John Bloomberg-Rissman


Totally Entirely Quite Completely Not At All

The alarm: 6:10 a.m.

The last few minutes
Of a Bach double concerto

Then a smooth low masculine voice

“The oboe and the violin …

“Intimate conversation …

“One bites one’s nails …”

Sometimes words deserve
Their bad reputation

His are screens

On the doors of perception


“Whereof one cannot speak
“One must remain silent”

(Emphasis mine)

The muses of translation say
No work today

It’s Sunday

The rain has stopped

The masses will be clad
In all their raging glory

Get ye gone, lad

(Give me a moment
To throw on some clothes)

To Hartpark with ye!

Being outside
Takes the top off the box
Allows Adelshoevians
To get a little bit crazy

Take the topiary
At the Knuffelberg Gate

A thirty foot high Queen of the Night

(Mozart borrowed her “Der Hölle Rache”
From a local folk melody)

Take the Luttelmeer Figurines

Ninety-nine foolish faces
Carved from petrified wood
Along the lakeside promenade

Ninety-nine nineteenth-century cats
That ate the canary

An entire Nadorpian Parliament
On parade

At the south end of the Luttelmeer
Just past “Poet’s Hill”
Is the rose garden
With its thousand different blossoms

Today the Thérèse Bugnets are blooming

The Thérèse Bugnet

My wife’s favorite variety

(Brief pedantic digression

Here’s something Georges Bugnet
The creator of this rose
That bears remembering

"In these times of horribly devastating wars it is a comfort to be able to work with the beneficent creative Power that some call Nature and some call God meaning after all the same thing. The same unfathomable Entity.")

Or take the microwave tower
Disguised as a tree

I call it “the lone sequoia”

It stands on the artificial island
In the middle of the lake

Take the two tiny hairless children
Wearing mouse ear headbands
Toddling past
Tied to their father by a leash

Take the tilt-up concrete slab
By the Afgelopen entrance
With the four squares cut out of it
Each square surrounded by a frame

The Painting Wall

“Look! With all your eyes! Look!”

So reads the little brass plaque
Quoting Verne
Or Verne-as-quoted-by-Perec

A young couple lying on the grass
Snuggles like spoons
Oblivious to the rest of us

“It’s primal in the park”

Their love’s the force
That greens the trees
That strews the path
With piles of crunchy fire
That covers those piles
In turn with snow
Til winter lifts
And trees regreen …

It’s the Prime Mover

“The beneficent creative Power that some call Nature and some call God”

Behind the rose garden

The Buis-Hobby Museum

Two new exhibits are on

Fluxus Redux

The Nature Of Nature

I visit the Fluxus show first

Adults look puzzled

Walls echo
With the glee of children

The first room holds the bed
From the famous Montreal Bed-In

A sign taped to the blanket says




It’s not really Fluxus
But it’s sadly relevant once again

(Not that “the war” ever really ended)

In the second’s a performance
Of Alison Knowles’ “Fist-Grip”

A black curtain seals the third

I approach
And peer around it

Suddenly a big young man
Shoves me in the back

I stumble blind into the dark

As my eyes adjust
I notice a small lit square
About two by two inches
On the floor in the far corner

Bending close I read

“Totally Entirely Quite Completely Not At All”

In the fourth room
A class of schoolchildren
Performs Ben Vautier’s “Faces”
(“Performers grimace at the audience, making faces and vulgar gestures until the audience expresses protest”)
For their less-than-amused parents

And underneath it all
The nails-on-blackboard
Low white near-subliminal sound
Of someone skating on thin metal

“Quite a workout for the head”
Says one bemused matron

The Nature Of Nature is different

Soothing music of raindrops

Videos in which they star
As slow-motion dancers

I am not moved

On the way out

A surprise exhibit

A little show
By the young American photographer
I met in Stad Geest

Half a dozen photographs
In which form and content
Sing the same tune

“A Printmaker’s Hands”
Covered in ink

“When The Levee Breaks”
Taken in the middle of a storm

“Red Door and Passersby”
(The marriage of Barnett Newman
And Gerhard Richter)

“Phoenix Fields”
Shot from a plane

A surfer at Mavericks
Watching unbelievable waves
From the safety of the shore

A frightening photo of a dancer’s feet

He nailed it
As they say
Of a gymnast’s landing

I’ll have to write him

As I exit the Knuffelberg Gate

Another surprise

Someone I know

Lexia Merline-Lou!

Page is enrolled
At North Sea University

(Can eight years have passed so quickly?)

Smiles and hugs

A dinner invitation

Haze to the west
Adds a hundred colors
To the sunset
But the sky’s not as wild
As the flyer I’m handed
Crossing the Samuelsplein
On my way to the restaurant
Announcing a performance
By The Antinucleons

At the flyer’s foot
I make out these words

“We wanted to stay human!

“Totally Entirely Quite Completely Not At All”

I fold the flyer
And put it in my pocket
(Their work could be interesting)

It’s a Japanese restaurant

Its name translates as
“Winter – Falling Snow”

Inside the door’s
A photograph
A little shack in a January forest

Beneath it in calligraphy
A poem by Ryokan
Treats the same subject

“No one knocks at this hermit’s hut
“He clears his mind of shadows
“Big moon rising in their place
“How good to see you”

A fish tank separates the entry
From the dining room

One pink fish is dead

No sign of the Merline-Lous

I name them to the maitre d’
Who murmurs their regrets

“They’ve been called to the palace”

“A cultural emergency,” I joke

My drink is on the house

The Antinucleons go on at midnight
At The Column With A Palm-Leaf Capital

Act One: a local band

“Skull In A Handcart”

Their singer is tongueless

“Dada lives!”
Screams a kid next to me

The opening lines of “Le Bateau Ivre”
Are tattooed on his arm

The Antinucleons

Three young women in false beards
Who spend two hours plucking every hair

Their only words are spoken
As the lights go out:

“Do you love me now?”

Early the next morning
Just before dawn
I fall into a dream

A beautiful woman says, “Discourse
“Is not what I need”

There’s nothing sexual about it

We’re somewhere familiar
Almost but not quite
Lula Cay in the Tropides
Walking down a street
Carrying string bags of vegetables
Home from Central Market

She says, “You are looking
“For a dream-motif
“And you don’t even know it”

Someone outside the dream
Calls my name

I jerk awake


Around 11:00 the mail arrives

Two letters

One is from the Merline-Lous
Explaining last night’s misadventure

I call their hotel

Lexia says
“We’ll rendezvous this evening
“I promise”

The other letter’s from Borul
Suggesting emendations
To my version of his Memoirs
Which are harder than hell to “English”

I don’t want my words to be screens

I want you to see right through them


Grenadine Szorora: Some Poems


She leads me into her kitchen
Seats me at the table
Puts water on to boil

The table is bare
Except for an egg

One lone egg

Brancusi’s Beginning of the World

Steam squirts from the kettle
In advance of the whistle

Clouds in the kitchen

Clouds in the sky

Sky seen through a dirty square of window

When tea is poured and served
She hands me several pages of blue-lined paper
The kind kids use in school

“My daughter wrote these
“Before they took her”

She scares me

Her voice is almost a thing

“I was born on a warm day”

I was born on a warm day
In the 20th century

I crawled under a table
To escape the bomb

Later I learned they spoke
Machine language

A continuous lament
One zero one zero one zero one

My century discovered
The musical uses of soap

I mean
Medical uses of soup

I mean Man Ray “made dada
“When he was a baby

“And his mother
“Roundly spanked him for it”

The new book
On animal philosophy

Have you seen it?
I am waiting to use the first word

“Why is there something”

“Why is there something
“Rather than nothing?” he asks

A philosopher’s question

I decide to play along

“But isn’t something mostly nothing?”

“I’ll be Dr Johnson,” he laughs
Then raps the table

“Does that sound like ‘mostly nothing’?”

It sounds like a drum

I catch the waiter’s eye

“Due cappucini, per favore”

“Now that sounds
“Like a line from a song”

“You’ve heard my entire repertoire,” I say

My cell phone rings

I raise one finger

“Hold that thought”

“You ask about love”

You ask about love

I open my umbrella
When it rains

You ask about fear

I close my umbrella
When there’s sun

You ask if I have a theory
About these things

I’m recovering
From third degree burns

Here is my house
You say

Here is my house

Here is my window

Here is all my dirty linen

That is your bed
I say

And the verdict?

And the sentence?

“There are six holes”

There are six holes
In this sentence

There are six holes
In this question

There are six holes
In this poem

This neck holds up
This head

This hip has a twin

This house smells of death
Said the grandmother-woman

This table is empty
Said the grandfather-man

This sentence is all commas and periods
Said the girl-child

It makes no sound

“Shadows change shape”

Shadows change shape

That’s how she tells time

When shadows change shape
They make no sound

Is she the only one listening?

This house is all commas and periods

There are six holes
In this house

Why won’t the shadow
Sing a song?

Why won’t the liar?

Why won’t the house?

“There’s a circular stain on the table”

There’s a circular stain on the table
Where a pot with a dead plant sat

I finally threw the pot out

Now I sit and admire the stain

It’s my work of art

There are scissors on the table

I’ve had them for years

The black paint on the handle’s
Half worn off

Now I sit and admire the pattern
The black paint makes

It’s my work of art

My broken watch is on the table, too

Another work of art

I call this assemblage The Civil War

I hire roaches to stand guard

[Note: I was asked to translate these poems as part of the international human rights campaign to free Grenadine Szorora. They appear in the order in which I was handed them]