Anthology of contemporary Hebrew poetry III

GARDEN

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.

ABORTION

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.

SELF-PORTRAIT

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.

OBLIVION

Strange people sit in
caf�s 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 caf� 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.

SCORPIO

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.

But,

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.

TRAP

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.

PARTRIDGE TAIL

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.

ANEMONES: PALESTINIAN SONG

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.

BLOOMING RASH

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.

CAGE

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.

ONE FROM HERE

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 2 November 1999
Original in Hebrew
Translated by Vivian Eden

Contributed by Helicon © Salman Massalha Eurozine

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