Yehuda Amichai, poesie di un «umanista laico»
Poeta e scrittore provocatorio, meditato, gioviale, malinconico, Yehuda Amichai, in versi dipinse la struggente concretezza del viver tratteggiandone sfumature attraverso personal esperienze ed in narrazione, rivoluzionando lirica l’espressività, assurgendo a compositor tra i più significativi della letteratura contemporanea.
Laddove saremo certi di avere ragione, non cresceranno fiori.
Nella bavarese città di Würzburg, Yehuda Amichai, «יהודה עמיחי», al secolo Ludwig Pfeuffer, nacque il 3 maggio 1924 dall’unione di Friedrich Moritz (1888-1952) e Frieda Wahlhaus (1895-?) — già padre e madre di Rachel (1922-2016) — entrambi provenienti da villaggi rurali e benché dal modesto percorso formativo, poiché altrimenti impossibilitati, profonda cura avevano autonomamente riservato alla conoscenza, serbando per di più passione verso il teatro, la musica, quindi tentando di tramandar visione ai figli, in concomitanza alle leggi dell’ebraismo ortodosso, credo profondamente ossequente i dettami scritti ed orali della Torah, acquisendo il qual essi assimilaron semitico idioma, presto vantando esprimerne ancestral note e colori con pari padronanza al tedesco.
Non senza attraversar traversie burocratiche al fin d’ottenere i permessi e disavventure con predatori arabi durante il viaggio, nel 1935 i Pfeuffer lasciarono la Germania e passando da Trieste, raggiunsero la Palestina, sostando ad Haifa e poi stabilendosi a Pètaḥ Tiqwa, «porta della speranza» sita nel Distretto Centrale d’Israele, nel Gush Dan di Tel Aviv, e fondata nel 1878 da una comunità di olìm hadashìm che, ivi insediatasi, nell’arco d’un lustro ebbe a prosperar soprattutto a merito delle sovvenzioni elargite dal barone e banchiere francese — filantropo sentitamente auspicante il sorger d’una nazione ebraica — Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild (1845-1934).
Dodici mesi più tardi, riparo dall’intensificarsi d’oppressione nazionalsocialista condusse famiglia a Gerusalemme e nella Città Santa, abbandonando Ludwig in favore del nome di battesimo ebraico, Yehuda, compì ingresso al Collegio Superiore Ma’aleh presso cui, in ottemperanza a piano formativo previsto da un personale docente essenzialmente composto da insegnati progressisti con esperienze in Europa, oltre ad immergersi nella sacralità del Talmūd, s’apri all’opera di figure quali Lev Tolstòj (1828-1910), Elsa Lasker-Schueler (1869-1945), Franz Kafka (1883-1924), al pensiero divergente, alla critica dell’ideale d’una conoscenza assoluta; s’aprì all’amore, in tedesco confidando sentire alle pagine d’un diario, finché al tumultar della II Guerra Mondiale, indossò divisa del Jewish Brigade Group — formazione derivata da unità d’ebrei palestinesi ed incorporata, all’indomani d’ufficiale istituzione, nel 1944, dall’esercito britannico — prestando servizio ad Atlit, nella distesa costiera Hof HaCarmel e nel funesto tormentar degli eventi, bagliore gli fu pubblicazione d’esordiente sonetto, Be-motza’ey ha-chofesh, nel giornale militare, Ha-Gilgal. Nel 1946, frattanto umana coscienza si confrontava con ennesimo ed insanabile orrido, nell’aule del gerosolimitano David Yellin College proseguì studi in volontà di guadagnar titolo d’insegnante e pervenendo a laurea nell’estate del 1947, cattedra ottenendo alla Geulah Elementary School di Tel Aviv — occasione coincidente con la decisione d’adottar identità con la qual avrebbe asceso all’olimpo della Letteratura, a ragion d’una pratica al tempo consueta di manifestar origini e scegliendo pseudonimo di Amichai, «il mio popolo vive», percependolo «giusto», dal suono «socialista, sionista e ottimista». Ritrovata serenità però, nel 1948 s’infranse al divampar — trascorse settimane di sanguinarie rappresaglie — del conflitto arabo-israeliano, il poeta tornando combattente aderendo al Plugot Maḥaṣ, «Compagnia d’Assalto» costituita dagli Yishuv nel 1941 come sezione paramilitare dell’organizzazione sionista armata Haganah, «Difesa», quindi percorrendo la desertica regione del Negev a sostegno del nascente Stato d’Israele — proclamato il 14 maggio d’anno medesimo — in cuor tuttavia, con crescente convinzione carezzando speranza di rappacificamento ed armonioso conviver delle, seppur distinte, vicine civiltà e dunque progressivamente adoperandosi perché sogno divenisse realtà.
Nonostante gli eventi, Yehuda Amichai non privò d’attenzione sete di cultura frequentando l’Hebrew University, cimentandosi nella filologia ebraica tanto quanto investigando la Tōrāh e nel 1955, esortato da docente, del divenuto poetar di natural imprimer vissuti e riflessioni tessé silloge, Ora e in altri giorni, «עכשיו ובימים האחרים», alba scrittoria — contenente God Takes Pity on Kindergarten Children, destinata ad esser incisa su una parete del Museo Rabin di Tel Aviv — palesantene il peculiar rimare traente ispirazione dalla contemporaneità, fiorente d’evocative immagini, allusioni, riferimenti all’ebraico e all’ebraismo, liriche pure, umili, perspicue eppur complesse, comunque e sempre intrise di gentil ironia, intimo e partecipato dolore, spirito politico-umanista, d’amor nei confronti del prossimo e per una regione martoriata, dal vano imporre confine all’ineluttabile sua universalità e trascendenza, d’esser patria di due e ciascun popolo; edita dall’avanguardista Likrat — casa editrice d’omonimo circolo poetico-letterario — raccolta, immediato ed ampio consenso suscitando, fu ritenuta e definita rivoluzionaria nel porsi, sancire spezzamento con il formalismo all’epoca dominante ed altresì, appunto, destando il linguaggio dalle bibliche atmosfere perché recasse, esponesse lievità ed ambasce del presente; nondimeno, quasi non ebbe Yehuda Amichai, possibilità d’appieno gioir di gratificazione del riconosciuto valor attribuito a quanto compiuto, che da uniforme fu richiamato, a cagion di crisi provocata dall’Operazione Moschettiere, ossia dall’invasione intrapresa il 29 ottobre 1956, dalle milizie israeliane della penisola del Sinai, mirando, in accordo coi governi di Francia e Regno Unito, alla conquista del Canale di Suez, il precedente 26 luglio nazionalizzato dall’Egitto e pertanto, l’allora presidente, fervente propugnatore del panarabismo, nonché sostenitore dei movimenti di liberazione africani, Giamāl ʿAbd an-Nāṣir Ḥusain — salito al potere con un colpo di Stato ai danni di re Faruq — non tardò a rispondere, aggressione tripartita tuttavia, spegnendosi il 7 novembre, in virtù di storico e congiunto intervento di USA ed URSS. Fuoco e morte piombaron ancora sull’esistenza del poeta nel 1967, dal 5 al 10 giugno, allorquando ʿAbd an-Nāṣir apprendendo da fonti sovietiche lo schierarsi di truppe israeliane lungo il confine siriano, ottenne allontanamento delle Forze di Emergenza delle Nazioni Unite da Gaza e dal Sinai — dov’eran state dislocate dopo la Crisi di Suez a garanzia del rispetto dell’Armistizio di Rodi — inviandovi reparti militari e in un succedersi d’eventi, patti e compromessi geopolitici, esplose la Guerra dei Sei Giorni, centotrenta ore d’inferno passato il quale, Israele, imponendosi sull’Egitto nonostante contasse dell’appoggio di Arabia Saudita, Giordania, Iraq, Libano e Siria, scoprì quadruplicata la propria estensione territoriale, controllando le alture del Golan, Striscia di Gaza, Sinai, aree della Cisgiordania ed altre mai neppure rivendicate, stravolgendo così il volto del Medio Oriente.
Nell’affliggente insensatezza dell’odio, della violenza, degli eserciti, lacerante del poeta il petto anche strappando d’infanzia limpida amicizia di Ruth Fanny Hanover (1923–1943), la «piccola Ruth» di tante poesie, vittima della brutalità nazista nel campo di sterminio di Sobibór, vita non mancò carezzarne animo largendogli occasion di provar i mal d’amore in giovanil e profonda relazione intrecciata con Ruth Hermann (1923-2016), da storici indicata quale artefice del nome “Amichai”; la meraviglia paterna nel pianto nascente di Ron, accanto a Tamar Vera Horn, portata all’altare nel ’50 ed il cui padre, Rudolf Philipp (ca.1898-1984) — medico e co-fondatore d’industria farmaceutica Zori nel ’76 confluita in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. — s’impegnò affinché tipografia di riferimento dell’azienda stampasse la summenzionata antologia d’esordio: esplicite strofe ad ella dedicò ed egualmente ad Hana Sokolov, assieme alla quale scambiò promesse nuziali a metà degli anni Sessanta e le stesse suggellando accogliendo, David ed Emanuella.
Avviatosi verso il Parnaso all’addentrarsi nell’arte poetica — dapprincipio fortuitamente scovata negli alloggi condivisi con i militari inglesi ed americani nel corso del secondo conflitto mondiale — di Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973), Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Thomas Eliot (1888-1965), Yehuda Amichai si rivelò attento, visionario, sensibile e raffinato giocolier di parole, compiendo opera — in versi e romanzi, esaltata sin dai primordi ed invero nell’interezza proposta in decine d’idiomi — segnatamente individuale, concreta e ricercata, eppur colloquiale, romantica, nell’espressività distinta ed incentivante il «cambiamento della poesia, sia a livello tematico, sia linguistico», per cui nel 1982 — già omaggiato dei riconoscimenti Shlonsky, Brenner e Bialik, oltreché da citazione di Yitzhak Rabin al ritiro del Nobel per la Pace nel 1994 — venne insignito del Premio Israele, conferimento annualmente assegnato dal 1953, nel Giorno dell’Indipendenza, Yom HaAtzmaut, ad onor d’apportato contributo alla cultura d’un Paese che, domenica 24 settembre 2000, in Piazza Safra di Gerusalemme si riversò, tributando allo scrittore — in tal giorno definito «prediletto hiloni di Dio» da Avraham Burg, presidente della Knesset dal 1999 al 2003 — spentosi il precedente venerdì all’Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, a causa di una rara forma di linfoma, ultimo commosso saluto e spoglie accompagnandone, al termine d’esequie di Stato, al cimitero Sanhedria.
Religione, politica, realtà comune, laica, sociale, dibattuta tra speranza, caducità, effimera lietezza, dolore e asperità, pragmatismo, partecipazione, tenebre e luminosità, Yehuda Amichai, sé e l’a sé attorno contemplando, colse dell’esistenza — mirata, respirata e ad essa porgendosi con ingenita e delicata empatia — le innumerevoli verità e in peculiar musicalità di vocaboli, raccontandosi, complesso dell’umana esperienza dipinse e, privilegio ad appannaggio di prescelti, toccò, in condivisa, comprensiva emotività.
He translates the hardness of existence into new tenderness; tenderness into spiritual wonder that is meant to quiet outrage; and outrage into a mixture of worry and love and warmth…He is one of the great joyful lamenters of all time, endlessly documenting his anguish, throbbing pains, mistaken dreams, shortages of faith, abundances of ecstatic loves, and humiliations. And, like everyone else, he wants everything both ways. In particular, he wants to be a lover and a loner, a guy in the street and an intellectual, believer and infidel, while insisting that all manifestations of war against the human spirit be mercilessly squashed.
David Biespiel, The American Poetry Review, 2016
Now and in Other Days, 1955
God Takes Pity on Kindergarten Children
God takes pity on kindergarten children.
Less on schoolchildren.
He won’t take pity anymore.
He leaves them alone.
Sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the blazing sand,
To get to the first-aid station
He will take pity and cast
On those who truly love
As a tree on someone sleeping on the bench
On a boulevard.
Maybe we too will spend on them
The last coins of favor
Mother bequeathed us,
So their bliss will protect us
Now and in other days.
Six Poems for Tamar
The rain is speaking quietly, you can sleep now.
Near my bed, the rustle of newspaper wings. There are no other angels.
I’ll wake up early and bribe the coming day to be kind to us.
You had a laughter of grapes: many round green laughs.
Your body is full of lizards. All of them love the sun.
Flowers grew in the field, grass grew on my cheeks, everything was possible.
You’re always lying on my eyes.
Every day of our life together Ecclesiastes cancels a line of his book.
We are the saving evidence in the terrible trial. We’ll acquit them all!
Like the taste of blood in the mouth, spring was upon us—suddenly.
The world is awake tonight.
It is lying on its back, with its eyes open.
The crescent moon fits the line of your cheek, your breast fits the line of my cheek.
Your heart plays blood-catch inside your veins.
Your eyes are still warm, like beds time has slept in.
Your thighs are two sweet yesterdays, I’m coming to you.
All hundred and fifty psalms roar hallelujah.
My eyes want to flow into each other like two neighboring lakes.
To tell each other everything they’ve seen.
My blood has many relatives. They never visit.
But when they die, my blood will inherit.
When I Was a Child
When I was a child
grasses and masts stood at the seashore,
and as I lay there
I thought they were all the same
because all of them rose into the sky above me.
Only my mother’s words went with me
like a sandwich wrapped in rustling waxpaper,
and I didn’t know when my father would come back
because there was another forest beyond the clearing.
Everything stretched out a hand,
a bull gored the sun with its horns,
and in the nights the light of the streets
caressed my cheeks along with the walls,
and the moon, like a large pitcher, leaned over
and watered my thirsty sleep.
Look: Thoughts and Dreams
Look: thoughts and dreams are weaving over us
their warp and woof, their wide camouflage-net,
and the reconnaissance planes and God
will never know
what we really want
and where we are going.
Only the voice that rises at the end of a question
still rises above the world and hangs there,
even if it was made by
mortar shells, like a ripped flag,
like a mutilated cloud.
Look, we too are going
in the reverse-flower-way:
to begin with a calyx exulting toward the light,
to descend with the stem growing more and more solemn,
to arrive at the closed earth and to wait there for a while,
and to end as a root, in the darkness, in the deep womb.
Two Hopes Away, 1958
Sort of an Apocalypse
The man under his fig tree telephoned the man under his vine:
«Tonight they definitely might come. Assign
positions, armor-plate the leaves, secure the tree,
tell the dead to report home immediately.»
The white lamb leaned over, said to the wolf:
«Humans are bleating and my heart aches with grief.
I’m afraid they’ll get to gunpoint, to bayonets in the dust.
At our next meeting this matter will be discussed.»
All the nations (united) will flow to Jerusalem
to see if the Torah has gone out. And then,
inasmuch as it’s spring, they’ll come down
and pick flowers from all around.
And they’ll beat swords into plowshares and plowshares into swords,
and so on and so on, and back and forth.
Perhaps from being beaten thinner and thinner,
the iron of hatred will vanish, forever.
And That Is Your Glory
I’ve yoked together my large silence and my small outcry
like an ox and an ass. I’ve been through low and through high.
I’ve been in Jerusalem, in Rome. And perhaps in Mecca anon.
But now God is hiding, and man cries Where have you gone.
And that is your glory.
Underneath the world, God lies stretched on his back,
always repairing, always things get out of whack.
I wanted to see him all, but I see no more
than the soles of his shoes and I’m sadder than I was before.
And that is his glory.
Even the trees went out once to choose a king.
A thousand times I’ve given my life one more fling.
At the end of the street somebody stands and picks;
this one and this one and this one and this one and this.
And that is your glory.
Perhaps like an ancient statue that has no arms
our life, without deeds and heroes, has greater charms.
Ungird my T-shirt, love; this was my final bout.
I fought all the knights, until the electricity gave out.
And that is my glory.
Rest your mind, it ran with me all the way,
it’s exhausted now and needs to knock off for the day.
I see you standing by the wide-open fridge door,
revealed from head to toe in a light from another world.
And that is my glory
and that is his glory
and that is your glory.
Of Three or Four in a Room
Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window.
He must see the evil among thorns
and the fires on the hill.
And how people who went out of their houses whole
are given back in the evening like small change.
Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window,
his dark hair above his thoughts.
Behind him, words.
And in front of him, voices wandering without a knapsack,
hearts without provisions, prophecies without water,
large stones that have been returned
and stay sealed, like letters that have no
address and no one to receive them.
Half the People in the World
Half the people in the world love the other half,
half the people
hate the other half.
Must I because of this half and that half
go wandering and changing ceaselessly
like rain in its cycle,
must I sleep among rocks,
and grow rugged like the trunks of olive trees,
and hear the moon barking at me,
and camouflage my love with worries,
and sprout like frightened grass between the railroad tracks,
and live underground like a mole,
and remain with roots and not with branches,
and not feel my cheek against the cheek of angels,
and love in the first cave,
and marry my wife beneath a canopy
of beams that support the earth,
and act out my death, always
till the last breath and the last
words and without ever understanding,
and put flagpoles on top of my house
and a bomb shelter underneath. And go out on roads
made only for returning and go through
all the appalling stations —
cat, stick, fire, water, butcher,
between the kid and the angel of death?
Half the people love,
half the people hate.
And where is my place between such well-matched halves,
and through what crack will I see
the white housing projects of my dreams
and the barefoot runners on the sands
or, at least, the waving
of a girl’s kerchief, beside the mound?
Poems for a Woman
Your body is white like sand
that children have never played in.
Your eyes are sad and beautiful
like the pictures of flowers in a textbook.
Your hair hangs down
like the smoke from Cain’s altar:
I have to kill my brother.
My brother has to kill me.
All the miracles in the Bible and all the legends
happened between us when we were together.
On God’s quiet slope
we were able to rest awhile.
The womb’s wind blew for us everywhere.
We always had time.
My life is sad like the wandering
My hopes are widows,
my chances won’t get married, ever.
Our loves wear the uniforms of orphans
in an orphanage.
The rubber balls come back
to their hands from the wall.
The sun doesn’t come back.
Both of us are an illusion.
All night your empty shoes
screamed alongside your bed.
Your right hand hangs down from your dream.
Your hair is studying night-ese
from a torn textbook of wind.
The moving curtains:
ambassadors of foreign superpowers.
If you open your coat,
I have to double my love.
If you wear the round white hat,
I have to exaggerate my blood.
In the place where you love,
all the furniture has to be cleared out from the room,
all the trees, all the mountains, all the oceans.
The world is too narrow.
The moon, fastened with a chain,
keeps quiet outside.
The moon, caught in the olive branches,
can’t break free.
The moon of round hopes
is rolling among clouds.
When you smile,
serious ideas get exhausted.
At night the mountains keep quiet beside you,
in the morning the sand goes with you down to the beach.
When you do nice things to me
all the heavy industries shut down.
The mountains have valleys
and I have thoughts.
They stretch out
until fog and until no roads.
Behind the port city
Behind me God begins
with ropes and ladders,
with crates and cranes,
with forever and evers.
Spring found us;
all the mountains around
are stone weights
to weigh how much we love.
The sharp grass sobbed
into our dark hiding-place;
spring found us.
Upon the banners fluttering overhead
are verses with a day-off from all the trouble
they live with in their black and heavy Bible;
and already, in the air, the poems fade
like smoke above them, to the starting-point
where the children left behind: the trampled grass,
candy wrappers, footprints, cards, a bus,
and also a little girl in tears, who couldn’t
find what she’d lost. But in the interim,
far from here, everything stopped, and then
they had to march in place, a long long time,
while at the bright edges of the birds of day
a row of angels dangled upside-down
like shirts on a clothesline; they arrived that way.
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1. Preparations for the Journey
Not resting but
moving her lovely butt,
the Queen of Sheba,
having decided to leave, a-
rose from her lair
among dark spells, tossed her hair,
clapped her hands,
the servants fainted, and
already she drew in the sand
with her big toe:
King Solomon, as though
he were a rubber ball, an
apocalyptic, bearded herring, an
imperial walking stick, an
amalgam, half chicken
and half Solomon.
The minister of protocol
went too far, with all
those peacocks and ivory boxes.
she began to yawn
deliciously, she stretched like a cat
he would be able to sniff
erous heart. They spared no expense,
they brought feathers, to tickle
his ears, to make his last defense
She had been brought
a vague report
she wanted to know everything, with absolute precision,
blossomed like leprosy,
the disheveled sisters of her corpuscles
screamed through their loudspeaker into all her muscles,
the sky undid
its buttons, she made herself up and slid
into a vast commotion,
felt her head
spin, all the brothels of her emotions
were lit up in red.
In the factory
of her blood, they worked frantically
till night came: a dark night, like an old table,
a night as eternal
as a jungle.
2. The Ship Waits
A ship in the harbor, night
among the shadows, a white
ship, with a cargo of yearnings,
some temperate, some burning,
a ship that desire launches,
a ship without a subconscious.
Already among the sails
sway the Queen’s colored veils,
made of the silk of sparrows
who had died of their tiny sorrows
before they could flutter forth
to the cool lands of the North.
It’s worthwhile, at any rate,
for the white ship to wait
cheek to cheek with the dock
and let itself gently rock
between ideas of sand and
ideas of ocean, and
endure its insomnia
till morning, etc.
3. Setting Sail
She called her thighs to return to each other,
knee-cheek to knee-cheek, and her soul
was already a zebra of moods, good and bad.
In the oven of her body, her heart
rotated on a spit. The morning screamed,
a tropical rain fell.
The forecasters, chained to the spot, forecasted,
the engineers of her sleep went out on weary camels,
all the little fish of her laughter fled
before the shark of her awakening rage. In her armpits
faint-hearted corals hid,
night lizards left their footprints on her belly.
She sat in bed, sharpening her charms and her riddles
like colored pencils. From the beards
of old blowhards, she had had an African apron made,
her secrets were embroidered on scarves.
But the lions still held the laws
like the two tablets over the holy ark
and over the whole world.
4. The Journey on the Red Sea
Fish blew through the sea and through
the long anticipation. Captains
plotted their course by the map
of her longing. Her nipples preceded
her like scouts, her hairs whispered to one another
like conspirators. In the dark corners between sea and ship
the counting started, quietly.
A solitary bird sang
in the permanent trill of her blood. Rules fell
from biology textbooks, clouds were torn like contracts,
at noon she dreamt about
making love naked in the snow, egg yolks dripping
down her leg, the thrill of yellow beeswax. All the air
rushed to be breathed inside her. The sailors cried out
in the foreign language of fish.
But underneath the world, underneath the sea,
there were cantillations as if on the Sabbath:
everything sang each other.
5. Solomon Waits
Never any rain,
never any rain,
always clouds without closure,
always raw-voiced love.
Shepherds of the wind returned
from the pasture.
In the world’s court-
yards, blossoms of stone opened
consecrated to strange gods.
Trembling ladders dreamt about
humans dreaming about them.
saw the world,
the slightly torn
lining of the world.
And was awake like many lit stables
Never any rain,
never any rain,
always raw-voiced love,
6. The Queen Enters the Throne Room
The dewy rose of her dark pudenda
was doubled in the mirrored floor. His agenda
seemed superfluous now, and all the provisions
he had made for her, the decrees and decisions
he had worked out while he was judging the last
of the litigants. Then he rolled up his past
like a map; and he sat there, reeling, giddy,
and saw in the mirror a body and a body,
from above and below, like the queen of spades.
In the bedroom of his heart he pulled down the shades,
he covered his blood with sackcloth, tried
to think of icebergs, of putrefied
camel flesh. And his face changed seasons
like a speeded-up landscape. He followed his visions
to the end of them, growing wiser and warm,
and he knew that her soul’s form was like the form
of her supple body, which he soon would embrace —
as a violin’s form is the form of its case.
7. Who Could Stump Whom
In the ping-pong of questions and answers
not a sound was heard
And the cough of the learned counselors
and the sharp tearing of paper.
He made black waves with his beard
so that her words would drown in it.
She made a jungle
of her hair, for him to be lost in.
Words were plunked down with a click
Thoughts with high masts
sailed past one another.
Empty crossword puzzles filled up
as the sky fills with stars,
secret caches were opened,
buckles and vows were unfastened,
were tickled, and laughed
In the final game,
her words played with his words, her tongue
with his tongue.
were spread, face up, on the table.
Everything was revealed. Hard.
8. The Empty Throne Room
All the word games
lay scattered out of their boxes.
Boxes were left gaping
after the game.
Sawdust of questions,
shells of cracked parables,
woolly packing materials from
crates of facile riddles.
Heavy wrapping paper
of love and strategies.
Used solutions rustled
in the trash of thinking.
were rolled up on spools,
miracles were locked in their cages.
Chess horses were led back to the stable.
Empty cartons that had
«Handle With Care!»
printed on them
sang hymns of thanksgiving.
Later, in ponderous parade, the King’s soldiers arrived.
She fled, sad
as black snakes
in the dry grass.
A moon of atonement spun around the towers
as on Yom Kippur eve.
Caravans with no camels, no people,
no sound, departed and departed and departed.
As for the World
As for the world,
I am always like one of Socrates’ students:
walking beside him,
hearing his seasons and generations,
and all I can do is say:
Yes, certainly that is true.
You are right again.
It is exactly as you have said.
As for my life, I am always
everything that is streets
is in other people.
In me — love, dark and flowing.
As for the scream, as for the silence,
I am always a shofar:
hoarding, all year long, its one blast
for the terrible Days of Awe.
As for the deeds,
I am always Cain:
a fugitive and a vagabond before the deed that I won’t do,
or after the deed that
can’t be undone.
As for the palm of your hand,
as for the signals of my heart
and the plans of my flesh,
as for the writing on the wall,
I am always an ignoramus: I can’t
read or write
and my head is empty as a weed,
knowing only the secret whisper
and the motion in the wind
when a fate passes through me, to
some other place.
Such as Sorrow
Should you realize so much, daughter of every season,
this year’s fading flowers or last year’s snow.
And afterward, not for us, not the vial of poison,
but rather the cup and the muteness and the long way to go.
Like two briefcases we were interchanged for each other.
Now I am no longer I, and you are not you.
No more returning, no more approaching together,
just a candle snuffed in the wine, as when Sabbath is through.
Now all that’s left from your sun is the pallid moon.
Trivial words that may comfort today or tomorrow:
Such as, give me rest. Such as, let it all go and be gone.
Such as, come and hand me my last hour. Such as, sohrrow.
On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight:
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.
In the sky of the Old City
At the other end of the string,
I can’t see
because of the wall.
We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they’re happy.
To make them think that we’re happy.
The light of passing cars
sorted my thoughts in black and white.
I, who cross the street
only in the places permitted,
was suddenly called among roses.
And like a dark branch that is white
where it is broken,
I too am bright in my love.
In the Full Severity of Mercy
You are able to count them. They
are not like the sand on the seashore. They
are not innumerable like the stars. They are like lonely people.
On the corner or in the street.
Count them. See them
seeing the sky through ruined houses.
Go out through the stones and come back. What
will you come back to? But count them, for they
do their time in dreams
and they walk around outside and their hopes are unbandaged
and gaping, and they will die of them.
Too soon they learned to read the terrible
writing on the wall. To read and write on
other walls. And the feast continues in silence.
Count them. Be present, for they
have already used up all the blood and there’s still not enough,
as in a dangerous operation, when one
is exhausted and beaten like ten thousand. For who is
the judge, and what is the judgment,
unless it be in the full sense of the night
and in the full severity of mercy.
Too many olive trees in the valley,
too many stones on the slope.
Too many dead, too little
earth to cover them all.
And I must return to the landscapes painted
on the bank notes
and to my father’s face on the coins.
Too many memorial days, too little
remembering. My friends have
forgotten what they learned when they were young.
And my girlfriend lies in a hidden place
and I am always outside, food for hungry winds.
Too much weariness, too few eyes
to contain it. Too many clocks,
too little time. Too many oaths
on the Bible, too many highways, too few
ways where we can truly go: each to his destiny.
Too many hopes
that ran away from their masters.
Too many dreamers. Too few dreams
whose interpretation would change the history of the world
like Pharaoh’s dreams.
My life closes behind me. And I am outside, a dog
for the cruel, blind wind that always
pushes at my back. I am well trained: I rise
and sit and wait to lead it through the streets
of my life, which could have been my true life.
The Elegy on the Lost Child
I can see by their mark how high the waters reached
last winter; but how can I know what level
love reached inside me? And perhaps it overflowed my banks.
For what remained in the wadi? — just congealed mud.
What remained on my face? — not even a thin white line,
as above the lips of the child who was drinking milk
and put down the glass, with a click, on the kitchen table.
What remained? Perhaps a leaf in the small
stone that was placed on the windowsill, to watch over us
like an angel when we were inside. And to love means not
to remain; means not to leave a trace, but to change
utterly. To be forgotten. And to understand means to bloom.
Spring understands. To remember the beloved means to
forget the many belongings that piled up.
Loving means having to forget the other love,
closing the other doors. Look, we saved a seat,
we put down a coat or a book on the empty chair
next to us, perhaps empty forever. And how long
could we keep it for ourselves? After all, someone will come,
a stranger will sit beside you. And you turn around,
impatient, to the door with the red sign over it, you look
at your watch; that too is a habit of prayer, like bowing
and kissing. And outside they always invent new thoughts
and these too are placed on the tired faces of people,
like colored lights in the street. Or look at the child, whose
thoughts are painted upon him like a pattern upon
an ancient urn, for others to see, he still isn’t
thinking them for himself. The earth wanders, passes
beneath the soles of our shoes, like a moving stage,
like your face which I thought was mine and wasn’t. But the child
got lost. The last scion of his games, the Benjamin
of colored paper, the grandson of his ancient hiding-places.
He came and went in the ringing of his toys among
empty wells, at the ends of holidays and within
the terrible cycle of cries and silence, in the process
of hope and death and hope. Everyone searched,
they were happy to look for some thing in the land of forgetting:
voices and a plane flying low like thoughts, police dogs
with philosophers’ faces, question-words hopping on thin legs
in the grass that gets drier and drier, before our very
eyes. Words worn out from prayers and talk and newspapers,
prophecies of Jeremiah down on all fours.
And in the big cities, protesters blocked the roads like
a blocked heart, whose master will die. And the dead were already
hung out like fruit, for eternal ripening within
the history of the world. They searched for the child; and found
pairs of lovers, hidden; found ancient urns;
found everything that sought not to be revealed. For love
was too short and didn’t cover them all, like a too-short
blanket. A head or two feet stuck out in the wind
when the cold night came. Or they found a short-cut of sharp
brief pain instead of the long, oblivion-causing
streets of joy and of satiation. And at night
the names of the world, of foreign cities and dark
lakes and peoples long vanished. And all the names
are like my beloved’s name. She lifted her head
to listen. She had the feeling that she had been called,
and she wasn’t the one we meant. But the child disappeared
and the paths in the distant mountain emerged. Not much time.
The olives spoke hard stones. In the enormous fear
between heaven and earth, new houses arose and the glass
of windowpanes cooled the burning forehead of night.
The hot wind pounced upon us from a thicket of dry grass,
the distraction of mutual need erected high bridges
in the wasteland. Traps were set, spotlights turned on,
and nets of woven hair were spread out. But they passed
the place, and didn’t see, for the child bent over
and hid in the stones of tomorrow’s houses. Eternal
paper rustled between the feet of the searchers.
Printed and unprinted. The orders were clearly heard.
Exact numbers: not ten or fifty or a hundred.
But twenty-seven, thirty-one, forty-three, so that they would believe us.
And in the morning the search was renewed: quick, here!
I saw him among the toys of his wells, the games
of his stones, the tools of his olive trees. I heard his heartbeat
under the rock. He’s there. He’s here. And the tree
stirs. Did you all see? And new calls, like an ancient
sea bringing new ships with loud calls to the foreign shore.
We returned to our cities, where a great sorrow is divided among them
at appropriate intervals, like mailboxes, so that we can drop ours
into them: name and address, times of pickup. And the stones
chanted in the choir of black mouths, into the earth,
and only the child could hear them; we couldn’t. For he stayed
longer than we did, pretending from the clouds and already
known by heart to the children of olive trees,
familiar and changing and not leaving a trace, as in love,
and belonged to them completely, without a remnant.
For to love means not to remain. To be forgotten. But God
remembers, like a man who returns to the place he once left
to reclaim a memory he needed. Thus God returns to
our small room, so that he can remember how much he wanted
to build his creation with love. And he didn’t forget
our names. Names aren’t forgotten. We call a shirt
shirt: even when it’s used as a dustrag, it’s still called shirt,
perhaps the old shirt. And how long will we go on like this?
For we are changing. But the name remains. And what right
do we have to be called by our names, or to call the Jordan
Jordan after it has passed through the Sea of Galilee
and has come out at Zemach. Who is it? Is it still the one
that entered at Capernaum? Who are we after we pass through
the terrible love? Who is the Jordan? Who
remembers? Rowboats have emerged. The mountains are mute:
Susita, Hermon, the terrifying Arbel, painful Tiberias.
We all turn our backs on names, the rules of the game,
the hollow calls. An hour passes, hair is cut off
in the barbershop. The door is opened. What remains is for
the broom and the street. And the barber’s watch ticking close to
your ear as he bends over you.This too is time.
Time’s end, perhaps. The child hasn’t been found.
The results of rain are seen even now when it’s summer.
Aloud the trees are talking from the sleep of the earth.
Voices made out of tin are ringing in the wind
as it wakes up. We lay together. I walked away:
the beloved’s eyes stayed wide open in fear. She sat up
in bed for a while, leaning on her elbows. The sheet
was white like the day of judgment, and she couldn’t stay
alone in the house, she went out into the world
that began with the stairs near the door. But the child remained
and began to resemble the mountains and the winds and the trunks
of olive trees. A family resemblance: as the face of a young man
who fell in the Negev arises in the face of his cousin
born in New York. The fracture of a mountain in the Aravah
reappears in the face of the shattered friend. Mountain range
and night, resemblance and tradition. Night’s custom that turned
into the law of lovers. Temporary precautions
became permanent. The police, the calls outside, the speaking
inside the bodies. And the fire-engines don’t wail when they come from
the fire. Silently they return from embers and ashes.
Silently we returned from the valley after love and searching
in retrospect: not being paid attention to. But a few of us
continued to listen. It seemed as if someone was calling.
We extended the outer ear with the palm of a hand,
we extended the area of the heart with a further love
in order to hear more clearly, in order to forget.
But the child died in the night
clean and well groomed. Neat and licked by the tongues
of God and night. «When we got here, it was still daylight.
Now darkness has come». Clean and white like a sheet of
paper in an envelope closed and chanted upon
in the psalm-books of the lands of the dead. A few went on searching,
or perhaps they searched for a pain that would fit their tears,
for a joy that would fit their laughter, though nothing can fit
anything else. Even hands are from a different body.
But it seemed to us that something had fallen. We heard
a ringing, like a coin that fell. We stood for a moment.
We turned around. We bent down. We didn’t find
anything, and we went on walking. Each to his own.
Now in the Storm, Poems 1963-1968
The Bull Returns
The bull returns from his day of work in the ring
after a cup of coffee with his opponents,
having left them a note with his address and
the exact location of the red scarf.
The sword remains in his stiff-necked neck.
And when he’s usually at home. Now
he sits on his bed, with his heavy
Jewish eyes. He knows
that the sword too is hurt when it pierces flesh.
In his next incarnation he’ll be a sword: the hurt will remain.
(«The door is open. If not, the key is under
He knows about the mercy of twilight and about the final
mercy. In the Bible, he’s listed with the clean animals.
He’s very kosher: chews his cud,
and even his heart is divided and cloven like a hoof.
From his chest, hairs burst forth
dry and gray, as though from a split mattress.
The wind won’t come to draw smiles in the sand of dreams.
The wind will be strong.
And people are walking without flowers,
unlike their children in the festival of the first fruits.
And a few of them are victors and most of them are vanquished,
passing through the arch of others’ victories
and as on the Arch of Titus everything appears, in bas-relief:
the warm and beloved bed, the faithful and much-scrubbed pot,
and the lamp, not the one with the seven branches, but the simpleone,
the good one, which didn’t fail even on winter nights,
and the table, a domestic animal that stands on four legs and keeps
And they are brought into the arena to fight with wild beasts
and they see the heads of the spectators in the stadium
and their courage is like the crying of their children,
persistent, persistent and ineffectual.
And in their back pocket, letters are rustling,
and the victors put the words into their mouths
and if they sing, it is not their own song,
and the victors set large yearnings inside them
like loaves of dough
and they bake these in their love
and the victors will eat the warm bread and they won’t.
But a bit of their love remains on them
like the primitive decorations on ancient urns:
the first, modest line of emotion all around
and then the swirl of dreams
and then two parallel lines,
or a pattern of small flowers, a memory of childhood, high-stalked
Loving each other began this way: threading
loneliness into loneliness
patiently, our hands trembling and precise.
Longing for the past gave our eyes
the double security of what won’t change
and of what can’t be returned to.
But the heart must kill one of us
on one of its forays,
if not you — me,
when it comes back empty-handed,
like Cain, a boomerang from the field.
Now in the Storm
Now in the storm before the calm
I can tell you what
in the calm before the storm I didn’t say
because they would have heard us and discovered our hiding-place.
That we were just neighbors in the fierce wind,
brought together in the ancient hamsin from Mesopotamia.
And the Latter Prophets of my veins’ kingdom
prophesied into the firmament of your flesh.
And the weather was good for us and for the heart,
and the sun’s muscles were flexed inside us and golden
in the Olympiad of emotions, on the faces of thousands of spectators,
so that we would know, and remain, and there would again be clouds.
Look, we met in a protected place, in the angle
where history began to arise, quiet
and safe from all the hasty events.
And the voice began to tell stories in the evening, by the children’s bed.
And now it’s too early for archaeology
and too late to repair what has been done.
Summer will arrive, and the clop, clop of the hard sandals
will sink in the soft sand, forever.
Not for the Sake of Remembering, 1971
The Way It Was
The way it was.
When the water we drank at night, afterwards,
was all the wine in the world.
And doors, I never remember
if they open in or out,
and if those buttons in the entrance to your building
are for switching on the light, for ringing the bell
or ringing in silence.
That’s the way we wanted it. Was that
the way we wanted it?
In our three rooms,
at the open window,
you promised me there wouldn’t be a war.
I gave you a watch instead of
a wedding ring: good round time,
the ripest fruit
of sleeplessness and forever.
Instead of Words
My love has a very long white gown
of sleep, of sleeplessness, of weddings.
In the evening she sits at a small table,
puts a comb down on it, two tiny bottles
and a brush, instead of words.
Out of the depths of her hair she fishes many pins
and puts them in her mouth, instead of words.
I dishevel her, she combs.
I dishevel again. Whats left?
She falls asleep instead of words,
and her sleep already knows me,
wags her woolly dreams.
Her belly easily absorbs
all the wrathful prophecies
of the End of Days.
I wake her: we
are the instruments of a hard love.
Ballad in the Streets of Buenos Aires
And a man waits in the street and meets a woman
precise and beautiful as the clock on the wall of her room
and sad and white as the wall that holds it
And she doesn’t show him her teeth
and she doesn’t show him her belly
but she shows him her time, precise and beautiful.
And she lives on the ground floor next to the pipes
and the water that rises begins there in her wall
and he has decided on tenderness
And she knows the reasons for weeping
and she knows the reasons for holding back
and he begins to be like her, like her
And his hair will grow long and soft, like her hair
and the hard words of his language dissolve in her mouth
and his eyes will be filled with tears, like her eyes
And the traffic lights are reflected in her face
and she stands there amid the permitted and the forbidden
and he has decided on tenderness
And they walk in the streets that will soon appear in his dreams
and the rain weeps into them silently, as into a pillow,
and impatient time has made them both into prophets
And he will lose her at the red light
and he will lose her at the green and the yellow
and the light is always there to serve every loss
And he won’t be there when soap and lotion run out
and he won’t be there when the clock is set again
and he won’t be there when her dress unravels to threads in the wind
And she will lock his wild letters away in a quiet drawer
and lie down to sleep beside the water in the wall
and she will know the reasons for weeping and for holding back
and he has decided on tenderness
A psalm on the day
a building contractor cheated me. A psalm of praise.
Plaster falls from the ceiling, the wall is sick, paint
cracking like lips.
The vines I’ve sat under, the fig tree —
it’s all just words. The rustling of the trees
creates an illusion of God and justice.
I dip my dry glance like bread
into the death that softens it,
always on the table in front of me.
Years ago, my life
turned my life into a revolving door.
I think about those who, in joy and success,
have gotten far ahead of me,
carried between two men for all to see
like that bunch of shiny pampered grapes
from the Promised Land,
and those who are carried off, also
between two men: wounded or dead. A psalm.
When I was a child I sang in the synagogue choir,
I sang till my voice broke. I sang
first voice and second voice. And I’ll go on singing
till my heart breaks, first heart and second heart.
Behind All This a Great Happiness Is Hiding, 1976
This is how it started: suddenly it felt
loose and light and happy inside,
like when you feel your shoelaces loosening a bit
and you bend down.
Then came other days.
And now I’m like a Trojan horse
filled with terrible loves.
Every night they break out and run wild
and at dawn they come back
into my dark belly.
A Bride Without a Dowry
A bride without a dowry, with a deep navel
in her suntanned belly, a little pit
for birdseed and water.
Yes, this is the bride with her big behind,
startled out of her dreams and all her fat
in which she was bathing naked
like Susannah and the Elders.
Yes, this is the serious girl with her
freckles. What’s the meaning of that upper lip
jutting out over the lower one?
Dark drinking and laughter.
A little sweet animal. Monique.
And she’s got a will of iron inside
that soft, self-indulgent flesh.
What a terrible bloodbath
she’s preparing for herself.
What a Roman arena streaming with blood.
On the Day I Left
On the day I left, spring broke out
to fulfill the saying: Darkness, darkness.
We had dinner together. They spread a white tablecloth
for the sake of serenity. They set out a candle
for candle’s sake. We ate well
and we knew: the soul of the fish
is its empty bones.
We stood at the sea again:
someone else had already
And love — a couple of nights
like rare stamps. To stroke the heart
without breaking it.
I travel light, like the prayers of Jews.
I lift off as simply as a glance, or a flight
to some other place.
Sleep, my child, sleep.
The song is not a song
and the cradle’s not a cradle.
I am not by your side
but the distance lulls me there and you here.
Sleep, my child, sleep.
In my heart there is nothing
even like the wildflowers
in the empty lot
after the rains.
But there are words in my mouth
for your sleep, there are words.
Sleep, my child, sleep.
The orange peels
will rise again
and make an orange
out of your dream, my child,
and Trumpeldor again will find
his amputated arm. Sleep.
Sleep, my child, sleep,
free of all your clothes.
In a mosque we remove our shoes,
n a synagogue we wear hats,
in a church, we take them off. You are without all these,
you should sleep, my child, sleep.
A Quiet Joy
I’m standing in a place where I once loved.
The rain is falling. The rain is my home.
I think words of longing: a landscape
out to the very edge of what’s possible.
I remember you waving your hand
as if wiping mist from the windowpane,
and your face, as if enlarged
from an old blurred photo.
Once I committed a terrible wrong
to myself and others.
But the world is beautifully made for doing good
and for resting, like a park bench.
And late in life I discovered
a quiet joy
like a serious disease that’s discovered too late:
just a little time left now for quiet joy.
Songs of Continuity
Songs of continuity, land mines and graves:
that’s what turns up when you’re making a house or a road.
Then come the black crow people from Meah She’arim
with their bitter screeching: «A body! A dead body!»
Then the young soldiers with their hands
of the night before,
dismantling iron to decipher death.
So come on, let’s not build a house, let’s not pave a road!
Let’s make a house that’s folded inside the heart,
a road wound up on a spool in the soul, deep inside,
and we won’t die, ever.
People here live inside prophecies that have come true
as inside a heavy cloud that didn’t disperse
after an explosion.
And so in their lonely blindness they touch one another
between the legs, between day and night,
because they have no other time and they
have no other place, and the prophets
died a long time ago.
The Diameter of the Bomb
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
a circle with no end and no God.
You Are So Small and Slight in the Rain
You are so small and slight in the rain. A small target
for the raindrops, for the dust in summer,
and for bomb fragments too. Your belly is slack,
not like the tight flat skin of a drum: the flabbiness
of the third generation. Your grandfather, the pioneer,
drained the swamps. Now the swamps have their revenge.
You’re filled with a madness that pulls people down,
that seethes in a fury of colors.
What are you going to do now? You’ll collect loves
like stamps. You’ve got doubles and no one
will trade with you. And you’ve got damaged ones.
Your mother’s curse broods at your side like a strange bird.
You resemble that curse.
Your room is empty. And each night your bed
is made up again. That’s true damnation
for a bed: to have no one sleeping in it,
not a wrinkle, not a stain, like the cursed
A Man Like That on a Bald Mountain in Jerusalem
A man like that on a bald mountain in Jerusalem:
a scream pries his mouth open, a wind
tears at the skin of his cheeks and reins him in,
like a bit in an animal’s mouth.
This is his language of love: «Be fruitful and multiply—
a sticky business,
like candy in a child’s fingers. It draws flies.
Or like a congealed tube of shaving cream, split and half-empty».
And these are his love-threats: «On your back! You! With all
your hands and feet and your trembling antennae!
Just you wait, I’ll shove it into you
till your grandchildren’s children».
And she answers back: «They’ll bite you in there,
deep inside me. They’ll gnaw you to bits,
those last descendants».
«But a man is not a horse», said the old shoemaker
and worked on my stiff new shoes
till they were soft. And suddenly
I had to cry
from all that love poured out over me.
When a Man’s Far Away from His Country
When a man’s far away from his country for a long time,
his language becomes more precise, more pure,
like precise summer clouds against a blue background,
clouds that don’t ever rain.
That’s how people who used to be lovers
still speak the language of love sometimes —
sterile, emptied of everything, unchanging,
not arousing any response.
But I, who have stayed here, dirty my mouth
and my lips and tongue. In my words
is the souls garbage, the trash of lust,
and dust and sweat. In this dry land even the water I drink
between screams and mumblings of desire
is urine recycled back to me
through a complicated pipework.
The Eve of Rosh Hashanah
The eve of Rosh Hashanah. At the house that’s being built,
a man makes a vow: not to do anything wrong in it,
only to love.
Sins that were green last spring
dried out over the summer. Now they’re whispering.
So I washed my body and clipped my fingernails,
the last good deed a man can do for himself
while he’s still alive.
What is man? In the daytime he untangles into words
what night turns into a heavy coil.
What do we do to one another —
a son to his father, a father to his son?
And between him and death there’s nothing
but a wall of words
like a battery of agitated lawyers.
And whoever uses people as handles or as rungs of a ladder
will soon find himself hugging a stick of wood
and holding a severed hand and wiping his tears
with a potsherd.
A Great Tranquillity:
Questions and Answers, 1980
You Mustn’t Show Weakness
You mustn’t show weakness
and you’ve got to have a tan.
But sometimes I feel like the thin veils
of Jewish women who faint
at weddings and on Yom Kippur.
You mustn’t show weakness
and you’ve got to make a list
of all the things you can load
in a baby carriage without a baby.
This is the way things stand now:
if I pull out the stopper
after pampering myself in the bath,
I’m afraid that all of Jerusalem, and with it the whole world,
will drain out into the huge darkness.
In the daytime I lay traps for my memories
and at night I work in the Balaam Mills,
turning curse into blessing and blessing into curse.
And don’t ever show weakness.
Sometimes I come crashing down inside myself
without anyone noticing. I’m like an ambulance
on two legs, hauling the patient
inside me to Last Aid
with the wailing cry of a siren,
and people think it’s ordinary speech.
From announcements in the paper and on bulletin boards
I find out about things that have gotten lost.
That’s how I know what people owned
and what they love.
Once my head sank down, tired, on my hairy chest
and I found the smell of my father there
again, after many years.
My memories are like a man
who’s forbidden to return to Czechoslovakia
or who’s afraid to return to Chile.
Sometimes I see once again
the white vaulted room
with the telegram
on the table.
An Eternal Window
In a garden I once heard
a song or an ancient blessing.
And above the dark trees
a window is always lit, in memory
of the face that looked out of it,
and that face too
was in memory of another
There Are Candles That Remember
There are candles that remember for a full twenty-four hours,
that’s what the label says. And candles that remember
for eight hours, and eternal candles
that guarantee a man will be remembered by his children.
I’m older than most of the houses in this country, and most of its forests,
which are taller than I am. But I’m still the child I was,
carrying a bowl full of precious liquid from place to place
as in a dream, careful not to spill a drop,
afraid I’ll be punished, and hoping for a kiss when I arrive.
Some of my father’s friends are still living in the city,
scattered about like antiquities without a plaque or an explanation.
Late in my life I had a daughter who will be twenty-two
in the year 2000. Her name
is Emanuella, which means «May God be with us!»
My soul is experienced and built like mountain terraces
against erosion. I’m a holdfast,
a go-between, a buckle-man.
All These Make a Dance Rhythm
When a man grows older, his life becomes less dependent
on the rhythms of time and its seasons. Darkness sometimes
falls right in the middle of an embrace
of two people at a window; or summer comes to an end
during a love affair, while the love goes on
into autumn; or a man dies suddenly in the middle of speaking
and his words remain there on either side; or the same rain
falls on the one who says goodbye and goes
and on the one who says it and stays; or a single thought
wanders through cities and villages and many countries
in the head of a man who is traveling.
All these make a strange
dance rhythm. But I don’t know who’s dancing to it
or who’s calling the tune.
A while back, I found an old photo of myself
with a little girl who died long ago.
We were sitting together, hugging as children do,
in front of a wall where a pear tree stood: her one hand
on my shoulder, and the other one free, reaching out from the dead
to me, now.
And I knew that the hope of the dead is their past,
and God has taken it.
In the Morning It Was Still Night
In the morning it was still night and the lights were on
when we rose from happiness like people
who rise from the dead,
and like them in an instant each of us remembered
a former life. That’s why we separated.
You put on an old-fashioned blouse of striped silk
and a tight skirt, a stewardess of goodbyes
from some earlier generation,
and already our voices were like loudspeakers,
announcing times and places.
From your leather bag with its soft folds, like an old woman’s cheeks,
you took out lipstick, a passport, and a letter sharp-edged as a knife,
and put them on the table.
Then you put everything away again.
I said, I’ll move back a little, as at an exhibition,
to see the whole picture. And
I haven’t stopped moving back.
Time is as light as froth,
the heavy sediment stays in us forever.
A Child Is Something Else Again
A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he’s full of words,
in an instant he’s humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.
A child is Job. They’ve already placed their bets on him
but he doesn’t know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They’re training him to be a polite Job,
to say «Thank you» when the Lord has given,
to say «You’re welcome» when the Lord has taken away.
A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.
A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.
There are toy ships with waves painted on them
and dresses with a print of ships at sea.
There’s the effort of remembering and the effort of blossoming,
the ease of love and the ease of death.
A four-year-old dog corresponds to a man of thirty-five
and a one-day fly, at twilight, to a ripe old man
full of memories. Three hours of thought equal
two minutes of laughter.
In a game, a crying child gives away his hiding-place
but a silent child will be forgotten.
It’s a long time since black stopped being the color of mourning:
a young girl defiantly squeezes herself
into a black bikini.
A painting of a volcano on the wall
makes the people in the room feel secure,
and a cemetery is soothing
because of all the dead.
Someone told me he’s going down to Sinai because
he wants to be alone with his God:
I warned him.
Poem Without an End
Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the museum
my heart, inside my heart
A Great Tranquillity: Questions and Answers
The people in the painfully bright auditorium
spoke about religion
in the life of contemporary man
and about God’s place in it.
People spoke in excited voices
as they do at airports.
I walked away from them:
I opened an iron door marked “Emergency”
and entered into
a great tranquillity: Questions and Answers.
The Hour of Grace, 1983
A Pace Like That
I’m looking at the lemon tree I planted.
A year ago. I’d need a different pace, a slower one,
to observe the growth of its branches, its leaves as they open.
I want a pace like that.
Not like reading a newspaper
but the way a child learns to read,
or the way you quietly decipher the inscription
on an ancient tombstone.
And what a Torah scroll takes an entire year to do
as it rolls its way from Genesis to the death of Moses,
I do each day in haste
or in sleepless nights, rolling over from side to side.
The longer you live, the more people there are
who comment on your actions. Like a worker
in a manhole: at the opening above him
people stand around giving free advice
and yelling instructions,
but he’s all alone down there in his depths.
I Lost My Identity Card
I lost my identity card.
I have to write out the story of my life
all over again for many offices, one copy to God
and one to the devil.
I remember the photo taken thirty-three years ago
at a wind-scorched junction in the Negev.
My eyes were prophets then, but my body had no idea
what it was going through or where it belonged.
You often say, «This is the place,
this happened right here», but its not the place,
you just think so and live in error,
an error whose eternity is greater
than the eternity of truth.
As the years go by, my life keeps filling up with names
like abandoned cemeteries
or like an empty history class
or a telephone book in a foreign city.
And death is when someone behind you keeps calling
and you no longer turn around to see
On Some Other Planet You May Be Right
«On some other planet you may be right,
but not here». In the middle of talking you shifted
to a silent weeping, as people shift from blue to black
in the middle of a letter when a pen goes dry,
or as they used to change horses during a journey.
Talk grew tired, tears
Seeds of summer flew into the room
we were sitting in. In front of the window
there was an almond tree growing black:
one more warrior in the eternal battle
of the sweet against the bitter.
Look, just as time isn’t inside clocks
love isn’t inside bodies:
bodies only tell the love.
But we will remember this evening
the way swimmers remember the strokes
from one summer to the next. «On some other planet
you may be right, but not here».
Autumn Rain in Tel Aviv
A proud, very beautiful woman sold me
a piece of sweet cake
across the counter. Her eyes hard, her back to the sea.
Black clouds on the horizon
forecast storm and lightning
and her body answered them from inside
her sheer dress,
still a summer dress,
like fierce dogs awakening.
That night, among friends in a closed room,
I listened to the heavy rain pelting the window
and the voice of a dead man on tape:
the reel was turning
against the direction of time.
A man all alone in an empty room
practices on a drum. That, too, is history.
His wife irons a flag for the holiday
and his son cries out in his dream.
A man discovers his name in a phone book
and is terrified.
A great man subdues his desire,
and his desire dies.
A wise man sees the future,
but the future sees him and yearns
to go back into the womb.
A man who is content with his lot weeps into
a sophisticated network of pipes, nicely concealed.
A foreign language passes by in the street
like three angels from long, long ago.
Try to Remember Some Details
Try to remember some details. Remember the clothing
of the one you love
so that on the day of disaster you’ll be able to say: last seen
wearing such-and-such, brown jacket, white hat.
Try to remember some details. For they have no face
and their soul is hidden and their crying
is the same as their laughter,
and their silence and their shouting rise to one height
and their body temperature is between 98 and 104 degrees
and they have no life outside this narrow space
and they have no graven image, no likeness, no memory
and they have paper cups on the day of their rejoicing
and disposable paper plates.
Try to remember some details. For the world
is filled with people who were torn from their sleep
with no one to mend the tear,
and unlike wild beasts they live
each in his lonely hiding place and they die
together on battlefields
and in hospitals.
And the earth will swallow all of them,
good and evil together, like the followers of Korah,
all of them in their rebellion against death,
their mouths open till the last moment,
and blessing and cursing are a single
howl. Try, try
to remember some details.
A Man in His Life
A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to langh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and in its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches already pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.
Man Thou Art and Unto Man Shalt Thou Return, 1985
My Mother Comes from the Days
My mother comes from the days when they made
paintings of beautiful fruit in silver bowls
and didn’t ask for more.
People moved through their lives
like ships, with the wind or against it, faithful
to their course.
I ask myself which is better,
dying old or dying young.
As if Fd asked which is lighter,
a pound of feathers or a pound of iron.
I want feathers, feathers, feathers.
I Guard the Children
I guard the children in the schoolyard.
The dog is part of me,
from inside me I hear the echo of his barking.
And the shouts of the children like wild birds
rising up. Not a single shout
will return to the mouth it came from.
Pm an old father keeping watch in place of the great god
who struts around forever in his eternal youth.
I ask myself, during the Shoah
did a father beat his son behind the barbed wire,
did a mother and daughter quarrel in the huts
of annihilation? Was there a stubborn rebellious son
in the transport wagons, a generation gap on the ramp,
an Oedipus in the death cells?
I guard the children as they play.
Sometimes the ball leaps over the fence
and skips and bounces on the slope from yard to yard
and rolls over into another reality.
I lift up my face to a hideous vision:
the honorable men
of power, vaunted and vaunting,
clerks of war, merchants of peace,
treasurers of fate, ministers and presidents
flaunting their colors.
I see them pass over us like death-angels
stalking the firstborn,
their wide-open groin dripping
a honeyed drool like lubricant,
the soles of their clawed feet like
the feet of Ashmedai,
their heads up in the sky, foolish as flags.
The Course of a Life
Till eight days like any happy fly,
on the eighth, a Jew
to be circumcised,
to learn pain without words.
In childhood, a Catholic
for the dances of ritual and its games,
the splendor of fear, the glory of sin
and shining things up above,
or a Jew for the commandments of Shalt and Shalt Not.
We begged you, Lord, to divide right from wrong
and instead you divided the waters above the firmament
from those beneath it. We begged
for the knowledge of good and evil, and you gave us
all kinds of rules and regulations
like the rules of soccer
for the permitted and the forbidden, for reward and punishment,
for defeat and victory, for remembering and forgetting.
A young man believes in nothing and loves everything,
worships idols and stars, girls, hope, despair.
A Protestant at the age when toughening sets in,
the cheek and the mouth, wheeling and dealing, upper
and lower jaw, commerce and industry.
But after midnight, everyone’s the muezzin
of his own life, calling out from the top of himself
as if from the top of a minaret,
crying parched from the pressure of the desert
about the failure of flesh and of blood,
howling insatiable lusts.
Afterward, a motley crowd, you and I, religions
of oblivion and religions of memory,
hot baths, sunsets and a quiet drunkenness
till the body is soul and the soul, body.
And toward the end, again a Jew,
served up on a white pillow to the sandak
after the pain, from him to a good woman
and from one good woman to another,
the taste of sweet wine on his lips, and the taste
of pain between his legs.
And the last eight days without
consciousness, without knowledge, without belief
like any animal, like any stone,
like any happy fly.
The Fist, Too, Was Once the Palm
of an Open Hand, and Fingers, 1989
What I Learned in the Wars
What I learned in the wars:
to march with rhythmically swinging arms and legs
like pumps that pump from an empty well.
To march in line, alone in the middle,
to dig into pillows and covers and the beloved woman’s body
and to shout “Mama” without her hearing
and to shout “God” without believing in Him
and even if I believed in Him
I wouldn’t tell Him about the wars
as one doesn’t tell a child about the grown-ups’ horrors.
What did I learn. I learned to keep a route of retreat.
When abroad, I book a room in a hotel
by the airport or the train station.
And even in halls of public celebration
always keep in view the little door
on which “exit” is written in red letters.
A battle, too, begins
like rhythmic drums for dancing
and ends with “retreat at dawn.” Forbidden loves
and battles both, sometimes, end so.
But above all, I learned the wisdom of camouflage,
that I shouldn’t stick out, that I shouldn’t be known,
that they shouldn’t tell between me and my surroundings,
even between me and my love,
that they should think I was a bush or a lamb,
that I was a tree, that I was a tree’s shadow,
that I was a doubt, the shadow of a doubt,
that I was a hedge, a dead stone,
a house, the corner of a house.
Were I a prophet, I would dim the vision’s splendor
and darken my faith with black paper
and cover God’s chariot with nets.
And when the time comes I shall don the camouflage of my end:
white of clouds and lots of sky blue
and stars beyond number.
What Kind of Man
«What kind of man are you?» people ask me.
I am a man with a complex network of pipes in my soul,
sophisticated machineries of emotion
and a precisely monitored memory system
of the late twentieth century,
but with an old body from ancient days
and a God more obsolete even than my body.
I am a man for the surface of the earth.
Deep places, pits and holes in the ground
make me nervous. Tall buildings
and mountaintops terrify me.
I am not like a piercing fork
nor a cutting knife nor a scooping spoon
nor a flat, wily spatula that sneaks in from underneath.
At most I’m a heavy and clumsy pestle
that mashes good and evil together
for the sake of a little flavor,
a little fragrance.
Guideposts don’t tell me where to go.
I conduct my business quietly, diligently,
as if carrying out a long will that began to be written
the moment I was born.
Now I am standing on the sidewalk,
weary, leaning on a parking meter.
I can stand here for free, my own man.
I’m not a car. I’m a human being,
a man-god, a god-man
whose days are numbered.
I buy a small bag of figs,
I hold the bag with the hand
that’s at the end of my arm.
My arm is the bridge
between the bag of sweet figs
and my body.
The bridge belongs to them both.
The bag of figs and my body are equals.
I Am a Penniless Prophet
I am a penniless prophet, like a child who has
only two colors. I paint my life in war
and love, in noise and stillness.
The great prophets threw away half their prophecies
like the half-smoked cigarettes of a nervous smoker.
I pick them up and make them into penniless prophecies.
In the water towers the water is silent,
in empty pipes the un-water wails and growls.
Words soak up «blood, sweat, and tears»
and are thrown into the garbage. Disposable words
like paper tissues. Disposable people,
that is their forever.
Words should have been empty
and narrow and hard, like a watershed,
despair and hope, joy and sorrow, tranquillity and rage
should have flowed to both sides
for a new cycle.
I am a penniless prophet. I live within the hopes of others,
as within a beam of light not meant to light me up,
I cast the shadow of my image, of my likeness,
my body hides the famous lovely view.
I come between the seer and his vision.
I am a penniless prophet who comes home at noon
to eat and rest and, in the evening, sleep.
I get an annual vacation and sabbatical years
and soul insurance and a pension for old age.
I began my life so low.
When I go up high in the drunkenness of my soul,
when I reach the height of my visions,
I find myself with everyday people
who have children and jobs and family cares
and household chores.
These are my visions. I am a penniless prophet.
First Rain on a Burned Car
The closeness of life to death
near the corpse of a car at the roadside.
You hear the raindrops on the rusty metal
before you feel them on the skin of your face.
The rains have come, redemption after death.
Rust is more eternal than blood, more beautiful
than the color of flames.
The shock absorbers are calmer than the dead
who won’t quiet down for a long time.
A wind that is time alternates
with a wind that is place, and God
remains down here like a man who thinks
he’s forgotten something, and will stick around
until he remembers.
And at night, like a wondrous melody,
you can hear man and machine
on their slow journey from a red fire
to a black peace and from there to history
to archaeology to the beautiful
strata of geology:
that too is eternity and a deep joy.
Like human sacrifice that became
animal sacrifice, then loud prayer,
then prayer in the heart,
and then no prayer at all.
Sorrow and Joy
Sorrow and joy alternating
like water and vapor and ice,
sorrow and joy from the same substance.
Love and unlove, two colors
in a single rose, it’s wonderful,
an achievement of the rose’s cultivator
whose name stays with the rose.
Many years later we met again
without pain, each of us with our own tranquillity.
That was the Garden of Eden
but it was also hell.
Open Closed Open, 1998
David, King of Israel, Is Alive:
Thou Art the Man
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about King David.
Not the one who is alive forever in the song,
and not the one who is dead forever
under the heavy carpets on his tomb that is not really his tomb,
but the one who played and played for Saul
and kept dodging the spear until he became king.
David changed his tune and pretended to be mad to save
his life; as for me, I change my tune and pretend to be sane
to save my life. If he were alive today
he would tell me: No, it’s the other way around.
Every nation had a first king once
like a first love. And the other way around.
King David loves Bathsheba,
hugs her tight, fondles her with the same hands
that cut off the head of Goliath,
the very same hands. The same man who rent his clothes
and scattered ashes on his head when his son died,
the very same man. When the sun
rose in the east, he rose up over Bathsheba
like the lion on the banner of Jerusalem
and said to her: Thou art the woman.
And she to him: Thou art the man!
Before long, he would hear the very same words
from the prophet: Thou art the man!
King David lies with Bathsheba on the rooftop,
they are heavy as a cloud and light as a cloud.
Her untamed black hair and the wild red hair of his beard
entangled. They have never seen each other’s ears
and never will. He acts weak, weepy, lost, betrayed,
escapes into her body and hides inside it
as in the caves and crevices when he fled
from Saul. She counts his battle scars.
You will be mine, she says,
you will be a tower, a citadel, a city, a street, a hotel,
you will be names, names, and in the end
you will be a wadi for two lovers in the desert in 1965:
Nahal David in Ein Gedi.
King David took Bathsheba in the hours
between midnight and dawn.
Those are the best hours for a surprise attack
and the best time for making love.
He declared: «Thou art permitted unto me now —
as of this moment you are a widow, the battle is over
in Rabbah». In their bodies, David and Bathsheba
mimicked the death throes
of Uriah the Hittite in battle. Their cries carried
until Yom Kippur and up to our very own day;
the instruments of their love rang out like the bells of Bethlehem
where he was born. He took her from the west
the way his descendants turn east to pray.
King David loves many women. He has an ark of love
full of beautiful women, like a holy ark filled with Torah scrolls
brilliant in their beauty, crammed with commands and prohibitions
of Shalt and Shalt Not, weighted with ornaments,
round and sweet as Sephardi Torah scrolls,
heavy as Ashkenazi scrolls with their massive crowns,
dressed in silk and lace and soft velvet embroidered in many colors,
the breastplate hanging like a pendant, and the slender
hand-shaped pointers of silver inlaid with precious stones.
And on Simchat Torah, the Feast of the Law, which is
the Feast of Love, he takes them all out of the ark,
lines them up, kisses them one by one and hugs them,
makes seven rounds and dances with every one,
even with Michal and Merab who never in their lives
wanted him to dance. Then he puts them back
into the depths of the ark, closes the heavy curtain,
and sits down to write the psalms.
And all the women said, He loved me best of all,
but Abishag the Shunamite, the girl who came to him in his old age
to keep him warm, she is the only one who said:
I kept him warm, stroked his battle scars and his love scars,
I anointed him with oil, not for kingship but for cure.
I never heard him play or sing, but I wiped his mouth,
his toothless mouth, when I fed him sweet porridge.
I never saw his hands in battle but I kissed
his old white hands.
I am the poor man’s ewe lamb, warm and full of compassion,
I came to him from the pasture
as he came from pasture to kingship.
I am the poor man’s ewe lamb that rose out of the parable
and I am yours until death comes between us.
Houses (Plural); Love (Singular)
Sheltered by good news,
sheltered even by the bad, now we are at home.
But we remain as we were then, before we had a home,
when we were in the wadis of Ein Gedi. We are still
like those wadis, you the Rejeh, I the Sideir, even now,
sheltered in our home in Jerusalem. At our door
the two eunuchs, Time and Fate, stand guard,
and the mezuzah on our doorpost says:
And thou, man, shalt love;
and thou, woman, shalt love.
We lived in many houses and left remnants of memory
in every one of them: a newspaper, a book facedown, a crumpled map
of some faraway land, a forgotten toothbrush standing sentinel in a cup —
that too is a memorial candle, an eternal light.
And in those days before we made a home for ourselves,
we made the whole country into homes.
Even the beach at Caesarea
where we piled our clothes onto a solemn mound,
sandals and shirts and towels and pants, yours and mine,
jumbled together, like us, and then went into the water.
I said to myself: If we’d lived in ancient times and made love
in the mountains or the desert, we’d have piled stone on stone
and called upon the name of the Lord and gone on our way,
but we made love by the sea, our clothes
a mound of witness in the sand,
and we called upon the name of our love.
Passersby thought we might have drowned in the sea.
But we did not drown in the sea, we drowned in all the years
after that chapter, still wrapped up
in each other, like our clothes on that mound on the shore.
We lived in the Valley of Gehenna in no man’s land in the divided
Our roof was hit, our walls wounded by bullets and shrapnel.
We propped up the broken leg of the bed with a pile of books.
(I don’t know if we ever read them again). The stone steps
were like the ladder the angels left behind when they fled
Jacob’s dream, a ladder for us to climb up and down.
In Hebrew, no man’s land is called “the zone of abandon”.
When we lived there, we were a man and a woman earnest in our loving,
we were not abandoned. And if we have not died, we are loving still.
And if we have died, we will be first in line at the resurrection
that Ezekiel prophesied in his vision:
bones coming together, bone to bone, skin over flesh and sinew —
Ezekiel didn’t go into detail. But the two of us continued his vision:
hips for hugging, soft inner thighs for stroking, twin buttocks, upper
and nether hair, eyes to open and close, lips chiseled, the tongue precise.
And we fleshed out his vision even further:
two people talking, a summer dress, underwear hung out to dry, a
We will be ourselves, we will be ebb and flow, changing weathers,
seasons of the year, we will go on being,
we will go on and on.
And how will they use our love. How will they copy the line of your thighs
and the line of my arm on their maps to mark boundaries between lands
we didn’t know existed. How the color of your eyes and the color of my
will coexist in the flags of new nations in the future of the world.
And the words we spoke to one another at night will serve as secret
and proclamations of independence and treaties of surrender and victory.
How they will use us! From our positions of loving
they will invent newfangled sophisticated machinery for the coming
and from our movements of loving, someone may map out a great
military action, hug-and-embrace, grasp-and-pincers, rocket trajectories.
And from the lulls in our loving they will calculate the Apocalypse
and visions of a calm happy End of Days
in eternal stillness and everlasting love.
«Thy breasts are fashioned and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast
naked and bare»,
thus shouted the prophet Ezekiel thousands of years ago,
thus shouted an epileptic drunk in the fury of his lust.
He thought you were a parable and didn’t know that he was prophesying
you for my sake
now. «Thy breasts are fashioned and thine hair is grown», almost an
fields readied for sowing, for growing and ripening of grain.
«Whereas thou wast naked and bare»: thus years ago,
but now prepared for this life, in our time.
No longer black pantyhose ripped in lust,
but dressed in a serious striped suit, white stripes on black,
over pantyhose pulled taut.
But under all these, you remained naked and bare and wild
as you were back then, in the little house near the Valley of the Cross,
just as the prophet, in the desperation of his love, prophesied you and
didn’t know it.
We divided the language between us: you took the vowels
and I the consonants, and together we were of one language
and many words. Listen, man, listen, woman:
our life is one, of deaths there are many, and gods not a few,
our life is one and our love is one.
About a dead man they say, he went to his world,
and we are alive and we went, you to my world
and I to yours. Over a dead man they say Kaddish
and we say Kaddish every day, Kaddish in its capacity as
thanksgiving and praise and joy and strength and a song of love.
For the dead praise not the Lord.
Kaddish like the Kiddushin of betrothal. Behold, man, thou art; behold,
woman, thou art:
behold us, behold the world, behold our world.
The Jewish Time Bomb
On my desk is a stone with “Amen” carved on it, one survivor fragment
of the thousands upon thousands of bits of broken tombstones
in Jewish graveyards. I know all these broken pieces
now fill the great Jewish time bomb
along with the other fragments and shrapnel, broken Tablets of the Law
broken altars broken crosses rusty crucifixion nails
broken houseware and holyware and broken bones
eyeglasses shoes prostheses false teeth
empty cans of lethal poison. All these broken pieces
fill the Jewish time bomb until the end of days.
And though I know about all this, and about the end of days,
the stone on my desk gives me peace.
It is the touchstone no one touches, more philosophical
than any philosopher’s stone, broken stone from a broken tomb
more whole than any wholeness,
a stone of witness to what has always been
and what will always be, a stone of amen and love.
Amen, amen, and may it come to pass.
Autumn, Love, Commercials
End of summer. After extreme torture by the last hamsin,
summer confesses its guilt and I say: The dry tree is regal, the thorn
glorious, the thistles that give themselves over to their hardness
are marvelous. The parasite ivy is more beautiful than the host,
and the dry tendrils of the vine cling to the bramble in love.
White feathers at the mouth of a cave tell of a brutal death
but also of the beauty of great wings beating.
The fissures and cracks in the tormented earth will be the map
of my life. From here on, bird-watchers will determine history,
geologists will plot out the future, meteorologists
will read the palm of God’s hand, and botanists
will be experts in the tree of knowledge, good and evil.
With a squeeze of my fingers, like a lover’s pinch, I check
if the figs are ripe. I will never know what counts as death
to figs, being left on the tree or rotting on the ground,
what their inferno is and their Eden, what their salvation
and what their resurrection. The mouth that eats them —
is it heaven’s gate or the mouth of hell? Once upon a time,
trees were the gods of human beings. Now perhaps we
are gods to the trees and their fruit.
The turtledove calls out in love to its brothers the carob trees;
it knows nothing of the eons of evolution
that lie between them, it calls and calls and calls.
The upturned gaze to see if clouds —
what does it light upon along its way: walls, balconies,
the laundry of longings hung out to dry, wistful windows, rooftops,
sky. The open hand stretched out to see if raindrops —
that is the most innocent hand of all,
the most believing, more prayerful
than all the worshipers in all the houses of prayer.
In the airplane in the sky, those who are returning home
sit beside those who are leaving, and their faces are the same.
Atmospheric currents of longing form the rain that’s about to fall.
In the Crusader ruins, the autumn squill blooms long after
its leaves come up in the spring, but it knows what happened
in the long dry summer between. Its brief eternity.
The water towers in Yad Mordechai and Negba were kept in ruins
as a remembrance. What an autumn nation we are,
to celebrate the fall of Masada and its suicides,
the ruin of Jotapata and Betar and the destruction of Jerusalem
at the Western Wall. Remnant of remnants. Like someone who keeps
shoes that are falling apart, a torn sock, tattered letters as remembrances.
All this only to postpone a little the hour of death.
And all our lives, everything that happens in them, that stirs and swarms
is a hedge around life. And death too is a hedge around life.
I want to sing a psalm of praise to all that remains
here with us and doesn’t leave, doesn’t wander off like migratory birds,
will not flee to the north or the south, will not sing “In the East is my
and I dwell at the end of the West.” I want to sing to the trees
that do not shed their leaves and that suffer
the searing summer heat and the cold of winter,
and to human beings who do not shed their memories
and who suffer more than those who shed everything.
But above all, I want to sing a psalm of praise
to the lovers who stay together for joy, for sorrow and for joy.
To make a home, to make babies, now and in other seasons.
I saw a tree in fall whose hardened seeds rattled and clacked
inside their pods. A man’s seed streams and slithers out, sticky,
and is swallowed up without a sound.
Thus hath the seed of a tree preeminence
over the seed of a man:
it is like a cheerful toy rattle, and that is its love song.
For love must be spoken, not whispered, that it may be
seen and heard. It must be without camouflage,
conspicuous, noisy, like a raucous laugh.
It must be a kitschy commercial for “Be fruitful and multiply”:
a perky amazing “Be fruitful” and a hard-edged, tortured “multiply”
of the human species—sweet frosting for a bitter life.
Love is words and flowers that attract insects and butterflies
in the field, but also the floral pattern on a woman’s dress.
It’s the delicate skin of the inner thigh, it’s underwear
down to the bottoms of the soul and overwear up to the heavens,
it’s public relations, the pull of earth dwellers to earth,
Newton’s law of gravity
and the law of levity of the divine. Hallelujah.
And Who Will Remember the Rememberers?
Verses for Memorial Day, a psalm of remembering
for the war dead. The generation of memory-veterans
is dying out. Half at a ripe old age, half at a rotten old age.
And who will remember the rememberers?
How does a monument come into being? A car goes up in a red blaze
at Sha’ar HaGay. A car burnt black. The skeleton of a car.
And next to it, the skeleton of some other car, charred in a traffic accident
on some other road. The skeletons are painted with anti-rust paint, red
like the red of that flame. Near one skeleton, a wreath of flowers,
now dry. From dry flowers you make a memorial wreath,
and from dry bones, a vision of resurrected bones.
And somewhere else, far away, hidden among the bushes,
a cracked marble plaque with names on it. An oleander branch,
like a shock of hair on a beloved face, hides most of them.
But once a year the branch is cut back and the names are read,
while up above, a flag at half mast waves as cheerfully
as a flag at the top of the flagpole, light and easy,
happy with its colors and breezes.
And who will remember the rememberers?
What is the correct way to stand at a memorial ceremony?
Erect or stooped, pulled taut as a tent or in the slumped posture
of mourning, head bowed like the guilty or held high
in a collective protest against death,
eyes gaping frozen like the eyes of the dead
or shut tight, to see stars inside?
And what is the best time for remembering? At noon
when shadows are hidden beneath our feet, or at twilight
when shadows lengthen like longings
that have no beginning, no end, like God?
And what should our lament be? David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan:
«Swifter than eagles, stronger than lions», that is what our lament should
Had they really been swifter than eagles
they would have soared high above the war
and would not have been hurt. From down here, we would have seen
and said: «There go the eagles! There is my son, my husband, my brother».
And had they really been stronger than lions
they would have stayed like lions, not died like human beings.
They would have eaten out of our hands,
we would have stroked their golden manes,
we would have tamed them in our homes, with love:
My son, my husband, my brother, my husband, my son.
No one has ever heard of the fruit of the jasmine,
no poet has sung its praises,
they all sing drunken odes to the jasmine flower,
its heady scent, its color, white against dark leaves,
the vigor of its blossoming and the force of its short life —
a butterfly’s life or the life of a star.
No one has ever heard of the fruit of the jasmine.
And who will remember the rememberers?
No one praises the blossoms of the vine, everyone praises
the fruit of the vine, and blesses the wine.
Have I mentioned that my father, in the wisdom of his hands,
knew how to prepare parcels for transport,
packed tight and sealed tight
so they wouldn’t come undone along the way like me?
So much death in everything, so much packing and transport,
so much open that will never close again, so much closed
that will never open.
And who will remember? And what do you use to preserve memory?
How do you preserve anything in this world?
You preserve it with salt and with sugar, high heat and deep freeze,
vacuum sealers, dehydrators, mummifiers.
But the best way to preserve memory is to conserve it inside forgetting
so not even a single act of remembering will seep in
and disturb memory’s eternal rest.
Seeking roots in the Warsaw cemetery
Here it is the roots that are seeking. They burst
from the ground, overturn gravestones,
and clasp the broken fragments in search
of names and dates, in search
of what was and will never be again.
The roots are seeking their trees that were burned to the ground.
Forgotten, remembered, forgotten. Open, closed, open.
I Wasn’t One of the Six Million:
And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open
I wasn’t one of the six million who died in the Shoah,
I wasn’t even among the survivors.
And I wasn’t one of the six hundred thousand who went out of Egypt.
I came to the Promised Land by sea.
No, I was not in that number, though I still have the fire and the smoke
within me, pillars of fire and pillars of smoke that guide me
by night and by day. I still have inside me the mad search
for emergency exits, for soft places, for the nakedness
of the land, for the escape into weakness and hope,
I still have within me the lust to search for living water
with quiet talk to the rock or with frenzied blows.
Afterwards, silence: no questions, no answers.
Jewish history and world history
grind me between them like two grindstones, sometimes
to a powder. And the solar year and the lunar year
get ahead of each other or fall behind,
leaping, they set my life in perpetual motion.
Sometimes I fall into the gap between them to hide,
or to sink all the way down.
I’ve never been in those places where I’ve never been
and never will be, I have no share in the infinity of light-years and dark-
but the darkness is mine, and the light, and my time
is my own. The sand on the seashore—those infinite grains
are the same sand where I made love in Akhziv and Caesarea.
The years of my life I have broken into hours, and the hours into minutes
and seconds and fractions of seconds. These, only these,
are the stars above me
that cannot be numbered.
And what is my life span? I’m like a man gone out of Egypt:
the Red Sea parts, I cross on dry land,
two walls of water, on my right hand and on my left.
Pharaoh’s army and his horsemen behind me. Before me the desert,
perhaps the Promised Land, too. That is my life span.
Open closed open. Before we are born, everything is open
in the universe without us. For as long as we live, everything is closed
within us. And when we die, everything is open again.
Open closed open. That’s all we are.
What then is my life span? Like shooting a self-portrait.
I set up the camera a few feet away on something stable
(the one thing that’s stable in this world),
I decide on a good place to stand, near a tree,
run back to the camera, press the timer,
run back again to that place near the tree,
and I hear the ticking of time, the whirring
like a distant prayer, the click of the shutter like an execution.
That is my life span. God develops the picture
in His big darkroom. And here is the picture:
white hair on my head, eyes tired and heavy,
eyebrows black, like the charred lintels
above the windows in a house that burned down.
My life span is over.
My life is the gardener of my body. The brain — a hothouse closed tight
with its flowers and plants, alien and odd
in their sensitivity, their terror of becoming extinct.
The face—a formal French garden of symmetrical contours
and circular paths of marble with statues and places to rest,
places to touch and smell, to look out from, to lose yourself
in a green maze, and Keep Off and Don’t Pick the Flowers.
The upper body above the navel — an English park
pretending to be free, no angles, no paving stones, naturelike,
humanlike, in our image, after our likeness,
its arms linking up with the big night all around.
And my lower body, beneath the navel — sometimes a nature preserve,
wild, frightening, amazing, an unpreserved preserve,
and sometimes a Japanese garden, concentrated, full of
forethought. And the penis and testes are smooth
polished stones with dark vegetation between them,
precise paths fraught with meaning
and calm reflection. And the teachings of my father
and the commandments of my mother
are birds of chirp and song. And the woman I love
is seasons and changing weather, and the children at play
are my children. And the life my life.
I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment
millions of human beings are standing at crossroads
and intersections, in jungles and deserts,
showing each other where to turn, what the right way is,
which direction. They explain exactly where to go,
what is the quickest way to get there, when to stop
and ask again. There, over there. The second
turnoff, not the first, and from there left or right,
near the white house, by the oak tree.
They explain with excited voices, with a wave of the hand
and a nod of the head: There, over there, not that there, the other there,
as in some ancient rite. This too is a new religion.
I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment.
In My Life, on My Life
All my life I played chess with myself and with others
and the days of my life were chess pieces, good and bad—I and me,
I and he, war and love, hope and despair,
black pieces and white. Now they’re all jumbled together,
colorless, and the chessboard has no squares,
it’s a smooth surface blending into night and into day.
The game is calm and has no end, no winners,
no losers, the hollow rules
clang in the wind. I listen. And I am quiet.
In my life and in my death.
When I was a boy I said the bedtime prayer
every night. I remember the verse
«The angel who delivers me from all danger».
I never prayed after that, not on my bed,
not in the hills, not in war, not by day and not by night,
but the delivering angel stayed by my side and became
a loving angel. That loving angel will turn into the Angel of Death when the hour comes, but it is always the same angel
who delivers me from all danger.
I always have to revisit the sands of Ashdod
where I had a little bit of courage in that battle, that war,
soft hero in the soft sand. My few scraps of heroism I squandered then,
that’s why I always revisit the sands of Ashdod. Now they’ve become
vacation sands—swimmers, children at play,
warning flags, a lifeguard. In those days
there were no warning flags, no guard, no one to save us.
I always have to revisit the ticklings of my childhood,
the ticklings I used to get from my aunts back when it was
an act of grace, true grace. For the sheer joy of living.
Since then, tickling has become a serious business, no longer the ringing laughter
of a child: a tickle verging on pain, new skin healing the breach
between good and evil, a tickle of wild passion and resurrection.
Sometimes I send my hand all the way up to my scalp to scratch
like a rocket launched into light-years of space—my head at the edge of
Sometimes in the morning I rub my eyes lightly, toward my nose,
toward the soothing, saving work of memory.
That motion conjures spirits from the magic-trick-bag
of the body, the generations of tickles. And best of all,
that sensation when my thigh grows indifferent and goes to sleep,
then suddenly jerks awake with a million exquisite pins and needles.
Thus a new religion begins after an age of apathy:
out of the blue a new tickle, a new faith. Amen selah.
I know how slight are the threads that tie me to my joy
but from those slight threads I have woven strong clothing,
a kind of soft armor, the warp and weft of joy
to help me cover my nakedness and protect me.
But sometimes it seems to me my life isn’t worth
the skin of my body that wraps around it, not even
these fingernails with which I hang on to my life.
I am like a man who holds his wrist up
to catch a glimpse of Time, even when he isn’t wearing a watch. And sometimes the gurgling of the last waters
draining from the bathtub
is a nightingale’s song to my ear.
The world is filled with remembering and forgetting
like sea and dry land. Sometimes memory
is the solid ground we stand on,
sometimes memory is the sea that covers all things
like the Flood. And forgetting is the dry land that saves, like Ararat.
I want my brain not to be inside my head
but in some other part of my body—my feet, my belly,
my buttocks, an intense little cerebellum in my navel.
Or even outside my body—let my brain be a hollow
scooped in the sand, where donkeys, dogs and children
roll around, tumble and squeal with delight.
On my life, I swear it: that’s what I want in my life, on my life!
And every person is a dam between past and future.
When he dies the dam bursts, the past breaks into the future, and there is no before or after. All time becomes one time like our God: our Time is One.
Blessed be the memory of the dam.
Life is called life as the west wind is called
west, though it blows toward the east.
The way death is called death, though it blows toward life.
In a cemetery we remember the living, and outside it—
the dead. As the past leads to the future
though it’s called past, as you to me and I to you in love though I’m called by my name and you by yours.
As spring provides for summer, as summer beds down into fall.
As my thoughts will be till the end of my life. That is the banner of my God.
When a man dies, they say “He was gathered unto his fathers.” As long as he is alive, his fathers are gathered within him, each cell of his body and soul a delegate from one of his thousands of fathers since the beginning of time.
Each day now I hear the circles of my life closing,
the click of buckles, like kisses
of conciliation and love. And these lend a rhythm
to the latest version of my life. Things that were lost long ago
find their places now, like billiard balls, each one into its pocket.
Contracts and prophecies are fulfilled, prophecies true and false.
I come upon the missing lids of pots and pans that stayed uncovered,
I find the matching pieces, like an ancient contract of clay
broken into two parts, unequal but fitting together.
Like a mosaic, like a jigsaw puzzle, children searching
for the missing pieces. When the game is over,
the picture will be whole. Complete.
I, may I rest in peace—I, who am still living, say,
May I have peace in the rest of my life.
I want peace right now while I’m still alive.
I don’t want to wait like that pious man who wished for one leg
of the golden chair of Paradise, I want a four-legged chair
right here, a plain wooden chair. I want the rest of my peace now.
I have lived out my life in wars of every kind: battles without
and within, close combat, face-to-face, the faces always
my own, my lover-face, my enemy-face.
Wars with the old weapons—sticks and stones, blunt axe, words,
dull ripping knife, love and hate,
and wars with newfangled weapons—machine gun, missile,
words, land mines exploding, love and hate.
I don’t want to fulfill my parents’ prophecy that life is war.
I want peace with all my body and all my soul.
Rest me in peace.
When I die, I want only women to handle me in the Chevra Kadisha
and to do with my body as they please: cleanse my ears of the last
words I heard, wipe my lips of the last words I said,
erase the sights I saw from my eyes, smooth my brow of worries
and fold my arms across my chest like the sleeves of a shirt after ironing.
Let them salve my flesh with perfumed oil to anoint me King of Death
for a day, and arrange in my pelvic basin as in a fruit bowl
testes and penis, navel and frizzy hair—like an ornate still life
from some past century, a very still life on a ground of dark velvet,
and then with a feather tickle my mouth-hole and asshole to check
if I’m still alive. Let them laugh and cry by turns
and administer a last massage that passes from their hands through me
to the entire world till the End of Days.
And one of them will sing God Full of Mercy,
will sing in a sweet voice God Full of Womb,
to remind God that mercy is born of the womb, true mercy,
true womb, true love, true grace. On my life, I swear it,
that’s what I want in my death, in my life.