Young Writers, Old Works: Joost Oomen on the hat of a dead count

In the exhibition 80 Years’ War, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam looks back at the Revolt that led to the division of the Netherlands. At the request of deBuren, eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors each bring an artefact from the exhibition back to life. Over the next few weeks you can read several of their stories in translation for the first time. Today JOOST OOMEN talks about the hat that Ernst Casimir, count of Nassau-Dietz, wore when he was shot in the head while inspecting the trenches during the Siege of Roermond.

Hat with bullet hole belonging to Ernst Casimir, which he was wearing when he was killed at the siege of Roermond, 1632, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Hole in the Hat

If you blow into the hole in Ernst Casimir’s hat you hear the Funeral March very softly.

And if you blow a little harder, smoke is produced under the brown hat. The smoke flows out of the hole that Ernst Casimir stuck his head through. The smoke lifts up the hat and grows into a substantial white cloud, Dutch and recognisable as a national anthem. If you go on blowing the cloud changes colour. Starting from the inside, the white first goes grey and then black and when that black reaches the edges a small neon-blue nail forms with lightning shooting out of it. At first little bolts then larger and larger ones,  full of thunder, rain, hail, screaming of frightened children, buckets being knocked over, women’s voices calling for help, men in pain, shots, rain, men shouting orders, trenches collapsing with a great roar of mud, rain, wooden wagon wheels breaking in half with a dry snap, horses in pain, donkeys in pain, pigs being beaten, oxen in pain, lads with a bubbling hole in their throats where blood and breath are caught like washing-up suds and rain and rain and rain. A wind full of flakes of ash and sparks blows out of the cloud of smoke under this hat.

From the cloud two flared nostrils of a white horse loom up. Next, two frightened black eyes appear, surrounded by a circle of bloodshot white. Then you see the whole horse, sliding across a field soaked in blood and water, slipping into ditches, its coat black with mud and with a yellow pus-oozing hole on its arse. Its master sits on the horse and that master wears a hat. He has shiny polished boots and white breeches. His shirt is half open, is torn at the buttons and stitched with gold embroidery and ten medallions of silver and bronze hand from the breast pocket. He eats little pots of Danone non-stop. With his mouth full of soft pink fruit junket he barks orders at wet lads in the trenches below him. Behind him the towers of the town are ablaze, someone tumbles from the battlements and screams, the horse gallops and on the horse sits the master and on the master sits the hat, big as a paella pan and bright red. Peacock feathers and roses stick out of it. Music boxes and racoon tails. Live nightingales sit with their feet glued to the brim, peeping with fear. There are searchlights hanging from it, Christmas baubles, Palm Sunday garlands, pearl necklaces and wreaths of flowers. Bees, wasps, butterflies and hornets fly around this hat which has honey, whisky and menstrual blood rubbed into it.

Ernst Casimir has a smile that shines like a star. On the battlements a rifleman takes aim.

If you suck on the hole in Ernst Casimir’s hat a cloud of smoke fills your lungs. No horses gallop in them, there are no pigs, donkeys or cows in pain. There is rain. There is rain, death, vanity, war. Rain, death, vanity, war take over your lungs, occupy your ribs, fill your arms, legs, feet and fingers, till your whole body is filled with a poisonous, yellow smoke.

Joost Oomen © Marianne Hommersom

Joost Oomen (1990) is a writer and poet. He has published the poetry collections Vliegenierswonden (Airman’s Wounds, 2011) and De Stort (Dump, 2012), produced the vinyl single Joost Oomen and written the chapbook De zon  als hij valt (The Sun as it Falls, 2016). He was selected for the CELA European language development programme. Joost is a passionate performer and has appeared from Vlieland to Pisa, from churches to chicken runs.

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