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Hester Knibbe

Three poems

translated by John Irons

The House at the Lock / Search Expedition / Antideath

The House at the Lock


Dead lock with a mouth, on its tongue
was a place built to live.
The rim of basalt between water
and earth is no man’s land, the garden
at the square foot of the house
is tied with countless twisting
and stringy toes of trees
and grass. As was always so,
the house is rooted too: a friendly
fort inscribed by time
like a past scratches
itself in the skin
around a mouth. In the trees
the runes of rain and storm; a life
of bending and breaking. Trunks
so not otherwise formed.


Where the path is turned by the lock
the men stand
as in ancient stories, not
in the inert lee of houses
but in wind upon wind and all
that is vast. Their greeting is
a growl, a comma
their rump; arm on arm hunched over
handlebars, they merely peer
with stiff-lipped mouths. As if,
autochthon as the lake, they
have to wonder every evening at
the day: where it has come from
and where it might be going.

Search Expedition

Tonight wandered through a city
so done in as a body with broken
ribs and a heart laid bare. Searched
for you there with buns in my pocket, searched
for a sigh, some movement in dismantled
streets and alleys. Tonight
a moment not knowing your lair
searched for you with hope in my bones.
But no matter how much I tugged at you
with my voice and my eyes, fragments of wall
kept on growing around you, cellars seemed
to have crept on you, I stayed alone
with those buns in my pocket
just calling and walking.



Tonight I had a child, but only just.
We crossed the street with winter
at its height. The child was warmly packed
in mittens, cap and infant’s sleeping bag;
I held it tight against me. And when
it grew yet colder, through and through,
I held it right against my skin, but
still it froze; a film of ice
coated its eyes, its mouth. I cried out, knocked
on someone’s door. First presumed dead,
the child once warmed, stood suddenly
beside me, tall, comforting instead.

Hester Knibbe, photo © Pieter Vandermeer

Hester Knibbe, photo © Pieter Vandermeer

Hester Knibbe (Harderwijk, 1946) lives since 1972 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Her debut was the poetry book ‘Between gestures and words’ in 1982. This debut was followed by, among others: ‘A shirt of flesh’ (1994, nominated for the VSB-poetry prize), Anti-death (1999), ‘ Disturbed ground’ (2002), ‘The flexibility of stone’ (2005), and ‘Treacherous days’ (2008). For her poetry book ‘Anti-death’ she was awarded the Herman Gorter Prize in 2000, in 2001 she was awarded the Anna Blaman Prize, and in 2009 the A. Roland Holst Prize. She has published in various magazines and anthologies and took part in poetry festivals in the Netherlands and abroad.


John Irons (* 1942) studied French, German and Dutch at Cambridge University before specialising in Dutch poetry for his PhD. He also holds a Scandinavian degree in English and German. He moved to Scandinavia in 1968 and lives at present in Odense, Denmark. He has been active as a translator for almost 20 years, specialising mostly in works to do with art, culture, philosophy and education. He has translated considerable quantities of poetry into English, mainly from Dutch and the Scandinavian languages. His website is:

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