High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Flora Kenza Nacer: Whale Tears
© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum
© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum © Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum

Flora Kenza Nacer: Whale Tears

Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors have taken inspiration from seventeenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum. Looking at these objects, what eureka moments do they see? The woollen caps worn by Dutch whalers in the period 1740 – 1760 inspired Flora Kenza Nacer to write a poetic dialogue. Her belly has grown heavy. Huge. I feel the salt seep into my navel’

Whale Tears


Yes, darling.

Since we moved here, he’s grown quieter, he seems less keen to go out, just stares out of the window, at the sea. Sometimes I hold his hand, sometimes, he pulls it away.

From my regular place at the table, I can see the waves of the sea. They’re falling, as it were, I can’t hear them through the soundproof windows. But I do see the rising and falling. Black turns white, white turns black.

May I go out for a walk tonight?

You know I don’t want you to.

May I?

Take Seppie with you. And your phone.

When the door slams shut behind me, I feel the weight slide off my shoulders. Seppie runs ahead. He bounds, smelling the sea. In the distance I hear a waltz. I hum along before I get there.

When he’s gone and the moon shines bright nightmares crowd in on me. Ships that corner me, the silent suffocation, the harpoons. I pull the blanket up all the way over my face. Men mounting my body and tugging me to the coast where they flense my smooth skin with nasty little knives. I hear a waltz from my childhood. They keep flensing and yelling at one another, anything to acquire my oil. I can’t see their eyes, they’re hiding behind their woollen caps. I hear barking, Seppie is standing by my bed.

Black turns white and white turns black. Rising and falling. My feet sink in the sand, my shoes skid. The moon shines bright. My mother calls.

I stroke Seppie’s ears, he keeps barking, pulls the blanket off me. The sand steals my shoes, I run without looking back at the sea, the open sea. I can’t see him anywhere, the wind bites, I swallow the bitter salt.

A star falls from the sky, in between my toes a small plant grows, the sea comes up to my ankle, tickles. My mother calls again, I hear her voice. I look up and she’s beside me. She sinks into the sand, places her head on my belly. I take a deep breath, she takes a deeper one. Her belly has grown heavy. Huge. I feel the salt seep into my navel. My skin is porous. Her hair. I pull my fingers through her wet hair, trying to strike some chords. The waves rock us gently. Seppie is now far out at sea.

Caps, knitted caps everywhere. They’re sticking to my wet body, suffocating my view. I pull my mother close, her skin has grown smoother, bristles are coming out of her mouth. Her eyes are small black beads, her arms large fins that… I decide to bury myself in her warm belly.

I look, but he is nowhere to be seen. I run into the sea, swim and search. Sing a song he will recognise, open my mouth, sift the sea. Blow and howl. The unending water comes gushing from my throat.

Seppie keeps barking.

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