The Pain of Foreign Occupation

The land lay naked under hobnailed boots
Of German occupiers in The Hague.
The Blitzkrieg had commenced with parachutes
And covered sedate Holland like a plague.

That’s how the war began, there in the west;
First Rotterdam was savagely destroyed,
A terrible example for the rest
If quick surrender was not now employed.

The queen, expatriated to Great Britain,
Thus did not have a real choice anymore
And so the bitter truce was quickly written,
But even then, the men breathed “nevermore!”


A little boy was playing with his trike,
Safe on his sidewalk, riding up and down
When ‘cross the street a soldier of the Reich
Emerged, sat down nearby and showed a frown.

He called the boy, who stared at him: “come here,
Come, little man and sit with me a spell.”
He took him up and, “what’s your name, my dear?”
“My name’s Jerome, and I can spell it well.”

“You’re clever; what a pretty name, ‘Jerome’;
I have a little boy at home like you.
His name is Klaus.” “But where then is your home?”
“In Hamburg, son, you’d love our Hamburg stew!”

“But why then are you here?” The soldier stalled…
“Well, I’m a soldier and I have to do
That which my gen’ral ordered when he called.”
“What did he order when he called for you?”

“Uh, well… He told me to come here, with gift…
say ‘hey’ to you, be nice and never frown…”
“That was real nice of him!” The soldier sniffed
And looked red-faced, a little like a clown.

“Well, I must go now, I enjoyed our talk;
Perhaps we’ll meet again another day.”
He gently put the boy down on the walk;
Not looking back, he dragged the chair away.

Jerome saw him go back inside, then turned
And crossed the street to go and find his mom
Who would, he thought, by now be well concerned.
He found her teary-eyed, but strangely calm.

She’d seen the whole event but didn’t act:
She understood the German’s deference
And counted on her son’s instinctive tact,
Which was much to her thoughtful preference.

So when Jerome was well tucked in his bed
He thought again, “Why did he really come?”
“He didn’t come to be with me instead
Of going to his own son’s cozy home?”

Then sleepily he mused, “I wish he’d brought
His son along so I could play with him,”
But then he did succumb with that one thought.
And all the thoughts of men with guns turned dim.

June 23, 2019

Auf Wiedersehn

Leb’ wohl, my dearest friend of long ago,
I still regard you as the shaveling
As fair to see as I shall ever know,
(Think back), when we were then both traveling.

But now, with strength of limbs unraveling,
So we will no more meet on this abode,
We’ll make an end to further caviling
About who comes, who goes, that sort of mode.

We can convene again at heaven’s bode
Having regained our former glow above,
With joyful heart we’ll delve at heaven’s lode
Of endless, full-requited, flawless love.

I’ll wait for you, my kind and kindred soul,
Till then; make haste, my dearest friend, leb’ wohl!

March 2, 2018

Auf wiedersehn: German for “till we meet again”
Leb’ wohl: German for “farewell”

Leo Zoutewelle was born in 1935 in The Netherlands and was raised there until at age twenty he emigrated to the United States. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Davidson College, in North Carolina, and a Masters in Business Administration from the Darden School in the University of Virginia. In 1977, he went into business for himself in the field of land surveying, which he maintained until 2012, when he retired. Since then, he has written an autobiography and two novels (unpublished).

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16 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    A wonderful snippet of autobiography about one five-year-old boy’s experience of the occupation during the Second World War, and the dilemma that must have been faced by so many German soldiers obedient to a cause they did not espouse. And the second poem (or the second part of one), a moving chance re-encounter. Well written and such a convincing story I feel sure that it is true.

    • Leo Zoutewelle

      Peter, I apologize for not properly using this reply system before. You are right: this was a “snippet” of my biography from which I made a poem. I remember the incident as the day of yesterday. The second poem was independent from the first. Thank you again for your encouragement!

  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Leo –

    The poems are evocative of your moments and your thoughts.

    Odd, I was thinking of my friend and editor Leo Yankevich, and then I thought of you, and remarked to myself that you, just as the other Leo did, have a certain manner about you that bespeaks of a wider experience than most. This is a manner which demands respect. I suppose it is inevitable that some learn from their experiences and some do not. But you seem to have, and so perhaps I have found a new Leo!
    Thank you.

    • Leo Zoutewelle

      I don’t know about a new Leo, but I’ll try hard to live up to your kind suggestion. I apologize for my clumsy misuse of the reply system up to now, but now I will do better. Thank you again for your dear comments! they mean much to me.

  3. Sir Bac de Leeuw

    Several things make Mr. Zoutewelle’s poem of the boy with the trike a rarety. First off this is not a common experience portrayed in New Millennial poetry. The tone is quiet, the language understated. Though not unusual @ SCP, it is in iambic pentameter. The alternating rhymes remind me of Gray’s “Elegy”, which, though it is not as polished, has that same feel of tranquil earnestness. Having recently written some poems on the Battle of Arnhem, here on its 75th anniversary this week, I particularly liked the poignancy of the trike episode, as an antidote to my rather more abstract and rugged pieces. Though perhaps lost in the great scheme of things, Mr. Zoutewelle has made English poetry a little richer for his anecdote.

    • Leo Zoutewelle

      Many humble apologies, Sir Bac, for my lack of form. I just now seem to have figured out how this comments system works.. Thank you again for your reply.

      • Leo Zoutewelle

        Sir Bac, I almost forgot: I would love to get a trace to your Arnhem poems, if that is possible. Thank you again.

  4. Leo J. Zoutewelle

    Dear Peter and Sally, Thank you so much for your comments. I much appreciate your thoughts and interest.

    Mr. de Leeuw, Thank you for your response! I take it you live near Arnhem. I went to school there and lived in Rheden.
    Thank you!

  5. David Watt

    Leo, what I particularly like about your poem of historical circumstance is that it highlights intrinsic human qualities in the face of tyranny. Both poems are well written, and indicate a thoughtfulness of composition.

    • Leo Zoutewelle

      Thank you, David, your comments are the kind of encouragement that I need and love! Thank you.

  6. James Sale

    Lovely, wistful narrative poems that recreate a world (and a horror too) from long ago; important memories. Well done. Lovely writing and I like the forms too. To be compared to Gray’s Elegy is a great thing – they too have that wistful quality. But don’t be fooled by that old fox, Sir Bac, I am certain he lives in Washington DC!!! They seek him here, they seek him there …

    • Leo Zoutewelle

      They seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in Washington…
      James, thank you for your reply; that means so much to me. I carefully follow your work (essays!) which I value greatly. Thank you so much,,

  7. Cees Wilerd Bui

    I assure Mr. Zoutewelle that, although Sir Bac de Leeuw has been to the Netherlands, he have never been to Arnhem. Here are some poems by War di Belecuse.

    World War II British Soldiers at Arnhem
    by War di Belecuse
    “Ten thousand dropped, eight thousand stayed…”
    —W. S. Vernon, Over the Bridge

    Bent over, running for their very lives,
    the soldiers, stripping down to nothing left,
    right in the middle of bursting shells, dives
    into the freezing river’s flows, bereft
    of everything, lost sleep, lost boots, lost souls;
    for they had stepped into the horrid cleft
    of hell, and had become no more than ghouls,
    ghosts in the night, who gasped for air and peace,
    and struggled to get out of deadly holes,
    while hoping that the fighting soon would cease.
    Some hit the river that would take them off,
    some didn’t. Even living was dec(r)ease.
    There wasn’t anything that they could doff,
    and only harried, shadowed hair survives,
    precariously balanced, paused, aloft.
    O, God, they fell down into time’s archives
    and never more could reach the longed for ledge,
    a single slinging string surcingle, dang-
    ling, barely hanging on, there at the edge…

    The Fleers
    by War di Belecuse

    They ripped across the beach as fast as they could go.
    There was no time to pause. The enemy was in
    pursuit. The river lay before them, oh, so cold.
    They had to let the water freeze against their skin
    if they would get away. Machine-gun fire ran through
    the air, while mortars splashed around each arm and shin.
    Their shoulders, elbows, hands, their legs and feet moved to
    and fro. They did their best to get th’ hell out o’ there
    where shells crashed forth. They were a damned determined crew.
    Dead men lay on the sand, immobile in that air,
    while the living swam through the broiling imbroglio;
    who made it, each, had to dispense with his despair.

    Right at the End
    by War di Belecuse

    They put a cigarette into his mouth.
    He had escaped the enemy. They shoved
    him up to safety’s height and pushed him south
    far from the falling shells. He felt so loved.
    He had escaped. He lived. He moved along,
    helped by the hands of his own company.
    He crawled contentedly through that thick throng.
    He was so glad. His heart pumped happily.
    The men in helmets pulled him out of hell.
    They’d got him to a safe position where
    he could get some sweet peace, and one could tell,
    he didn’t mind the straps or freezing air.
    He didn’t have a care, for he was back.
    Then came the rifle’s crack, and all was black.

    War di Belecuse is a poet of conflict. The opening poem in terza rima. the second bilding, and the final sonnet all relate, in various ways, to the failed Arnhem mission of September 1944, the 75th anniversary taking place this week.

    And a final tennos on Arnhem:

    No Army Sits in Arnhem
    by Cees Wilerd Bui

    The sky, the landscape, and the river rolling through the town;
    the image at the end of the wide corridor is brown.
    It is a picture of a faded episode of war.
    It is a group of panthers stirring, purring at the door.
    The time has gone. The fire is extinguished. It is night.
    There is no elevator hum. There is no office light.
    There is no word of tenderness. The horror has dropped off.
    The bridge has been rebuilt. There is no person left to scoff.
    No army sits in Arnhem, now a city filled with cars.
    We may have gone a bridge too far. It’s hard to find a scar.

  8. Cees Walerd Bui

    First a correction on the spelling of my name; I’m worse than Shakespeare.

    And then when one thinks how could one spend so much time on the Battle of Arnhem, I found another poem of four years ago, more recent than the others.

    September 26, 1944
    by War di Belecuse

    The World will little note nor long remember what happened there
    September 26, in Arnhem, 1944;
    but it will not be easy for me to forget. I can’t get it
    out of my mind. It was a battle of despair, a wretched pit.
    But on that night at nine o’clock, the rain was pouring down,
    the airmen fell back to the Nederrijn to leave the town.
    The pounding on the ground had been destructive, ruinous.
    Yet in that bleak bombardment, German shelling luminous,
    two thousand were evacuated from that deadly fray
    to rise upon the (s)o(u)ther(n) shore and live another day.
    O, those young men who could escape the death that came for them
    could leave behind that hellish light enflaming Arnhem then.


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