‘Oh, do you hear the foghorns in the harbour? There’ll be fog tonight on the Zuider Zee.’ Albert Camus. ‘The Fall’

We came to Amsterdam at 3 O Clock in the morning

Paris had been unkind to us, winter eating into our bones

But in Vondel Park it was Easter and there were crocuses in the grass

We slept beneath a sycamore, warmed by the last dregs of whisky

And then we went to Warmoestraat to breakfast on jenever and fried eggs

I remember Harry’s crown of barbed wire.

I remember him rubbing lemons in his track marks.

I remember his bones, poking through grey, transparent skin.

I remember him asleep, arms wrapped around his old mongrel.

Magdalena sat in the gutter, cradling peeled potatoes in her skirts

Her teeth were stained with chewing tobacco, breasts flecked with spit

She’d sing Blow the Winds Southerly, sweet as a lark

Gave me the night porter’s job and a knife to fight off drunkards

And told me she’d kill me if I fucked the Swiss chambermaid

I remember Bill the Wolf stroking Harry’s wild hair.

I remember Bill telling us stories of Auschwitz.

I remember him weeping and yearning for Harry.

I remember him cursing and howling at daybreak with pain.

We stole bicycles off Damrak Bridge, sawing the locks off

And we cycled to Zandvoort to swim in the freezing sea

People applauding in awe as the space shuttle flew over

Breaking the sky in two, causing birds to fall to their deaths

Rolling in the surf where we swam in an ocean of skylarks

I remember Jean Ducochet stealing our savings.

I remember him buying us meat with the money he stole.

I remember Harry threatening to kill Jean in his sleep.

I remember the night of the knives and tears of remorse.

At 4 O Clock on the night shift the cockroaches ran for cover

The drug dealers of Zeedijk had come in from the fog

Hell’s denizens sitting on bar stools demanding Tequila

Helping themselves to beer and the contents of the till

Then crawling off, into the red light district, laughing in the dawn

I remember telling you Magdalena had fired me.

I remember Harry not breathing and Bill the Wolf’s tears.

I remember Jean Ducochet holding you in his arms.

I remember that squat on Zeedijk every May 23rd.

We sat in the bar at Warmoestraat 91 drinking juniper

You had your ticket to Tangier and I had hypothermia

It looked like it was over – the squat close down, Ducochet in prison

Bill the Wolf howling mad and Harry in his grave.

‘Camus drank here,’ I said. ‘That’s why I came to Amsterdam.’

I remember watching you walk away down the cobbles.

I remember sitting there watching my cigarette smoke

I remember the barkeeper filling my glass with gin

I remember Magdalena’s laughter echoing through Hell.

For three days I sat in the holding cell at the Aliens Office

The deportation stamp in my passport like a badge of honour

Drug dealers, addicts, bums, huddled on bunk beds

Going home to England at the dog end of their dreams

All of them remembering, me remembering; I’ll remember you forever.

English: Albert Camus in 1957

English: Albert Camus in 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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