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WALLA WALLA

in an American radio studio, they discovered that, when the words walla walla
are repeated by a handful of people, it sounds like the murmuring of a crowd,
as if you’ve come into a full room

sometimes, I can follow my thoughts better in the midst of a group

I've read that thinking is actually your family; their voices
kept saying the sentences to you for so long
that you started saying them back out loud and someone pointed to your forehead
explaining that you could also say them by keeping your lips together
and imagining the words beneath the vaulted ceiling of your head

that's how the sentences settled in us

how with tree tree tree a wood appears
butter butter makes something slide Bernke Bernke
makes the contours of my body glow
and I hear a mama mama
that isn't but could well be

Walla Walla Indians duplicate the word to add tenderness
in the Netherlands, I saw a man calling caw caw at a bird
to keep it away from him, while the first colonists befuddled themselves
with walla walla so they could confuse discovery with a possession
still resounding across the prairies - Walla Walla!
the town so nice they named it twice

walla walla is the birds, dotted about in the trees, each making its own noise
but sounding like a stream, walla walla is a wave, is the sound of waves
that lulls something in people

walla walla is the nodding off to the night programme
of the washing machine or with radio voices
until they fall out of your ears

but, for me, most of all, walla walla is
that which is able to relax
when I find my body under the auditorium lights

in a city
on a chair
in a now
in a head

and I can use the surrounding conversations as a gold pan
with which, from all the mud, I can sieve out one clear thought




FROM: VELDWERK, 2020 (QUERIDO, AMSTERDAM)

TRANSLATED BY ROSALIND BUCK

FOR POETRY INTERNATIONAL 2021

Walla Walla, from: Veldwerk (Querido, 2020)

read at Poetry International, Rotterdam