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Swimming freely

By Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

While interpreting my breaststroke as unrestrained,

my self-inflicted suffocation affords a sense of life,

the other side, the sunny destination, always in sight,

sometimes I’m a pike, other times an ornamental fish,

I realize afresh what freedom of movement, what value!

Coots paddle past me like feathered cargo vessels,

their instinct to lie low, to hide from birds of prey, from air raids,

I let them pass, contemplate their chicks for a moment, then myself;

in wartime one thinks too much of one’s self or too much of the other,

save those you love, the way the coot sends its babies into the reeds.

Sometimes I suspect that history is repeating itself, it is stupid,

its conscience is shaped by humanity, but it is oh so forgetful,

and all this described, filmed, and so many lessons learned,

why do we keep on selling war cut-price,

a weapon, a battle, foisted upon us for a trifle.

We know that power multiplies in heads suited to it,

and though we are years further, have a diary filled with wisdom,

we strike lines through words like rule, regime,

there's always someone who thinks his talk is the best,

who wants the highest grade, applause, and authority, of course.

I suspect, too, there are people who never pick up a watering can,

who don't know how a thing grows or what it needs to grow,

you don't just flatten a life, tear it from the ground or kill it,

they shun the garden of life, spit on it, see rain as the enemy,

I want to hand out watering cans, say that evil grows only in dark places.

One thing we never lose: the taste of freedom,

our great heroes who paved the way for us,

so that we know what we are fighting for, or swimming away from,

who can make us boldly proclaim: never again!

Though war is on special offer, sometimes hope costs more than battle.

Translated by Michele Hutchison