Poem stains

Dear Charlotte,

I found your poem on a collection of Dutch and Flemish poetry. It immediately left salt stains on my hands, as I tried to translate it. I’ll leave below my English version of your poem. I hope it hasn’t lost its original salt.

Yours truly,


by Charlotte van den Broeck

My mother cries when she does the laundry.

That’s a perfect time for mothers to cry
because the rotating drum of a washing machine
generally makes a lot of noise.
I can hear her sobbing, but so softly
that this could be just ambient sound.

A washing machine licks the wounds of the day.
You can tuck in it all that does not fit into your head.
Unused sheets for example.
Or the tobacco smell in the jacket of your grandfather with throat cancer.
Long cycle, sixty degrees, cleansing ritual.

For a long time, I found unfair that I had a crying mother.

As though I had to go to school carrying a heavier bookbag
and whenever I played drop the handkerchief
I would briefly think that the hanky was for my mother.

I explained the phenomenon of the ‘crying mother’ by presuming
That there was not enough water, that therefore she stared into the washing machine
and for a long time focused her thoughts on dead kittens, for so long
until she could do the washing with her tears.

I grew up with circles of salt on my clothes.”

[Translated from Dutch by Juliana Brina]

Original version in Dutch:


Mijn moeder huilt wanneer ze wast.

Dat is een uitgelezen moment voor moeders om te huilen
omdat de ronddraaiende trommel van een wasmachine
over het algemeen veel lawaai maakt.
Ik kan haar wel horen snikken, maar slechts zo zachtjes
dat het omgevingsgeluid zou kunnen zijn.

Een wasmachine likt de wonden van de dag.
Je kan er namelijk alles instoppen, wat niet in je hoofd past.
Onbeslapen lakens bijvoorbeeld.
Of de tabaksgeur in de jas van je grootvader met keelkanker.
Lang programma, zestig graden, reinigingsritueel.

Ik heb het lang oneerlijk gevonden, dat ik een huilende moeder had.
Alsof ik naar school moest met een zwaardere boekentas
en ik bij zakdoek leggen altijd heel even dacht, dat die zakdoek voor mijn moeder was.

Het fenomeen van ‘de huilende moeder’ verklaarde ik vanuit het vermoeden
dat er niet genoeg water was, dat ze daarom in de wasmachine staarde
en heel lang en geconcentreerd aan dode poesjes dacht, zo lang
tot ze met haar tranen de was kon doen.

Ik ben opgegroeid met zoutkringen in mijn kleren.”

[Source: Charlotte van der Broeck, Kameleon: gedichten, 2015]


4 thoughts on “Poem stains

  1. So beautiful, Ju! Thanks for sharing (and translating) this, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to read it. Once I heard someone say (a very famous writer indeed) that to translate was like carrying some water with your bare hands from one place to the other. During this process, we might “lose” some drops, but we have to trust the person who is carrying it. I myself have never seen translation as something we lose; I prefer to think about the things we achieve with it. Imagine you’re taking this water for someone who is thirsty in a desert of words; or to a flower that is preparing to bloom. And especially when this water is taken from one place to the other so carefully we still can feel the salt (it’s just happened here!) we shouldn’t be talking about loss 🙂

    Keep translating, dear 🙂


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