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Posts Tagged ‘Yehuda Amichai’

I. “A Precise Woman”

A precise woman with a short haircut brings order
to my thoughts and my dresser drawers,
moves feelings around like furniture
into a new arrangement.
A woman whose body is cinched at the waist and firmly divided
into upper and lower,
with weather-forecast eyes
of shatterproof glass.
Even her cries of passion follow a certain order,
one after the other:
tame dove, then wild dove,
then peacock, wounded peacock, peacock, peacock,
then wild dove, tame dove, dove dove
thrush, thrush, thrush.

A precise woman: on the bedroom carpet
her shoes always point away from the bed.
(My own shoes point toward it.)

II. “An Arab Shepherd is Searching for his Goat on Mt. Zion”

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the “Had Gadya” machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

III. “My Father”

The memory of my father is wrapped up in
white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,

and the rivers of his hands
overflowed with good deeds.

Yehuda Amichai
Trans. Chana Bloch

Commentary: I love the poems of Yehuda Amichai. Perceptive and poignant, sometimes they cut away at you from the inside. But they are always rich in meaning and feeling.

You can read about his life and read more of his poems online.

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You visit me inside the apple.
Together we can hear the knife
paring around and around us, carefully,
so the peel won’t tear.

You speak to me. I trust your voice
because it has lumps of hard pain in it
the way real honey
has lumps of wax from the honeycomb.

I touch your lips with my fingers:
that too is a prophetic gesture.
And your lips are red, the way a burnt field
is black.
It’s all true.

You visit me inside the apple
and you’ll stay with me inside the apple
until the knife finishes its work.

Yehuda Amichai
trans. by Chana Bloch
The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1996)

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Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
2
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
3
This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh, I am not afraid of you,
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.
4
This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.
5
The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christians burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?
6
This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.
7
Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes, I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry Impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.
8
I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?
9
You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.
10
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home.  You have destroyed my home.

 
James Fenton
New Selected Poems (2006)

Commentary:  Tomorrow, I am going to Jerusalem.  I first heard of Jerusalem when I was in my mother’s womb, listening to charismatic sermons in my amniotic sack and dreaming dreams about Jesus before I was even born.  There has never been a day in my entire life when I was not aware of the city of Jerusalem.  I have imagined it.  It has become a metaphor for my heart, for the the center of my soul.  But it is a real place.  I have no idea what it will really be like for me to walk on the walls and the streets of Jerusalem.

I have read other people’s gospels and stories and poems about Jerusalem.  I have imagined what they were imagining.  I have sung songs about Jerusalem.  I have studied medieval maps that place Jerusalem in the center and call it the umbilicus terrae, the navel of the world.  I have translated the word, Jerusalem, from Spanish, French, Latin, and Hebrew into English in dozens of translation exercises over the past twelve years or more. 

It is impossible to go to Jerusalem without preconceived notions, without ideas and pictures, other voices, other languages, other words.  I read James Fenton’s poem, and that is one vision.  There are other visions.

Claudia told me what it was like to drive up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at sunset.  Onnaca told me she hated the pressing of the mob of tourists at the holy sites … and she took a day just to look at the sky over Jerusalem … and the experience was more deeply spiritual for her than kissing any reliquaries.  I have listened to testimonials from other tourists on radio programs, in pulpits and classrooms, at the dinner table and on the internet.     

Today, I read half a dozen poems about Jerusalem.  William Blake turned Jerusalem into a metaphor for England’s religious triumphalism.  Yehuda Amichai complained, justifiably, about tourists only interested in the monuments of Jerusalem and not its citizens, its people.

My memories are full of Jerusalem, and I have never been there.

In fact, I have precious momentos from Jerusalem:  a bookmark my pastor gave me when I was in elementary school after he returned from his once-in-a-lifetime journey, a stylized print of the old city on purple cloth that my step-father gave me for Christmas one year.  

But tomorrow Jerusalem will be real to me in a way that has never been possible before.

What will Jerusalem be like for me?  I know everyone sees it differently; certainly that is what James Fenton is saying in his poem.  But even knowing my perceptions have already been shaped by the pilgrimages of other people — like Egeria and Margery Kempe and Birgitta of Sweden — my desire to see Jerusalem is still an intense passion:  a passion for Jerusalem.

 

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