Flotsam.

Dsc02480by Michelle Seyner15 Mar 2020

Even at 87 my grandfather was impressive,
a white king in his hospital-bed,

dismissing me with a wave of his hand -
and never once in those 10 weeks before

he died, did he look at me directly, or thank
me when I fluffed his pillows,

or brought him food, or drinks, or blankets,
closed or opened the window at his whim.

I was not his granddaughter, but a servant
to easily summon and dismiss.

I did not know him and he never cared
to get to know me. And it was not hard

to imagine him as the inspector of police
he used to be in Indonesia,

it was not hard imagining his footprints
on Java and Sumatra and his colonial

legacy of being part of both "police actions" ...
Even at 87 my grandfather was impressive,

a white king in his hospital-bed,
my father's room his domain,

and during the day, his undisputed reign.
But at night - at night the nightmares

came for him, chewed him up, swallowed
him, spat him back out

while he screamed in Japanese or Indonesian
until he burst into tears, and cried

for the wife who only visited him
twice, because she never met a

bottle she didn't like since she set
foot on Dutch soil, and she was

too busy drowning her own remnants
to even bother with him -

and his nightmares taught my 17-year old self
that he lived through the war

but the war survived him, and the
Japanese camp was inescapable

and since those days, and to thís day
my mind recoils from the answer

to the question: whát on this earth
could make a man like HIM

- unyielding, unbending, authoritarian,
almost invulnerable, emotionally, mentally -

scream like all hells were set loose on him
and refused to obey his commands?

Even at 87, my grandfather was impressive -
he had ruled his children with an iron fist

but it was hard to see my father in his face.
My grandfather never became more to me

than the white king in the hospital-bed
I helped care for

and only the nightmares screamed
what he never talked about

and his kingship was illegitimate,
like the colony he was part of,

and the throne of his hospital-bed,
in the end, became the only flotsam

in the sea of everything and everyone
he ever lost, and refused to get to know

and the court of his royal majesty
became limited to my mother (his nurse),

his granddaughter-servant (me), my cousin
and only three of his nine children

with my father guest-appearing
only when his bed needed new sheets.

In the ten weeks he was with us
he never asked me a personal question.

He only spoke to me in short commands.
I admit I never liked him.

He lived through the war
but the war survived him

and he never got over
being dethroned.

25 February 2020.
Michelle Seyner.