again.
Drinking coffee and looking at a new day through the window. The coffee, the same brand my grandfather drank. Each morning he fed the birds, the garden full of starlings, blackbirds, sparrows. When he was gone the birds no longer came. He had stayed. Stayed away from his country. Rotterdam, always stories of Rotterdam. He stayed with the ones who loved him. His paintings, oils, of far off places, of Italy, of tigers, of lost love. She lived in Oldenzaal. The garden outside my window has grown tall with weeds and meadow flowers. Uncared for, wild, beautiful and ugly at the same time. Soon the weeds may block my view. His garden was full of daffodils and tulips, by the door a pair of clogs. Grass with bowling green lines. Beyond the grass, strawberries and plums, and places to hide. A dog in the garden opposite who likes to bark in his youth, but all too soon a smelly older dog, all too soon gone. My granddad always spoke of Oldenzaal; Aart was his name. I asked him about the war; I should have asked about Oldenzaal. About lost love. About the love that kept him here. But a child asks about war. In Oldenzaal, a quarter of a century after he died, I sat outside a bar in the square with Amanda and a blonde beer while cracking monkey nuts. The town clock chimed elaborately; so many years it had chimed above the square. I imagine a black and white photo of granddad and the clock above.
In his garden was a pond, a model of a Rotterdam tower reflected. Always we looked down into the water at fish, gold. Just one, a black one, lived deep, near the bottom. Several years passed, the fish vanished to be replaced by frogs. The tower was broken by little fingers. Then came the tadpoles, hundreds of them, filling the surface. They looked stuck, in trouble, filling the pond. Like they couldn’t escape the scum on the surface. I wanted to help. In the damp shed there was a bottle; then all was killed; there were never anymore frogs.
The window is black but for a pale blue late evening sky above an outline of trees. I’m alone but for the man in the room above shouting into his phone. The window is open a crack and I hear the light rain come after the hot day. Now I notice the sky is pale grey not blue. The garden is a reflection of me in the black mirror. Gradually the rain builds, harder and harder. The sound almost drowns the man’s voice. I need to move and close the window but just look through the black, out to the vaguest shadows. The rain starts to come in and I must move. Briefly I am close to the downpour and then back away to sit across from the mirror. A downpour nearly like the ones in the rainforest, but I can still hear the man. Very soon the rain is spent and gradually I hear him clearly again. For one short moment the rainforest was again my home. But now I return to this place and a desire to escape. The grey sky is now black, and the mirror is complete.