The borderless square
by Maria Barnas
A mind can't prove or step outside itself. It's like a line that goes
on being drawn to make a circle: it can't see its shape.
- Murmur (2018), Will Eaves
A lonely person that is every person
saunters across an abandoned square
bordering on every other square in the city.
Together they form a resplendent domain
in which the view from the windowsill
sinks into the trees surrounding.
Because birds shouldn’t be fed
someone throws out a whole loaf
onto the square hollow beneath my feet
an abandoned building that is flooding
with all empty buildings that I can think of
and those I shouldn’t think of. Who
can I approach to share this view
with me? People are arguing
in several languages over pétanque.
Russian curses ricochet
off Arabic profanities and roll
into a ditch. People are watching
but I don’t know the rules. Turn away
to unfold the square even further.
Fragments and circles of what was whole
can be found on the Krugerplein.
Tight circles disperse like cross-sections
of a tree trunk across metal rings
and letters: WELC around a bench a bike rack
OME a pole and sinks deeper and deeper STRAN
into the city GER. What is swelling here is an idea
a concentration of what and who are touching
such as meeting the eyes of a stranger
who is taking me along to the edges of the city.
Two girls pretend to fight
at the center of the square. They jump
and scuffle. A kick when they’re down
a stomp when they’re down. Dance
together and can’t stop laughing
when they see me swaying along in the ring.
I hear a song from the mouth
of a person who fancies himself an
elven king. He stirs a pot with his staff
so the dark turns inside-out
and lays a knot in my stomach. He sings
so I can’t forget his voice he sings
so I hear his voice when I see the stick
that is poking the unnamed pointing
out of a window. The song connects the end
that is up in the air with the origin of the fairytale
and where the bottom of the black pot
might be found is not mentioned in this history.
Where I approach the facade and where
the sticks touch one another inside and out
the unknown rejoices on the Zomerdijkstraat.
A girl with pompoms on her hat
like the ears of Mickey Mouse and tiger boots
is trying to catch the pigeons
on the neighbouring square. She hesitates
between catching and shooing
seeing that both lead to fluttering panic.
Where the square borders de Schaepmanstraat
two swings hang next to a dog.
Or could it be a sheep? A mother
with a stroller and a girl alongside her
who is struggling to keep up on her scooter
chases the birds off the roof of a car
in passing with a measured gesture. Why
are you chasing off the birds? asks the girl.
Because birds poop a lot and bird droppings
will make a sieve out of your car says the mother
while chasing off some imaginary birds around
her head. What’s a sieve? I can just make out
before they turn the corner. The birds pull
my gaze up to red lattices mounted in front
of a window. They let the air through
they let gazes through like a sieve
I’d like to say to the girl. They decide
to let inside be inside and outside
be outside. The refined regularity of the hatching
excludes nothing but shows that terms
like in front of and behind known and unknown
or strange are distances. Scopes
and determinations that we impose
on ourselves. The lines do and don’t resonate
with the mortar joints of the bricks
heighten the awareness of surrounding patterns:
the stones the windows the houses the blocks
the streets the cities and structures
in which I believe myself to be moving freely.
I walk stiffly. I attempt
to walk a perfect circle through the city
I think not at all haphazardly. To see where
I’ll end up. To see where I won’t end up.
In thought I move to the edge
of the square that is starting to lose
its corners. On the Tweede Leeghwaterstraat
I am enclosed by high buildings
and stand in the grass like in a shallow lake.
Yellow details catch my eye:
a sandpit in the shape of a shell.
A hoodie just peeking out over the edge of
the jacket of a boy cycling past.
A hatch on a slope next to the train tracks
and the door of the train shooting past
at the height of the second floor sing
a fierce song together. It announces three yellow
dice that hang off the building’s facade.
A different word on each side:
BODY CLOSE BUBBEL LONELY WARM
HAND HELP RELAX NATURE constitute
lines that will not just let themselves be written.
My reading is one of many combinations
that the falling of the dice has made.
Why is BUBBEL in between CLOSE
and LONELY? Are WARM and HAND
English or Dutch words? I don’t want to
look for patterns or regularity in the dice.
But in the mobile nature in which they are
constant I read a lonely person that is every
person and the olive branch between them.
translation: Alma Apt.