Sometimes the mythologies of a city are true—
like when I see a blond man bob for red apples
in the street selling records side by side with a black cat
wound in a cushion, deep in dream. Josh says
he does not want to go see Anne Frank, that this kind of tourism
depresses him, the one where the demonstration of grief
is like a voyeuristic tug at suffering
that is not yours to possess. How do you eat after that,
he seems sad today. How do you stay alive.
When he was young, he visited Auschwitz and told
me not to go because it had a gift shop and that
made him angry and nobody knows how to grieve
in public, how to make public space for loss
unless you can make money off of it but really
there is something else to his anger, the child
abandoned, the residue of a young girl’s life turned
into a petting zoo—this he cannot take.
I have become like my mother where I don’t
need sleep in a new city anymore, immune to
time shifts, I just wander and buy fruit
and almonds and a good loaf
of bread and today, some fresh juice, skipping museums
though I want to go back to see Anne Frank’s
house this time, because this time,
I am a woman and last time, I was a girl
and when you are a girl, all you see is another girl
and when you are a woman, all you see is history
careening towards a girl who you cannot protect.
In my Amsterdam apartment, I find a ceramic plate
with its rim edge folded in five places where a violet petal
has been painted at its compression. In it, I pour
some olive oil and a little bit of salt and sit
on the white couch overlooking the new
neon green blooms gathering on a branch
outside the large window directly facing an apartment
of a bookish couple, the kind who forget
they have bodies and think they are better
than those who are bodily which is most everyone else
in the world but the girl in the couple is lying
and misses the small animal inside her
crying for her breakfast.
What she needs is food, not Yeats.
What she needs is your fingers.
The apartment has tulips and pink depression glass
and cacti of all heights like reptilian skyscrapers.
I am thinking of Harlem in Amsterdam.
Sometimes I go there to hide.
I go there to eat at a bistro owned by a lady
named Fay. Fay is older with light eyes and her whole
family works this place and her grandson
is behind the bar and he’s just seventeen and a soccer
player and this week got into Dartmouth and I ask
her if she thinks he’ll be happy, being a black
kid at Dartmouth, but Fey is Queen Fey
and knows better than to answer questions
about race at dinner time especially in front
of all these nice people.
In Amsterdam, the cold sunlight of April
grows the dandelions in the gutter and when
you get to 263 to see Anne Frank’s house (only
from the outside) the building is not as tall
as you remember and you wonder what the ceilings
were like for a young girl and you imagine
her face, I imagine her face and think
maybe something bad happened to Josh
when he was a kid and you see her
face in the window, her face lit up in story,
her face in love and in fear, and you are in Amsterdam
when the American president bombs Syria.
You say American president as if you are not
an American and as if he is not your president.
You promised that he would not make his way
into any poem, but here he is bombing
Syria and here is he is in your poem
and here is her face spreading all over
Europe and here is your face, Anne,
spreading all over Europe and
here is your face, your face, your face.
Copyright © 2018 by Megan Fernandes. “Amsteradm” originally appeared in the Bennington Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Megan Fernandes in the author of The Kingdom and After (Tightrope Books, 2015). She is an assistant professor of English at Lafayette College and lives in New York City.
Date Published: 2018-02-07
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/amsterdam