Silva Ley

Translated from Dutch
by the author.



These short, but rich poems were originally published in Dutch in 1977 as Ontbolstering. Now that the book is out-of-print Silva Ley has translated the poems into English.

She wrote these poems during the thirty-five years she was a teacher. The children she taught ranged in age from 6 - 17.

May you enjoy!


I first met Silva Ley in the middle 80s when doing research for the book, Those Women Writing Haiku. Soon afterwards I started the magazine Mirrors, and Silva often sent her pages of poems with her own drawings of flowers and native plants.

When I went on to publishing Lynx, Silva stayed with me. By now she was publishing renga she did with Jacques ???.

The two of them had a very interesting method of inspiring themselves for the collaboration. They would meet and go together to a special place in the area. Sometimes it was a very old historic landmark or a new art museum or public building. There they would walk and talk and write their links.The resulting poem was a picture and a praise of the site.

Even though the poems in Opening the Pod were written before Silva became active in writing haiku and tanka, her style and manner of organizing her thoughts already shows an inate feeling for the techniques of the short Japanese forms.

In this way, one can read these poems as free verse that has evolved beyond the constraints of haiku and tanka. Her work can be seen as "the next step" others might take as their experiences with the Japanese genres morph bacj into free verse but now carrying a new and more image-filled sensibility.

Jane Reichhold
November 30, 2008



What came in you for me?

ancient story
land, drowned in longing

the vessel of Advent
woman the eternal space

the horizon breaks
a word will once reach further

what came in me for you?

We clench our fists
before we are born

the frightened mother
who inward listens
to the sweet umbilical cord

later the child will get
an axe, a flute, a rifle,
a brush, a pencil
a penny in his hand

he will clasp
and he will rise above himself.



A child asks for life.
We, as if important,
unveil words, ideas,
but it feels deceited,
wants to make a row.

It will not kick a tree,
rather put a curious
silent finger in the carves,
expecting dreams we forgot,
hearing the growth.


Word became a statue
without a story,
empty imago
you can trample down.
Where is the butterfly?

Who feels the caterpillar’s pain?
A child wants to turn the world upside,
living like Adam and Eve,
who thought things in nature
only with their hands,
raptured by the moment.


A child is a mosaic of blind stones
it needs the detour of your eyes
it heals you at a glance

In every word
it leaves a word behind
for now, for later,
for once and for all.

When it moves its little hand
it sets the world in motion
every step revealing thousand ways.



Snuggle yourself
in the grass of your four years

the waves will pass
the boats will pass
the burnt ones too

the far off sea
just your own ears
your belly, your heart

the ferryman is on his way,
he’ll take you to the sailing clouds

up to now your world
is just the opposite bank



I’m only seven
I want the chairs
in a permanent place

I want my plate
with my own name,
my old rag-doll
to sleep with

At night
I go under grass
in the cave of a bear

Outside, people are
as naked animals
but I believe their stories
word for word.



Mutual happiness:
mother a heart
a dwelling-place

Squeezing patent leather shoes.
You said you left us.
The little girl of six
jumped up to your hand
for the thrilling trip

Later, as sleeping you lay
in white sheets.
Heaven was nowhere,
a dried up holy word

Still searching I am
for this child, this notion,
to prove the God you told me about



An animal – child
crouches in the sand.
It has the hands of young lizards,
the rosy round mouth of a fish

Hardly come ashore
it stretches its legs,
it points out and counts:
tree, butterfly, water, me,

it is in balance with everything,
an ancient work of art.



Summer afternoon
walking with the child

her little hand can just span
three dandelions

the yellow meadow shining
the foal a counter-question

in the eyes of the merry
the world shows rescued



Child with the red cap
at the edge of the pond
as a tulip in the snow

wondering how to write
the whitest page
of her diary.

When she runs away
you  can read a line and a bow
signal for the question
she ‘s still not able to form



Buckler’s branches
spread out hands full of light
a child calls in the yard 
a young dog barks

rustles in the treetops
as ancestral conversation

the water in the brook
walks slowly along
taking with it wrinkles
of unheard dreams

a woman appears in the doorway
as brass in a dark church
she calls the child
but without any sound.


Erica holds a turtle dove,
feels a small warmth in her hand.
She estimates the garden,
the distance between the two lime trees.

Last night she opened the cage,
let the two birds slip
from their former view,
to ripen to freedom.

The couple will stay around the house,
half slave, half free,
fixed between wood and town
as Erica herself, but greyer.

Next year the same other pigeons
will return to the feeding place,
bird and child their own histories
their own fences.



Found near to the croquette stall
a suitcase and a dog
with a weeping toddler.
Appendages of a journey
because unlabeled
the child seems more lost.

The loudspeakers bleat,
people run along,
a doggy waters against
the lemonade – machine
in which one lonely orange
magically is floating

and all the trains are going
to grown- ups – land.




It’s said: we are open builders
a bit nostalgia in the design,

I see houses as sculls of concrete,
the light introvert

(here a waving hand
a bulging belly,
there upset eyes
a foot in the air)

in between these threatening giants
we place a child on the pavement,
playing with revolver toys.




Where is the child
on her way to the music festival,
marching behind the drums?

She passed a blind beggar
on the pavement and asked
‘May I play your reed-pipe?’
He nodded, she closed her eyes
to know how it was to see nothing

At that moment she was aware
of a sort of happy pain
Where is the child that could bind
these contrasts together?



Between two houses
on a lawn it ‘s grazing
as if it walked for centuries
to stand there on the last
green place of the world

It nods with dry mane
to a passing child

to the electric fence
and the child behind it

to the prairie of stone
and the child in the middle of it.




Some red spots were left
from blood and flower
In the grey morning
she was carried away
wearing the green dress
she liked most of all

Newspapers repeated
questions of guild, a week long,
her place at the dinner table
got the size: infinite.


A child is watching you
in the street.
He suddenly asks:
"Are you going to live here?"

He walks away as innocent
as he yesterday kicked his football
through the neighbour’s window.
The weight of the brand new key
seems to change in your hand
Will there soon be  people
into which it will fit in the future?



Coming out of the wood
in the open, the little boy inquires:
Was God run out of trees?

In his curious hand
a tiny snout-beetle
follows the lines of fortune

Is heaven in the country?
Are there bedrooms?
And a nursery as in town?

‘I guess it is a very green place
with more trees than houses’
My answer is poor.
How long I forgot every question
about heaven?



Girl – in – black – white

asking at the threshold of her being:
Are you as I am?

A bird – fish lies in her arms
its back stretches out as an ear of corn
she carries water
her eyes are fire.



I’m walking
through my cellophane skin
to enter dreamy subjects:

pussycats, flowers,
willing clouds
the water-voice

I stretch out in them
lengthened, refined

I don’t like to know so much
and very vaguely about ‘him’

the world is my protein
but I am fear to grow.



I think of you as my brother
my tower
carry me
high above the ground

if we should fall:
just circumstances by sun

seeing you as my family
I can believe you

as ivy I climb in you
my strong wall

let us laugh together
to avoid the bodily riddles.



The edge
remains around the mirror
around everything I do
around the days

I fit in this dry land
yet I feel naked
a cell without water
how to grow at full length?

Things I touch
are hiding a promise,
difficulty and mystery
my skin calls it up

So I escape the mirror
break out of the words
of the bosom-water dream

then I create a dry beach
for new eyes
but the frame, who fills it?


GROWING UP 4       

I imagine
to make your arms long
and full of mercy
as rivery signals
to my dried up land

I am an ear shell
behind your voice,
with photo-sensitive soles
I walk behind you

When I imagine this
- how hidden away –
I hang as a bat in your armpit
because of our short summer.



Today I hear sharp
how the mountains are settled
I play slowly
the lute of my feet

I hear carillons
in far away towns
I hear the leaves fall,
the aftermath of a storm,
for the toughest animals either

My ear is grazing,
I listen tensely to the earth
while wandering around.
I feel myself a pollen
without a bee, just waiting.



We want to stand
in the middle of the world,

in space

to be a sculpture of intention
simple, with clear roots

the house says: I isolate
the tree says: I carry
the sky: I’m borderless
the street: I pass on

as a human being
I am tree and sky
and street and house

always flying from the measured word,
thrown back into my untranslatable body.



Children interweave my days
Sometimes I must give a tight warp
to their restless deft
I may not forget my humour.
Then I try to remember
how a bee lands on a rose
how little the flower is stirred
without any damage
My words will not be worse I hope


What did you learn today my child?

A new word: ‘interesting’?
What is an automatic pilot?
Is penalty the same as penance?
Or raise 3085 to a square?

To morrow
your teacher will rhyme better:

play ground compare with society
God loosen from command
bird disconnect of bullet 
heart and brains wish as one.



Processions of flowers
pass the language,
meadows of many wanderings
push the words aside,
speak in waybread and timoty-grass
it ‘s nearer to us
then everything we must learn

or learn to unlearn it.
Who teaches us the new names
when the years will do
what they have to do:
repeat themselves?

Who makes that we see
the world again as rare?

We are still familiar
with own home and garden,
used to compare
every distance with them,
we ‘ll recognise all the trees forever
from the one in front of
the window of our youth.

For now disguise us
the bare truth, use
the language of sunflowers
of wood-warblers, saying:
you are created for love



We bite our lips
pens and nails
we search in our paganinic heads
for sounds to rhyme
on the stupid questions.

Wild music sparkles in our eyes
our legs are aerial roots to hover on
woods of  inconvenience we are.

Give us more poetry
to huddle around
to raise our lonely hearts
we ‘ll stretch out pleasantly
and rest together in ourselves



Child, put those words
straight on the parking place
near to the pole with an A

watch the keeper
of one metre ninety
his square eyes
his heart metronome

here a word
will be blocked as a word
you should know.



In autumn we envy
the privileged trees

stripped from leaves
the branches keep the tension
of pure dark snares,
the wood a bright harpsichord

winter repents
to strong concentration

only a passing child
will hear the deep hum
of  the hidden sap-streams



Don’t teach me too much,
you pour honey into flowers
I want to be kindly satisfied
but let me be visited
by bees of doubt

Won’t my truth die with me?
Between heart and mind (intelligence)
truth will be lost.
It will grow
between soul and soul
heaven and earth
breathing through the days

Come truth of ear and eye
of  nose and mouth
of head and skin
of whole myself
where I find my protolanguage.
Tomorrow we ‘ll be different
in the same clothes.



Love is magic.

The eyes of my heels
the fingers of my hair
the unwise contradictions.

You take the chaos
of one daytrip
I’m healed and sing

Often my toys are lost
ruined, come undone
wasted away,

but again and again
you will save me.



The wind says: go somewhere 
get rid of the wing-seed
it will find its roots
it hasn’t any wish

The father says: go somewhere
he gets rid of his child
but it’s leaving already
with focused eyes.

It asked for a kit bag
a Beadeker Travelguide, a Purpose
but it doesn’t want to know
where it will settle one day.



To know it will appear,
not yet named paradise,

between the land we have to loose
and the land we cannot conquer
an isle of hope
not wider than two hands

lift up your child, high up
give it the chance to look around
worldwide and straight into people’s eyes,
teach it to understand Judas and Jesus
to recognise them in himself
then make his choice

tell the Holy Stories of mankind
but show their same purpose
and mystical start

In origin it will be man and woman,
you and me, the neighbours
the opposite neighbours
the far away neighbours
Love is always the direction
from which it will come .


Silent flowers support the dialogue

What changed since you left?
Every child takes saps from the womb
every eye a verve of home landscape
every swimmer silver skins of water

Yet the interrupted wave will not diminish
the sea remains equal
the land remains itself.
Mankind combines angel and dinosaur
every movement is re-membering

exchange flowers to be silent
to be fluent to the other
allow life to grow to its dream



Listen with the ears of your hands:
children’s hair sings a high A,
touch with the eyes of Tau butterflies
their skin that feels as feathers.

Follow them in the wavering greens
of their chamber-corner’s certainty,
carry the questions on their frail feet
to the space of happiness





All poems in Opening the Pods  are Copyright Silva Ley 2008.
Online Version  Copyright AHA Books 2008.

Read another of AHA Books Online.