‘The Whetter of the Knife’ and other poems by Judith Mok

Beethoven in New York

Fur Elise

This night is on me like a blank sheet
I have to write
Of people playing my music that
Fills the subway with my submerged sounds
As if I am a whale vibrating through the thick of times
Communicating that my name is: Beethoven
A man of music in a storm of voices
A choir, an army of American instruments
People playing my music, people judging me
How I rode this crushing wave of emotions

I wake up to chaos and constellations in my head
Thinking: I will have to tell her
I heard this choir supporting some statement about me
Thinking: it’s one breath of mine against three of hers
That’s what our rhythm seems to be

I hear this couple talking
Two voices modulating into one
Softly speaking specters of promises

I spy on her asleep
Sensing a child in her with too many dreams
To chose from, her jaws clenched
To keep them inside till they rot
While she dies slowly in her sleep.

Casual chords coming from open car windows
Signaling to me that these are New York symphonies
And also: that Elise is still here with me
That I must write for her.

Her eyes closed in the half-light
A film of cold sweat on her pale skin
Her neck exposed to my murderous mind
And me slicing through her sighs
While all I feel is music, my music melting
In the smothering air we breathe, one against three.

She came to me. Her mouth
Full of crunched up words
A meaningless alphabet to her tune
She turns her slender body away
So I can wipe it dry and write,
Write on her bony back, as on a blackboard
Feeling the whipping flame on my eyes
When I see too much of her
And want to write, my love, my love
But instead I write two notes  –ta –ta
A diminished second , and from there: on.

This I will hear until I go deaf
And then it will last

Two notes dancing in a ripped up dawn
I,s adly take to my formal clothes, a composer again
My mind still playing with the thought of her body
Gasping -ta-ta- while I brush my hair
Reacquire my intense stare
Her glow on me in the mirror
It is her planet I live on
Nothing belongs to me but, music

I bring broken notebooks.
Winging my way down to the New York subway

The entrance is like a gargoyle upside-down
I dive into its steam-spouting mouth
My pores oozing fear
I walked this score
I see, I can hear
The mini masters who play my music have sorted me out
While they keep talking and talking on about Elise and: me
And are hammering out her tune –ta-ta

I am inside the whale, in my ears, in my heart
Wanting to fight against the pulse –ta -ta
But its here, played on a steel drum
Beet- Beethoven on a pot, a drum looking like
A caved in reproduction of our gutted earth,
A rivulet of my music, my feelings scored .
This tender tone: for Elise
Ta –ta- ta-ta-ta from there: onwards
And they say I have aspergers syndrome.

The Whetter of the Knife

No shame would ever redden his days.
He could have shown the eager, entirely,
how much he enjoyed his circus and its tricks.
He should have made spectators pay to watch the things he did to me,
turning me into this acrobat of pain.
But he prefered to keep me in a bullwark for his silence,
this pschyco’s place where he tortured me.
This is how we do things in my country,
he said, a proud and fervent nationalist,
causing distress of a broader spectrum ,
seen through the narrow end of his binoculors,
It made me suffer the cutting shards of a kaleidoscopic feast.

And then, a horrid kiss. Not so, on my lips.
With it, he burned the earth under my feet,
the songs in my soul, the touch of real.

Where it soaked the ground I wished for his blood to feed my gardens,
their putrid stench through my opened windows and music,
camelias, gardenias a tango tune, ragged.
And still : I loved.
I loved his screaming wounds, his sunken sores licked with my pickled tongue.
Help me.

Make or Break

They are standing in a Dublin vegetable shop;
Castanea Dentata, chestnuts said she,
Fauchon, remembering Paris, Marrons Glaces:
The faded butterfly wings of the wrapping paper
The box,half- open, like a promising, sweet smile
Her fingers reaching out for what her tongue would like: love.

We Irish, said he, play Conkers.

Blood or “le sang des autres”

The shots ricocheting against the flanks of the mountains so early in the morning that my sleepy subconscious has not even registered the chiming bells yet, yet…
We are in Sarajevo, suddenly. Le jour de chasse est arrive, o glory, the Hunt, la Casa, funny how the same word for hunt in Spanish means matrimony and hunt, a coincidence? Oh. I am supposed to organize a concert programme for next season in the lovely Roman Church, surrounded by shady trees. I am supposed to eat a rabbit tonight and the man told me two days ago with a macho smile on his ancient face “ je vais le tuer, I’m gonna kill it. Am I still hungry? For rabbit? Shall I suck the raw head raw? Oh. How sad his eyes were, the old boar, sanglier, in his stinky little hut. The man had caught him as a baby and wanted to fatten him up. He did and then he loved his fat boar and kept it as a pet. Speaking of matrimony: do we like to fatten each other up and keep each other as sad pets? Oh. I talked to the traumatized wild animal, unbearable in his smell and even more in the way it looked at me, was I at least bringing it some food for solace ? This morning they’re shooting the furtive beasts that I saw yesterday on the path, running around with shifty movements, the eagle circling with its eyes on a snake. I couldn’t see, the stillness of the view and nature intact, the Pyrenees with wolves and bears, not far, the blue sea not far, humans were far, very far away, except for. Oh. Now I can imagine what it is like to hear shots in the morning and become completely unnerved by it, even though they are meant for the beasts, not me. What’s the difference in the afternoon I saw them hanging from the hooks in the Salle des fetes, the hall of feasts. The blast of blood and wild odours was out in the streets, the dogs had blood on their teeth and in their fur, drenched, and the men had aprons, hiding their male satisfaction by rubbing long killer knives clean on their bellies.
I had to think of the concentration camps, I had to, who was hung on hooks again? Blood is blood and mine surged and I threw up under the Southern Sun with the taste of raw meat in my mouth. Oh


after Leo Tolstoy

Within the mystery of dawn a field feeds me a thought, to name all of them in different languages when they move, drenched in dew: marcassins, javali , wild boars, everzwijn….shifting as a pack swiftly to the wisps of scent from apple to nut tree. It could be, somehow, a choreography. What a fool I have been till today not to see, not to hear what there was to be. In the land of the Troubadour I write a landscape in the morning. Up the mountain dogs follow me where I follow ancient footprints. I know the alphabet, but they know it all, these dogs’ soft snouts, loud talk, barks. And back I go to a village where cats bask in my warm shadow to purr. What a fool I have been till today not to see, not to hear what there was to be had. In the afternoon we speak, other to others, while we work to harvest. The earth hums along, fat on its offerings: chestnuts, grapes, olives, quinces stain our hands. Much more is waiting in these woods mushrooms spread under trees that stand to grow on for centuries. People come together, a basket full of pickings on their arm. The early autumn darkness blotting out their whispers, nothing but a smothered gasp when a white deer struts by, making for history. During breaks we eat the home-made cakes sitting on the fairy ground: the dream of ferns and poisonous snakes, the myth of the mind takes shape. An eagle waits for me, for no one at his regular spot. He rises up and suddenly there are three. When I look up they form a pattern I can’t decipher.They honour my eyes.

What a fool I have been till today not to be able to read what was written. To spell reality.

At night I spy on the dark.When lightning hits I see some natural time, the speed of the bat is the speed of the falling stars caught in the claws of our artificial wishes. Not like the owl who claws his prey in mid-air displaying its own blitzkrieg.

What a human fool I have been, not to be able, but for today, to feel: Love.


In the woods I knew them with my eyes ,
when light broke through a rip in memory’s curtain.
I saw the two of them , walking hand in hand with autumn .
Death had kept them untouched, recognizable.

The wind composed hymns of air in the clattering trees
as I opened my arms for an impenetrable welcome,
and stood alone, wondering how long breath can last .

The Whetter of the Knife and other poems are © Judith Mok

Judith Mok was born in Bergen in the Netherlands. She has published two novels with Meulenhoff. She has published three books of poetry in Dutch. She moved to Dublin and published a novel Gael with Telegram London and a book of poetry Gods of Babel with Salmon Press. She has written widely including for radio and Newspapers, which have appeared in the Sunday Miscellany books edited by Marie Heaney. Her short stories have been short listed twice for the Francis Mc Manus award and her first novel The innocents at the Circus for the Prix de l’Academie Francaise. Her work has appeared in Anthologies and nationally and internationally in numerous literary Dutch, Irish, French, British and American magazines. Her translated erotic poems by Verlaine and Rimbaud appeared in the book Obscene Poems by Verlaine and Rimbaud with Vasalucci. Her next book The State of Dark will appear in 2017. Judith who is a lyrical soprano has travelled the world for years as a soloist and a vocal coach teaching master classes.
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