They always said my Dutch grandmother had this nick name for me
but I could not remember the words since my father who understood
Dutch Netherlands Taal, but said (at the least) he could not speak it
yet said it meant little wooden head so that only almost 7 decades
later I take up Dutch so I can translate my great-grandfather’s cousin’s
autobiography of growing up in Haarlem, at the Weeshuis, city orphanage
first his mother and then his father dying when he was only 5 going on 6
almost a baby with two older sisters his book opens with him in tow
of the middle sister herself just eleven dragging him along with money
in her little sack purse pennies, cents from their oldest sister working
already in teen years so little Jacobus, Jaapje my same name in Dutch,
that little orphaned guy could buy candy for Kerstmas celebrated in early
December before my grandparents were even born much less immigrated
then my grandmother whose voice speaking Netherlands I still remember
those soft muttering tones, oh how I loved her when they tried to take me
to my twin uncle’s place so I cried and cried until they brought me back
to her and I get tears in my eyes thinking about it Kleine Houten Hoofd
in Pandemic Time of Masked Death going on and on and on and on again:
                               all masks stripped away
                               a decade of racist acting out
                               a half century of economic exploitation
                               disaster cannibal capitalism
                               neo-liberal juggernaut imperialism
                               naked skimming every revenue stream
and there I am little wooden head me back with my grandmother’s gone world
when she came over to Braddock Pa. and my great uncle got my grandfather
a job at Westinghouse, the air brake factory, and it was a brand new century
and Nini, my grandmother had Hank and Bill, the twins, just in time for what?
the Great Bucket Shop Panic and depression of 1907 I guess today they would
be called anchor babies but to me they always were mystery which was which.


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Van Looy leads the Labyrinth Creative Movement Workshop, which his Labyrinth titled poems are based on. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.