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Anthology of contemporary Hebrew poetry III


From the eyelashes of memory
I built a garden. And I planted
vines and peachtrees
on one side.
And I hung clusters of bells
on the mulberry trees. They will
ripen in the summertime.
I also tied ropes
that dance with the wind.
Children, who come
to play hide and seek
will laugh like
toothless birds. Fruit
like the face of a girl
I pulled to my lips.
She slipped from my hands
when we grew up,
and birds
slipped away from the land.
And the garden I kept
between my lashes has shed
its leaves like words
that have shed onto paper.


I was born in the sands of the streets.
My hand was a broad sail
I was the storm.
The pavement was an autumn
that gaped under my feet
for eyes and song or story.
Because of the steps of many feet
and because of the wind I rise like dust
at a street corner.
My wound blooms at a crossroads
drips the pus of civilization
lights a cigarette in the hubbub,
carries its empty basket
and falls,
but he is the abyss.


The man leaning on his cane with one
hand, holds in his other a glass
of arak. Times, which changed
in the space gaping between his legs,
evaporate in his shaky hand.
He's vanishing like the scents
of the anise he bottled in the basement.
Mornings, he leans back in his chair
releasing into the busy street
a few ghosts for the passersby.

Time was, the ghosts stood proud in his legs
upon a tavern table. And today,
the arak in his lips is gone. The
table is no more. Only lines of
an itinerant artist are wrinkled in his face.
These are the traces of the man who
descended to the cellar and never came back.
This is how his hands went,
each its own way.
The one with anise fumes to heaven.
The other with a bamboo cane to dust.
Only the man who drank his life slowly,
hung himself up on the wall.
There's no one to take him down.


Strange people sit in
cafés of an evening. The day
has already flown from their memories,
slipped through their fingers without knowing
what remained at its end. Without knowing
love. And from within the noise reflected in
a shop window, and the talk of this and that,
and especially of the rise of stock prices in December,
and the drop in the price of gold, I remember
the Gate of Oblivion. This is the gate overlooking
the Chambers of Joy. Because from so much memory
you forget who you are. Who is ugly and who beautiful.
You forget who lived before you by his sword,
and who walks towards his death on the café table.
There, at the end, between sip and sip
you will yet discover
in the murky depths of a cup
that oblivion
is the beginning of memory.


I was born under the sign of Scorpio.
Or so the village elders said.
And their faces were like autumn leaves
that brushed past
my face. And they said
that when I was born in November no
star fell from the sky. I was a stranger
who passed through a bottomless dream.
the desert wind gave birth to my mother.
And when the autumns went and never returned
like the blackbird returns to his bush,
my footsteps wound through strange lands. Women, like time
were reflected in windows like pomegranates that shed
their leaves. And I am like transitional seasons
green memories fall from my body like snow from a cloud.

And over the years I also learned
to shed my skin like
a snake caught between scissors and paper.
Thus was my fate sealed in words cut
from the roots of pain. With a tongue
forked in two.
One, Arabic
to keep mother's memory alive.
The other, Hebrew
to love on a winter's night.


Every time I walk along the way
that leads to the distant desert,
the skies drizzle on my head. And I
get wet from rain memories. I try
to pull my hand from my pocket
to feel the remains of eyelashes
left behind on my sunglasses;
I find no cure for my hungry hand
or my thirsty eyes. I find nothing
to help me out of this trap.
Above all, I can't return my hand
to the pocket empty of held hands.
Meanwhile I don't give a damn
for what's in the way
that winds through my mind.
Not a second goes by before I find
that I'm a thousand years ago
thrown by the wayside, cloaked
in foggy longings for the promised land.
If I gaze at myself in the mirror
I will see a drunk, tipsy from what
my hands have done. A burnt cigarette
pokes out of my mouth. And smoke
billows from all my pockets
gaping wide.


In my lips an abandoned homeland.
Shaking grains of wheat from her shoulders
that stuck to hairs of her head.

Among the olive groves
the peasant draws furrows of memory.
And forgets the longing of the wild birds
for grain.

On the palms of the mountain boulders
the morning clouds dripped
pressed from all sides by the hills.

The hunter, refusing to surrender,
fills his bag with ragged clothes.
And sticks a partridge tail among them
so people will know
that he is an excellent hunter.


The lake
has long climbed
to the branches of the trees.
The peasant
plows the field
with bare feet. In the dawn
hour he does not see
the approach of Spring.
The anemones
have long bloomed forth
red tile roofs.


Though there are no cypress avenues
in the city of Jerusalem. And no paved
paths for pedestrians, no
wooden benches by the wayside, and no
women in skirts deciduous in the wind,
the kind that paint the sidewalk
with orange foliage lacking
taste and fragrance.
Though I am not oversensitive to the
cypress dust that isn't,
nor to spring at the gates,
nor summer and heat. Nor
winter in the feet. Only the autumn,
spinning merciless and the storm,
slices the soul like a razor,
and gives me a rash
in the eyes.


On the palm of her hand the others drew
the lines of a cage, where they imprisoned
her life story. And, son of Arabia that I am,
I hate an imprisoned bird. Each time she
gave me her hand, I erased a line.
And released birds.


A poem for the late hours of the night

It changes so fast,
the world. And for me it's
now absurd. Things have got
to the point that I've stopped
thinking about the fall.
Because, after all, from here,
there's nowhere to go.
And anyway, even in the park
the trees are uprooted and gone.

And at times like these, to go out
to the streets here swarming
with people is a dangerous
thing. The road is so
wet. And blood flows
in the main artery.
I count them:
One from here,
one from there.
I count them
like sheep,
until I fall asleep.


Published 1999-11-02

Original in Hebrew
Translation by Vivian Eden
Contributed by Helicon
© Salman Massalha
© Eurozine

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