I was hoping to make this into a podcast, inspired by Stephanie’s dialect poetry, but it’s not working out. So instead, you get the same poem twice in print: once in Dutch and once in English. It was actually an interesting exercise, because you don’t just ‘translate’ a poem. Really, you write it all over again. So if you are bilingual, read both versions – perhaps you have a favourite?

For my first ever niece

Lieve Emilie,

Jij noemt hem papa
– of eigenlijk noem je niet,
je kijkt en denkt
hij is een warme
vorm vol veiligheid –
papa, dus, voor jou.

Voor mij: broertje.
Altijd vijftien in mijn hoofd
lang haar en fijn gezicht
en t-shirts uit de Large
een cello, even groot als hij,
een stille denker
dichter, zanger
en acteur.

Nu is hij jouw papa
en jij zijn allerliefste Emilie.

Zijn haar is kort
en hij draagt pakken
rijdt een auto van de zaak
en elk moment zingt hij van binnen
omdat jij in zijn leven bent.

Jij kijkt en denkt
Jij groeit en leert:
Die handen, dat gezicht
De ogen die maar kijken
lachend, vol met liefde,
papa heet hij
papa nu.

Ik blijf het zeggen
want het lijkt zo vreemd
hoe één klein mensje
zoon en broer en man
voor altijd zo veranderen kan

maar ja

jij kent hem toch niet anders
dan die man die
alles voor jou over heeft
altijd in je blijft geloven
een veilige haven
een rots in de branding
je vaste anker
je trouwe vriend
altijd blijft hij van je houden:


je papa.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Dear Emilie

You call him Daddy
– though really you don’t

say anything at all
you watch and think
he is a warm
safe shape –
so: Daddy, he is to you.

To me: brother
always fifteen in my mind
long hair, fine features,
black t-shirts with band names
swamp his frame
like the cello that he plays.
A quiet thinker
a mathematician
an actor, a singer
a crafter of words.

Now he is your Daddy
and you his dearest little Emilie.

His hair is short
and he wears suits now
jet-sets, analyses and consults
and every heartbeat is a song now
because you have come into the world.

You watch and think
You grow and learn
Those hands, that face
The eyes that gaze
laughing, full of love:
the word is Daddy
Daddy, now.

I keep repeating and repeating
because it strikes me as so strange
that such a tiny little person
can change who someone is, for ever:
son, brother, husband, man –

But then

you have only ever known him 
as the man who would do
for you
who will always keep believing
your safe haven
your protector
your rock
your friend
his love is for ever

He is: Daddy.

Your Daddy.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013



Who are you?

This morning at a parenting group I attend, the visiting speaker told us about an exercise she had learned during her counselling training. The counsellor sits opposite you and asks: “Who are you?” Whatever answer you give, she will ask you the same question again. And again. And again. Until you run out of answers.

I am one of the Hermione Grangers of the world. If someone did that to me, I would be looking for the right answer. The textbook answer. Trying to ‘guess what’s in the teacher’s head’. If they kept asking, I would get more and more frustrated, annoyed. Why had I still not got an A*? The trick is, of course, that all the answers are the right one, all of them reflecting how you see yourself.

When we were asked the question: “Who are you?” and given time to count how many answers we would give, instead I found myself writing a poem.


Who are you?

I am the sum of everything said
everything asked
everything thought of me
in a single day

I have shaped and curled
to fit and suit
to please and amuse
in every way

I am who you say I am
Who I wish I was
Who my mother thought
I ought to be
Who am I meant to be?
Which of these thoughts are mine?
What is there left of me
since I met all of you
out there in the world
and thought how nice it would be
if you never thought ill of me.

What lies inside this shell
down the tunnels
twists and turns
when I unlearn
all these faces
the voices that say
‘I distance myself,
I can still deny,
prevaricate or lie
if need be.’

Who is sitting round that final bend?

What she breaks
I cannot mend
What she speaks
turns to stone
She is a stranger
in my home
where she sits
all alone,

Who am I?
I cannot tell
cannot see inside this shell
I don’t know me very well

But you do
don’t you
the one who made
every hair and every nail.
Can we trade?
This maze of riddles is for you,
the need to please,
every time I fail,
the guilt that won’t fade
that impenetrable veil.

Then if you could sit inside that place
give the real me your fine face
clothe her in your glorious grace

And when they ask me “Who are you?”
Can I refer them on to you
and can your answer be mine too?

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013