Anthology of contemporary Hebrew poetry VII

Language Says

Language says: before language
stands a language. Language is traces
stained by over there.
Language says: listen now.
You listen: here was

Take silence and try to be silent.
Take the words and try to speak:
beyond language, language is a wound
from which the world flows and flows.
Language says: is, is not, is,
is not. Language says: I.
Language says: come on, let’s speak you,
let’s handle you; come on, say
you’ve said –

A Glass of Beer

The perfect murder has no reasons, he said,
the perfect murder needs only a perfect object,
as it was in Auschwitz.
Not the crematoria, of course, but as it was
afterwards, outside working hours.
And he fell silent
looking at the froth on the beer
and taking a sip.

The perfect murder is love, he said.
The perfect murder doesn’t require anything perfect
except giving
as much as you can.
Even the memory of gripping the throat
is eternal. Even the howls that rocked my hand,
even the piss that fell like grace on cold flesh,
even the heel of the boot awakens another eternity,
even the silence,
he said,
looking at the froth.

True, a decent arbeit macht frei,
but a perfect murder doesn’t spill
a drop,
like the lips of a child, he explained,
like sand and froth,
like you,
sipping and listening

Orpheus Prayer

Death and yet more death.
We have stood in the square hungry to be and, like mountain shadows,

covered the city with pictures of a waking sleep.
Was she or wasn’t she there?

A stranger in my body, able and yet unable, I tried the air;
‘How many more years will we walk these dead sands?’

The mountain is glimpsed like a vision or a mirage. Sands move on underfoot
like a memory with no beginning, and each place is every place.

Does the way go up or down? Are you here, behind my gaze?
Is my gaze there, ahead of me? Where have we come from?

Alone, the two of us have crossed vast marshes on the slowly melting
faces of the drowned.

For years we’ve been immortal.

In the attic, in Amsterdam, we saw terrible sorrow in the window.
How much longer shall we walk between death and death, sand and sand?

A new past give us, a new death give us.
Give us this day the life of the day.

Rain. He’s torn out from himself.

You bite, swallow, actually crack line after line
in front of this screen, spit the spaces as if they’re

a Hungarian sound track. And it’s OK by me, because it’s OK
by you: to live between walls, to be covered by them and move

into a foetal rhythm: eat and drink, fill up a petrol tank,
order groceries, read poems, sleep. Faster:

a filmed commercial, video clips,
a microwave, peep booths at a porno movie. Faster:

capsules, transfusion, electrodes. Faster:
don’t be born. You are not and you don’t have an existence now

outside this poem. It doesn’t begin and doesn’t end
in a page, a line or a comma. This full stop is a point

that floats in infinite space just because you distance your gaze from it.
Look, there are clouds on it, orange on the blue evening sky,

sea of sea, sand of sand, and people walking,
sitting, lying, swimming or making love. Choose for yourself

a place and time. Where are you? Now you’ve found a way
into a point of view. Perhaps you’d like to be born? In this here,

now is called by a number: twenty second
of the first, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-five,

twelve thirty, in the afternoon, Sunday. And good that you came.
Tomorrow I’ll write the poem you’ll live in. Here: this home*

– solely yours. And its location, size, colours and furniture
– your perspective also its windows, which face

a home or homes on the outskirts of the poem, in its centre or above it:

see its trees pass by, its inhabitants, cafes, and flying saucers,

cavalry, elephants, parchments from which the sea has just withdrawn,
they all flicker between there-is and there-isn’t, between a gaze and its

between being and me, between “this” and its names, (me,
me and more me: a pot of cyclamen, a hair

on a bath rail etc.). So go out and see: this poem, given over
to meaningless murmurs, it and I have nothing

but what is between here and I am. (This is not an end-line, here –
I wrote another one.) Now –

When he knows he’s crawling, the slough occurs on its own.

Hold a world. A cigarette, a glass, lips,
the weight of your limbs on the chair’s wooden seat, my face, your face,

autumn leaves on the pavement, a lunch bag, a warm smell
and hands that cover you up before the day’s turned off.

Now for a moment: don’t hold. Let go. Let them expand
and furnish what’s inside you, without being so much of a world,

without placing green on the leaves or
on the remembered palm tree at the sea shore

Let the leaves mingle with the pavement, to rest there,

be not “leaves” at all, not “a cigarette”, “a glass”, “lips”.
Expand in you like excitement, like sea on a shore.

Once they’re like this, inside you, turn them off and on again.

Turn off, turn on, off-on, and again. Now
do the same thing with the world in which you are “you”,

a thing among things. Watch it sailing in the expanse
of a body, turn-off-turn-on-turn-off and see

what you’re made of. All this is just
the allegory in the story. We’ll continue flickering and in a binary rhythm

will continue to say nothing to anyone who asks –
I, you, etc. And, why not, let’s make a new allegory:

here, we created this outside world. This orange
on the blue; the “insult”, the “hope”, what

quivers between us, between there-is and there-isn’t, between
this and that. Let’s call it.

Some Say

Some say life is continuing in the face of the alternative;
some say – conquest; some stretch an equals sign

between life and its absence; and some say that life
was given us to serve those whose lives

are not a life. I say: you.
And this is easily explained: once again night envelops

what can be seen. At home lamps are lit. And in the light there’s
no glance
except the one from the mirror, nothing except what sees me

seeing it; and it brings not release but longing, not death
but life. And I take from this gaze the warm and the cold – night
envelops everything-

and I long for the one who sees me through touching,
and I don’t remember a thing. Only this.

El Amor Brujo


How to say this? You’re too close to bear,
You are fruit bursting in the heart,
You are the name the dumb mouth bears
Like sea in the earth’s palm.
I touch, and envy my touching hand;
Touching, I yearn to touch.

Terror of this motionless moment:
You are here inside here inside here.
Here the soul-fire burns, burns.
The heart unconsumed.


Love, you are black like her scorching eye,
gape like the throat of night.
Damned, you touch the maddened heart
that turns to flesh
to teeth.

You bind me to your shadow like a dog,
to burning skin,
to this smell in the dark.
Damned, you whistle up the howl in the chest
and turn as if to go;
turn her back on me,
her arse, shoulders, nape,
her long black hair.

He’s coming.

Will you come? Will I be happy to meet you? Will the door
be the gate? Will three fires still greet your face

and will their names still be explicit? Heart-fire,
head-fire, fire between-the-legs. Is your face

firewood to their flames now, is your face
immortal as they are? Will these “eternal fires” stay alight?

Aren’t butterflies consumed? Do fires burn like this,
like breath, like the stomach fire

that consumes bread? Will I see you when you sit in front of me?
My beloved, my lover, my question mark! From horizon to horizon

an over-there occupies my stomach. Where does this path start
that has no direction? Where does this string end

which is all end? And who goes that way, even when I don’t?
Except for two arches and a dent between them, except for a slope

into a collarbone, what kind of sign is this
that breaks from the chest a long call: “Come!” – “Don’t come!” ?

And another line goes up from the poem to touch the image, but you aren’t there
either. We don’t know each other. For now

we don’t have contempt for happiness. And what’s happiness? A calm sacrificial fire
on which our faces are laid, and warmth that brims over

from the cavities of our stomach, our chest. For now you only remember
that “outside the darkness is freezing”. But afterwards –

it’s hot. Smoke rises and something burns, and if we continue – we’ll be consumed.
Instead of this, at a distance, we sweat

and not from excitement. We wave a newspaper, a letter,
create a breeze and open a window to inhale

the cold night air. And it’s already late. Someone
has to return home, and behind “Come!”, “Don’t come!”, again,

we understand: come whenever you don’t come. Tomorrow it’ll be possible
to see pain in the sand where returning footprints were printed.

Instead of all this I shut the door and open the wall,
and on my door I write: Don’t come from here, always come from there.

More –

So I don’t even look at you but prefer the window.
And the eye, dappled black and gray, is zooming in

to discover the broken outlines of a growth
whose heart is one and invisible.

Like an elephant’s dry skin, grooved with islands, ancient,
the olive tree gathers its folds

into a concavity of old shadow-sunken curves, returns
to stretch in ridges roughened by the sun’s touches. There

above a hump of peel a baby leans toward a breast –
a rusty nail.

Beyond this I don’t look, don’t think. How can I
think about leaves turning silver outside in the twilight,

about the sky above them, above my gaze?
How can I think about infinity and the void, now, when you are about

to die? And as you are about to die, how can I not think
about you? How? Think perhaps about loved ones

who haven’t yet been, maybe even about those who are alive?
Think that even in this there’s still a thought about you,

and even believe it? Can I be that strong
only because of what you’ve done to me now? Because you’re dead?

Tomorrow I’ll write you a few words, an epitaph or at least a note –
something poetic, for example, “Here lies a dancer”.

And if this isn’t enough to bury you, I’ll elaborate for sure:
“Water me”, I’ll write on the marble. “Water me,

I am thirsty. Water me and not with water. Water me,
and not with clear logic. Water me, and not with a name.

Water me and not with wine. Water me and nothing else,
water me. Beauty won’t do, love won’t do, God won’t do –

even this life won’t do, nor any life. Water me,
I am thirsty”.


Here is my testimony:
about fifty, father to a six-year-old (you don’t see that),
making words into poetry, loved, hated (don’t see that), actually
a kind of wild creature, here:
soul cuts, rebellion, lips
too sensitive, all eyes
(as you see) and actually
what a mirror betrays is no deeper than what it doesn’t,
what a mirror mirrors – is a two-dimensional Being-card,
framing the appearance of the Wanted. One portrait
glancing into a moment from the crowd of the soul;
and the soul?
What can I show you about it
which you don’t already know? Here’s
the wheat-stalk which grew out of nothingness,
the knife that cut it from the One.


In this vulnerable, resting, light
the eye is thickened with shadow, deepened by absence.
Things hang in space, ground down by being seen, transparent –
and the mode they exist in now
is their mode of fading away.

The creating eye has weakened;
and the world that streamed – is almost already all sea;
whoever’s in front of me, behind me, at my side –
is me, but isn’t here.
And it’s already late. And the day’s over.
And we were left here, alone.

On the banks of the world
there we sat down, imploring our souls –
There we weep, eyeless,
when our gaze sinks into the great sea
and we suddenly remember
who we have been.


Appu, the first wise man, the half-human, was squatting, sticking out his lips, in front of the ears of barley which had grown from seeds fallen from his palm. For a moment he picked his nose thoughtfully; then stuck his finger in the wet soil, placed a seed in the hole and invented agriculture. That’s how, say the ancient texts, Appu lay with the earth. In one syllogism, Appu saved man from the darkness of the eternal present and gave him past and future; with one syllogism he taught people to desire what’s absent. This is how Appu entered the cave of death and discovered in it – culture. Therefore the proverb says, All of our science put together is no more than a nit on Appu’s skull.

Hashi, the sixth wise man, stole barleycorn, stole the virginity of the earth priestess and stole fire from the heart of the flint mountain. He ground the flints together; he kneaded the priestess; he baked the earth. This is how Hashi invented bread. In one hour, say the ancient texts, Hashi stole poverty from the rich and foolishness from the wise. Therefore the proverb says, Is Hashi here? – Mind your pockets! All of our wealth put together is less than Hashi’s poverty.

Goma the Blind, the eleventh wise man, was the first to discover language. He slapped his belly, which made a dull sound, but in vain. Bread! yelled Goma until people learnt the secret of sign and signified. That’s how, say the ancient texts, Goma pointed without a finger and saw without eyes. In one word Goma saved man from time and place and made the will grow wings. Therefore the proverb says, All of our texts put together are as the eyes of Goma.

Nano, the one-hundred-and-eighth wise man, looked around and saw nothing. He listened and heard nothing. He touched and felt nothing. With Nano, say the ancient texts, redemption came to the world.

Desert Song

In the journey that doesn’t end
everything and nothing are like waves.
arriving not-arriving –
and where am I?
I have no mouth nor face,
only a longing and a desert.
Give me an eye to expel
the mind into the fire;–
who I was I don’t remember.
I have no tomorrow, only now
only you, like a star I won’t stop calling out for.
And I pass like a shadow
until you rise in the east
into a world of grey shadows;
until I’m thawed like the frost
and burnt in the light
and I can return to you, saying
that I’m already here.

Give me an eye to revive
a memory that hasn’t been erased
from the soul that crossed
the whole desert with you,
from the water to the fire;
who I was I don’t remember.
Wandering on a camel
the moon is my witness;
if it fall and die
I will bury my face
between sand and sand.

Give me an eye to expel
the mind into the fire,
and in the midst of what there is
let me dance empty as a whirlwind
until we fall here like shadows.
Let thirst drink from the well
for it will remain
like a burning memory
chiming after us
that the herd’s nearing
and evening’s falling again,
like a baby to a breast,
as everything turns to one,
as night wraps up
the tent and the heart again.
And then I too return –
a sound that has no beginning,
a song without end, wordless:
who were you all? I don’t remember,
only a longing and a desert.
I have no tomorrow, only now,
no grave, only a star,
and from that place like hunger
I come to the heart that doesn’t end
and I break here:
everything and nothing are like waves
arriving not-arriving;
if I have no I then who’s inside?
Only a longing and a desert.

The Temptation

In the deserted orange grove
I was playing hide and seek alone
when suddenly, on the high grass round me,
presence fell.
The air was clear, the earth clear:
what could be seen was transparent on the eye
like a movie on a screen.

This was the temptation:
to rub the I against the you,
our thought against its images.
To feel.

We were there before, you remember,
without mother or father, without navel,
marked only by the first cut.
Free of weight, measurement, destruction
we wandered inside each other, dreamt worlds,
But the stakes were too low,
the risk – only a game.
Desire was action,
instantly complete. And that’s the way, you remember,
we got here too:
by a single desire,
by a glance.

And now we’re here, in the viscous air,
rubbing this in, with effort –
every single sensation, every meeting.
Our suns rise and set,
our worlds get old,
but here:
suddenly we find
a new wrinkle in our soul,
and this – is for real. It’s real. Finally
we can lose, destroy,
finally we are alive. For a moment
we can even die.


Tell me how to fight you.
– I’m holding your head. Night rises from the grass.
Tell me how to fight you.
– I’m stepping towards another realm. I have no mouth.
Tell me how to fight you.
– I’m swimming around my heart like a shark.
Now I see you. You don’t exist.

– Tell me how to fight you.
I’m holding your head. Night rises from the grass.
– Tell me how to fight you.
I have a mouth. I place chopsticks on your face.
– Tell me how to fight you.
I sit on your heart like a cat. Far from the water.
– Tell me how to fight you.
Now I see you. I’m hungry.

Old Song

Even the lightest separation has sorrow in it.
What we saw and were has passed,
fallen from our eyes and gone
piling one more autumn on our chests.

Even the lightest separation has sorrow in it
but when lovers go their own way
the heart burns unconsumed, uprooted but not rootless,
too heavy to bear.

Even if we shared the shadow of a tree on the road,
these lives of ours have passed like shadows;
or if we shared happiness in a view of sunset
our sun has set with it
into a dark sea.

Twilight envelops all, the wind stops breathing;
but, beyond darkening light,
when they’ve circled their own sky, our eyes
will open again under lids of fog:

spirit’s still blowing through the forest,
the shadow’s still in the foliage,
and in the sunset that doesn’t end
we’ll separate for an infinity of love.


This was the eighth day of creation:
clouds absorbed burning brush-strokes
across the bluish-grey width of the sky.

Our souls struggled towards the fire
like beautiful insects
but the plane – was all forwards, drawing out its line.
Indifferent to the heavenly cataclysm
it passed far above.

At dawn under lampshades of clouds
the being-artist dipped his brush in thin light
and peaceful autumn was silently drawn into the tops of the plane trees,
gradually matching them with patches of roof
among waterfalls of Russian vine.

The air’s clean of thoughts;
what can be seen – nameless, packed with dreams.
Between patches of wandering worlds,
the world’s slowly rising
here and there, in my eyes.


Leave the road here, wanderer,
Sit down among mulberries and vines,
Between water and shade, by this white stone,
Here I lie, boy and Emperor.

My face cold marble, my hands, my feet,
Clothed with ivy and fallen leaves,
I, too, failed to get far,
I, too, once walked the earth.

Leave the road here, wanderer,
Crush these wild berries in my face.

Drowning, he breathes living water.

My Narcissus, in the end you got used to it. You sprouted gills
on the sides of your neck and sliding down down

sprawled among stems and water. And the echo became a wave
and the reflection a place and you looked and looked and looked

toward the skyline of water. And leapt
out again to me.

And the thunder returned to silence, the water to being a screen,
the eye – to marble. You came back into me.

And the echo became a voice and the reflection a face
and you were released.

sit down.

He remembers. Outside is torn inward from him.

No longer clear how to fold all of this poem back.
The poem is a memory: like a sun

that stayed in the eye after a glance at the sun, so
this poem, line after line. A man

climbs the stairs again to his second floor apartment.
This man, a hook for another line, opens the door

and gropes for the electric switch. Afterwards to the fridge.
Opens the bottle and doesn’t make an allegory out of it.

You say there are facts and all this didn’t happen in the poem
but on the stairs and in the apartment on Sunday at nine,

and he was you, and anyway you returned
to feed the cat. The poem, you say, is like

a sun that stayed in the eye after a glance at the eye
that glanced at the sun. I say the poem’s no further away

than the knowledge that “Here is a cat”, “Here are words”. Here
too are worlds of memories to be remembered from now on.

True, I forgot to talk about the cat; it never
existed in the poem. OK, so the cat gorged from a dustbin

all afternoon, then displayed an appetite only out of compassion
for the loneliness of such a man. Yet, after all,

in this poem no cat will remain indifferent
to the smell of chicken leftovers – or fail to detect them among its lines –

despite their being well sealed in a plastic doggy-bag
in the neighbourhood restaurant just before closing time.

TIKKUN / A Correction

for the sin of being spoiled with words and mistaking the call of Love;
for turning away from myself, like shadow from body, face from heart;

for the sin of ‘what will they say?’, for self denial, for pride;
for the sin of having followed the spell of praise under the stage lights;
for my ear that has abandoned listening,
for the utterance of the mouth which I have spoken, yet my soul has not;
for sin I’ve committed against my own body
with the rod and no kindness, beating my breast ;

for calling Yours my own,
for having sinned before you by anxiety and vain fear,
for having fed the fire of doubt from the log of the tree of plenty,
for having been dilatory in growing,
for having shut my door
and having neither heard nor seen nor let happiness enter me
when beholding Your being.

Published 29 August 2006
Original in Hebrew
Translated by Helena Berg, Fiona Sampson

Contributed by Helicon © Amir Or Eurozine


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