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By Annie M. G. Schmidt
Translated By David Colmer

Born in 1911, Annie M. G. Schmidt trained as a librarian. After World War II she moved to Amsterdam to work as the archivist at Het Parool, a newspaper that had begun as a clandestine resistance publication. It was here that she began publishing poems and children’s stories. The song “Overdue,” translated below by David Colmer, was included in the musical Foxtrot (1977) and draws on a personal experience from the immediate postwar period. 


I said, Doctor, sorry, doctor,
but that can’t be. I said, Doctor,
I’m just a few weeks overdue.
There is nothing I can do.

I said, Doctor, doctor, listen,
put yourself in my position,
can’t you write me a prescription?
Won’t you help me just this time?
Don’t you know that that’s a crime?

I said, Doctor, sorry, doctor,
are you sure that you’re not wrong?
It only happened once. Please, doctor.
That’s an old familiar song.

Just get married, said the doctor.
That’s the answer, said the doctor.
Marry fast, without delay.
I can’t, I said, please, doctor.
I have nothing more to say.

I don’t even know his name.
Well, his friends all called him Joe,
and he had a blue cap on,
but that is really all I know.

I said, Doctor, help me, doctor.
It’s not asking too much, doctor.
I’m sorry, no, and no again.
Please don’t ask me to explain.
No, and now be on your way.
Good day.

and suddenly it’s not a game.
You’ve only got yourself to blame.
The terror and despondency,
and the indignity.

Only women know just how it feels.
The judgment’s final, no appeals.
Because of ignorance,
and inexperience,

And you don’t know where to go,
and you don’t know what to do,
but the women that you know,
yes, they know a thing or two:

Bump on your bottom down the stairs,
that’s the answer to your prayers.
A motorbike will do the trick,
ride on the back until you’re sick.
Try bouncing on a pogo stick.
Drink morphine mixed with grenadine.
Take quinine, you take quinine.
Pennyroyal, pennyroyal.
Castor oil, castor oil.
Mustard bath, a mustard bath.
Gallop down a bridle path.
Just jump off the kitchen table,
that one’s more than just a fable.
All you do is take some rue.
Use benzine, you use benzine.
Take quinine, you take quinine.
Mothballs for the naphthalene.
Knee bends, till you start to spin,
first you drink a pint of gin.
And hot tea with aspirin.
If aspirin’s no help at all,
climb a ladder, take a fall.
Try a holiday on skis.
You should get down on your knees,
pray to God to intervene.
Take quinine, you take quinine.
Walk and run and race and jog.
Take an axe, chop up a log.
Garden on a muggy day,
sweating, turning over clay.
Ride a farmer’s threshing machine.
Take quinine, you take quinine.
Pennyroyal, pennyroyal.
Dig the soil, dig the soil.
Dancing, dancing, not for fun.
Skipping, skipping, in the sun.
Take a bath that’s scalding hot.
Put in mustard, all you’ve got.
But no matter what you do,
you’ll still be just as overdue.

I know a place where you can go,
on a street called Cooper’s Row,
she does it with a douche bag there,
they say she takes a lot of care,
plus her rates are very fair.
She’s a quack, you can’t deny,
but it might be worth a try.

There’s another place I know
where the desperate women go,
she’s a real abortionist,
and she helped my cousin Liz,
but it tore her up inside,
and another one who died
was my mother’s sister Jo.
Still that woman is a pro,
but you know the way she does it
and you know the tool she uses:
A knitting needle.
A knitting needle on the kitchen table.
A knitting needle.

Do I have to?
There’s nowhere else.
No doctors anywhere will help.
You have to.

Overdue, overdue,
the fear and the panic.
If we only had a clinic.

"Over tijd" from Tot hier toe © 1986 by the Estate of Annie M. G. Schmidt. Translation © 2021 by David Colmer. All rights reserved. 

This poem was published with the support of the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

Related Reading:

Taboos: New Dutch and Flemish Writing

"my great-grandmother had the health of a cosmonaut" by Maria Tselovatova, translated by Hilah Kohen

"Shreds" by Ellen Ombre, translated by David Colmer

Published Sep 14, 2021   Copyright 2021 Annie M. G. Schmidt

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