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Word of the day: trap (stairs)

There are two people called Jet in my life. Both of them friends of mine. Both of them love playing with language. Both of them talented writers. One Jet is an excellent editor and very good at translating from German into Dutch and the other Jet is an artist who writes and illustrates her own children’s books and poetry. 

The one Jet sent me a card with the text of a nativity play that she wrote and, I presume, acted in when she was still Jetje (tiny Jet). The play she wrote opens with the memorable lines: ‘De keizer maakt bekend, dat er een volkstelling gehouden zal worden. Alle mensen moeten zich laten opschrijven in de plaats waar hun voorvader geboren is!’ (The emperor proclaims that a census will be carried out. All people must have themselves written down, in the place where their forefather was born!) Note the wonderful use of ‘opschrijven’ (write down) instead of ‘inschrijven’(register). This slip of the pen is an expression of young Jetje’s awareness that something is rotting in the Roman empire.

The other Jet is the author of wonderful children’s books. We worked together when we produced a website for and by children called Draj in the first decade of the third millennium. Unfortunately this website is now extinct, because the municipality of The Hague stopped funding it. They suggested that the website and its educational activities should be a commercial venture. Perhaps we could have found commercial advertisers but this was not what we thought sensible for this young target group.

So Draj tumbled down the stairs, ‘Draj viel van de trap’.

TRAP (stairs or steps) is an old Germanic word of which the origins are unknown. The verb TRAPPEN can mean to pedal or to step, so it is thought that climbing or descending by stepping on the steps of a construction became the word TRAP.

The reason why I chose this strange and yet so familiar word TRAP is because Jet the poet visited me yesterday. We had a good chat about language, words and poems. We also talked about reviving Draj.

I remember that Jet wrote a wonderfully associative and playful poem about a TRAP. If you look at the Dutch text you’ll notice all kinds of puns. These puns are difficult, actually, impossible to translate into English. So Jet, forgive me. The translation is a mere key to open up one layer of meaning of the text.

The poem ‘grastrap’ (grass steps) is from her book of poetry ‘Vogelvluchtsprookjes‘, Jet H.H. Crielaard, Witte Uitgeverij Leiden, 2009


afgesproken op de grastrap
(want daar valt niemand hard vanaf)
herkende ik je aan je hoofd
dat draaide als een radar
op je lange nek

ook was in de omtrek
een andere dwaas te bekennen

jij betrapte mij
op een schaafwond
op mijn kin
opgelopen tijdens het laagvliegen

ik bekende dat ik had geprobeerd
onder je bereik door te scheren
maar dat de bodem hoger lag
dan ik had ingeschat

jij vond dat onbeschaafd
wilde om die reden treden eten
tot de trap weer veld en vlak was

ik spon even
en begon demonstratief te breien
van de pennen vlogen al rap
een voor- en achterpand
werden samen
een dikke huid van gras

(© Jet H.H. Crielaard, 2009)

grass steps

agreed to meet on the grass steps
(for no one there takes a hard fall)
I knew you by your head
rotating like a radar
on your long neck

besides, in the vicinity
no other fool was to be perceived

you caught me
with a graze
on my chin
sustained when flying low

I confessed that I had tried
to buzz below your reach
but that the ground was higher
than I had judged

you thought it crass
and wanted to scoff steps
until the stairs were field and flat again.

I spun awhile
and started knitting demonstratively
and from the pins swiftly flew
a front and a back
joining to
a thick skin of grass

(translation © Ruud Hisgen, 2013)