There’s something about Amsterdam, don’t ask me
why, is it the quiet Saturday mornings
browsing in the Noordmarket or the canals
and the little boats and the people lazing
or cats stretched out on café windowsills
who survey you in supervisory fashion?
Or the friendly indifference of the locals,
confident as only descendants of world
traders can be, survivors of the biggest
bubble yet, one tulip bulb for two mansions
on the Keizersgracht? Maybe it’s some of this,
or just a quiet walk along a lesser
straat to peer through doors left open while owners
sit on their front steps and chat over breakfast
in the sun unbothered by the interest
of curious strangers in their high, narrow
homes that go back so much deeper than they seem.
It’s a Spanish guitar thrumming in a flat
in the Jordaan, it’s another cat that eyes
your camera from her balcony, it’s paintings
in every corner. And most of all, it’s peace
that brims in you as you step down from the train.
And on that day it happens that a busker
decked out in Highland dress pipes a strathspey,
as though they’d heard. Yes, it’s possible to yearn
for something you’ve never had and can’t define:
Irina, Masha, Olga in a pavement
café on Spuistraat order a glass of tea,
reminisce over things they barely knew.

Elizabeth McSkeane