Kanchanaburi: Bridge over the river Kwai

Albert Hagenaars


In front of us, made up of bridges stolen from
the Dutch East Indies, lies the bridge whose every
nail is still struck home in nights of old men.
With you wedged next to me

I hear them lie there listening to the hammering
on sleep. Orders ring out across the water.
In echoes the frail voice of grandpa, and the angry one
of his son who struck you with it till you bled

when you chose me. Since then the deceit:
a film, a poem, his heavy hand on mine
in your sex. And even deeper, the grinding
in the political trough. The grinding away.


The locomotive rusting on its base with no wheels,
your father the stray stoker, you on the shovel.
Japanese tourists dribble across the overgrown track,
that links east and west and him in us for good.

Bowing with innocence they ask me to take
a photo. They line up and wait, smile
with recognition. Unresisting, I shift their existence
in albums with Pat Pong, Clifford Pier and Borobudur,

to this camp, the swelling of the Kwai. He curses.
Much time will be spent drinking tonight, longer talking.
About grandpa’s grave in Bergen op Zoom, his Christ,
the evil that spills over the edge of the font.


Five countries in your name, Jeath, to be found on no map.
I come from the last letter. You still do not know it;
no abbreviation separates marrow from callous skin, no peace
the woman in his sleepless hours from the one on my screen.

The visitors’ book flies open, pages flap
on bandages. I flatten them and write
grandpa’s name in my space. The monks nod.
They ask for material for their museum, keep on asking:

about your Mongol fold, about your father, a child
now down by the water, about our own children,
allegedly at home, and about Western love.
I laugh too, but can no longer stay the pen.

Albert Hagenaars (original text in Dutch) & John Irons (translation)
From the bilingual collection ‘Tropendrift’ / ‘Tropical Drift’, 2003.
Publisher In de Knipscheer, Haarlem, The Netherlands