translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut
Poems in this volume have appeared in Jerusalem Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly, Object Lessons, and Tel Aviv Review.
ANTS IN THE SUGAR*
THE WHOLLY CITY*
METAPHYSICAL REFLECTION 27*
Like a lovely dream a girl in a chair
and in the mirror of the elegant accessory store—
her hair, red, framing her face,
enveloping her diamond eyes, her teeth
a lovely necklace—a dream girl
Does she live a seeming-dream, a dreaming dream,
does she want to make your life a dream, to redeem your life,
does she want to become your dream, magic of vision, mirror of magic,
unattained like changing light, a flickering field,
an elusive memory of summer love in aquarelle cities
a mirage oasis in the desert of time
a lost opportunity, a chance opportunity, not present,
not-real, a dream?
Will she bring sleep to the sleepless—
will she lull pain or put your senses to sleep?
And what are the colors of the veils of her thousand-winged eyes?
Is it a nightly girl who stopped here
at the chair and the mirror of the elegant store—
are you her dream, her bliss?
A mirage girl, a surface of an abyss—
while you were waiting for a bus on Dizengoff,
she was real, a momentary fur, a red field,
the awareness of the dream of life, dreamdreamdream
Under different circumstances I could fall in love with her—
The beauty of a French woman was mixed in her
with the beauty of unidentified Orientals;
the beauty of her body, her face, the beauty of her walk,
have made all the women I’ve seen until now seem ugly.
Her beauty reappeared, and made the body’s loveliness
into a cruel question—momentarily the cruelest of questions.
To desire her together with all the others—
those acting with her in the film, making it with her before my eyes,
and those watching her with me, creaking in their seats—
old men holding onto their final lusts,
queers cruising along the rows,
blacks who migrated to Tel Aviv to whiten their fortunes,
their frightened strangeness visible even in the gloom,
Arab workers homeless and filthy
jerking off in the corner in hopeless desire,
hoping for the cancellation of the Bride Price
and the expulsion of the oppressor,
quiet bashful Vietnamese who work in restaurants
and others—anonymous in the heavy darkness
pierced by a ray of light
bringing her delicate beauty to the screen
the light echo of her supposed being.
Is to desire her among all these
like finding Euridice in the underworld
passing through, white and smooth
with strawberry lips
in the consuming mists of the land of death?
This is a banal simile flattering
the poet who sees himself as Orpheus:
to desire her among all these it to find
on a deserted beach
among volcanic pebble and tin cans
among seaweed and goat droppings—
a polished pearl
ANTS IN THE SUGAR
When the vessel is opened to the light
they disappear, when it is closed—
they sneak inside—
minute black ants
swarming among the crystals
Is a handful of crystals a mountain to ants?
Is sugar sweet to them?
Is sugar white to them?
Could it be blue and bitter
and the open closed, and the closed open?
And could their smallness before the sugar mountain
or handful of sugar that seems a mountain
or their famed industriousness
or perhaps the relation between black and white
be that which magnetized my consciousness?
Or perhaps the memory of that friend
whose hands made the vessel?
On a napkin in “Cafe Stern”
he drew the ellipse of the map of Paris
and the first small rectangle—the opera,
and from that, through the avenues, the mantras of beauty:
Rivoli, Palais Royale, Notre Dame, Louvre, Font-Neuf,
and so on, and so on,
the opposite journey of the crucified—
stations in the way of pleasure, in the chestnut avenues,
in the feast of life, gardeny, delicate, complex:
The termites build their nests as towers
the human race builds Paris,
erects a city of dream, plants a garden.
Strange, but the measles which I contracted late in my life
brought to my house Bitter Death, Mr. Death.
And he spoke to my heart, in varying volumes—
soft, liquid, and seductive, even dry as pebbles—
that I should come to his kingdom of darkness
where thanks to the darkness you don’t notice
the vanity and futility of action.
Mr. Death exploited the measles and spread his net.
“And where is She?” I thought, as he walked through my rooms,
“I should phone her from my heart.
It is she who can scatter the dusty fogs
from objects in a room of faded meaning,
she who can call for Grace, for bondings,
for the lightness of birds.
By the brightness of your eyes
she’ll know when your fever is gone
when a leaf of hope sprouts from the branch.
She knows you’ve never failed
- you simply were what you are—
and brings you flowers.”
And Death urged his ordered arguments
propelled his telegrams to evacuated consciousness
promising over and over the sleep of the just:
“Be a grain of dust in wide plains, in mountains and towns.
Be a particle and a wave in the big heavenly light, in voiceless vanity,
be in the element of immortality, in the whole-round,
silent words in stone.
No doubt Mr. Death exploited the situation.
But a landscape-memory was working too,
like the song of flutes in shadowy groves:
that olive valley between Piazzale Michaelangelo and Forte Belvedere
I watched from a quiet cafe;
and in my hand the hand-touch of a girl
who, at the end of Mass at San Mineato
where I happened in as a tourist,
put her hand in mine, and looking into my eyes,
said, “Peace,” as did all the other prayers.
They gave peace to each other as if passing
a tiny bird or a tune or a needed check
from hand to hand. Like shedding the gloves of estrangement.
Child, child, bread you don’t waste.
Remember uncle Isaac
who returned from the camps a bone man,
dead in life, his memory a country of death
crammed like the trains, crematoria, and corpsepits
with his wife and children.
Child, child, bread is home
bread is a slice of prospects, bread is a gun.
Child, child, don’t waste bread.
Remember our hunger in hungry days,
when we hid in cellars
and ate bitter little potatoes.
Buried alive in Polish soil
concealed as disgrace in the village of our birth
living by the grace of the gentile who saved us,
yellow murderers above our heads
spotted dogs between their legs
quivering, dreaming blood.
Bread is the dream
for the dream breeds the seed of reality:
poets of death lucid in madness,
dreamt the foulest of murders
in a longing for purity:
Pillows filled with the hair of women
lampshades made of human skin
golden cutlery for banquets
cast from gold teeth of the dead
beauty soap from the fat of women
and it was God whom they yearned to kill.
It was a dream of the Pure
that drove gloomy nations into cities of death
to furnaces working like efficient industry—
an industry purifying the world.
It was a primeval dream of a line
dividing good from evil, pure from defiled,
the line glowing in the hearts of inquisitors
who invented keen instruments of torture
and burned heretics in piazzas of stone,
the line that flickered in the brains of crusaders
who sailed to the strangest and remote of lands
to slay evaders of the Belief.
And the line is not the foe, purity is not the foe
for purity is what youdelineate pure
and the line is what is assigned as line
the pure and the line submit to their dreamers.
The two breads are the Sabbath breads of childhood—
the twist of golden braids
of the Sabbath Queen perfect in white
whose beauty is dispersed to every house
by angels of purity and modesty.
The Sabbath breads are the twist of braids
of a freckled girl from the land of my childhood
with whom I hunted headlights of cars
on the ceilings of darkened rooms
joyous as hunters of light.
A beggar with his possessions in a pram
hungry nations in the window of television
zebra herds in the arid Savannah
hunger for what isn’t in food
the hunger of the hunger artist
Awakened in the depths of night
hungry for ice cream, sugared berries.
Awake in a torrid summer night
yearning to gulp down a cool night
yearning to gulp the Milky way
or some other galaxy.
To eat his flesh in bread
to drink his blood in wine
to become blessed with Grace
to be crucified between thieves in the skies of Jerusalem
and to alter the mind of the world forever
Behold the fowls of the air
They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns;
yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.
And he took the five loaves of bread, and the two fishes,
and looking up to heaven, he blest, and brake,
and gave the bread to his apostles
and the apostles gave to the multitude.
And they all did eat and were filled.
The smell of bread baked in the night
in an anonymous Parisian bakery
like the smell of reality greater than desire,
the dark flow of desire
reflecting heaven and stone angels
and the longing for the hunger for bread.
To scatter crumbs for birds in the Jardin des Tuileries
to cast crumbs for gold fishlets
in the pond of the Jardin du Luxembourg
to be fishlets of Jardin du Luxembourg
to sniff the white water lilies.
Morning. Morning again.
Croissant and coffee in the Rue de Rivoli.
Brioche and coffee in Piazza Venezia.
Morning coffee in Verona near Piazza Dante
by Juliet’s balcony
near the fountain of Shakespeare’s mind
and the coffee drunk standing
and the cake small and precise in its taste
and a memory of dinner with that American lawyer
whose favorite poet is Rilke.
Three Arabs on the sand of the yard
their food spread out on a newspaper:
pitas, cheese, ripe tomatoes.
Bread is the dream
for dream breeds reality’s seed.
And behold your sheaves gathered round,
and bowed low to my sheaf
And in my dream three baskets of white bread were on my head
And the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears
And all the nation came to Egypt
For the famine was sore in the land.
In clothing of white
reclining on pillows of whiteness
conjuring the inner whiteness, the innerness of white
and the eye lingering on the darkness of wine—
We have eaten the bread of affliction, the bread of descent,
for the nomad in space whose bread is matzo
journeying into the emptiness of streaming sands
columns of smoke and fire to guide his way
and God is his place—
the spirit loves the meek in spirit
the spirit seeks the one who is free:
being will be born in nothingness, in absence, in emptiness.
And do not be as the lost wanderer
who runs thirsting to the gleam of water
and finds in the sand a mirror for his face.
Will you stride naked towards the Lord,
a beggar around the villages
who sleeps in the sheepfold
or in the shadow of leaf-heavy trees
and all your possessions a bowl of rice?
I was conceived in the summer
when my parents fell in love between their quarrels,
and born in a spring of butterflies and rats
while clear rivers were melting
though Earth had digested innumerable dead.
In the windows the city was ruins:
Horrible sights crowded the streets
refusing to sink into memory sewers.
Satan has performed here, they said.
His barking voice echoed in empty stadiums,
his blood stained the sidewalks with hieroglyphics.
White-toothed American soldiers were messengers of purity.
Hungry and yellow, German women coupled with muscular blacks.
The Jews of the Camps returned to business and regained flesh.
I was a newborn to the crucified race,
a race whose interpretations of its books
concealed the secret of its essence,
a race whose weaknesses implored its death
at the hands of the mad masters of power.
I was a newborn in a city of ruins
and my mother loved me like hope, like an omen, like blue skies,
and my father embraced me like a man embracing his new sword
and the wool and silk and milk did not suffice
to subdue my feverish cry.
Butterflies and angels in leaves and flowers
floated, carousing and leaping,
and the bees buzzed, busy for hours,
among pollen rods and cones of nectar.
We sat at night by a shallow sea—
holding hands in silence.
And our hands sweltered, melted, welded
and in our breasts a heart was raving
and our heart pleaded to leap distances—
propelled on by vast craving—
we thought we longed for each other.
The sea smelled of iodine and weeds
the wind carried gentle seeds,
the wind circled in dreams.
Love dictated surrender and conquest,
brave gestures and soft accord.
On beams burning like rainbow
tiny girls curled the air
golden dust in their hair
holding lilies and moths
Blue dolphins sported in the heights
with balls of cloud, large and light.
On earth they served creamy ice
to modish lips of strawberry and rose.
Craving ships sailed out to sea, to the heavens.
There invaded a glowing light,
yellow clusters, clusters of fire,
intoxicating odor of flowers’ desire,
blood period feverish like a childhood disease,
the white of her body, body of white.
An old man licked the vision of boys and girls
at the number 5 stop, pierced
with his tongue through their blue uniforms,
through their sneakers and socks.
Guilt was arrested and executed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
said the old man at the trial of Guilt,
to live is to lick visions.
Joseph and Zuki, the lovers, the addicts of their love,
took with them for a trip along the shores of Sinai—
me—guessing the severity of my verdict:
to search for love for many years
perplexed between pilgrims’ paths
to the cities of love’s spoils
the cities of grand parks, cafes, river-bridges,
the baths with wet mosaics, the opera foyer
or to the crystal-built cities of spirit,
at the gate of the great being
that seems as nothingness to the private and lustful human.
Joseph and Zuki the lovers
took with them for a trip along the shores of Sinai
in the beginning of Spring, 1977,
a perplexed and grim pilgrim
inventing himself as if walking on himself
like a circus bear walking on a ball,
and before my eyes they planned their house
a grey concrete villa, paved with pink marble,
with a bed for a lemon tree in the patio,
spotted dogs wandering around.
Now when I ponder Spring
I remember again the journeys’ evenings:
the evening they disappeared to fulfill their passion
and left a bitter and dreamy pilgrim
in an empty cafe, in the last cafe before the desert
listening to taped American troubadours,
watching the bluing desert,
And the evening smuggled in, tender and blind.
And a black evening spraying stars
when we crouched in the sand by a greasy sea
(they held hands)
and we saw the light net streams
that the moon spread out on the moving water
reaching Arabia, land of the rock,
and I pronounced quite relevant thoughts
on the influence of desert-scape on the birth of monotheism
and on the influence of the sun on the consciousness of Abraham.
Spring attacked, we became as loonies
our strength to die was dying
bush-hunters turned blue for love
and monkeys and parrots screeched.
Spring attacked, we became as loonies
running out of strength to die
Spring attacked, we became as loonies
In the morning the sheets ain’t hiding
the light vomits the awakened onto the streets
time seduces, warns
All I saw were but shadows passing
Baappeared and disappeared
Figures were delayed for later.
Figures were delayed further and further
and finally faded in the flow of backgrounds.
All I didn’t see in the morning floated up:
the dreams, the self desiring its possibilities,
residues of yesterday, shrewdness
of passion against its barriers,
pieces of other worlds,
the sheets from which I hatched,
the golden arc of urine,
the water I bought from the municipality to wash my face
the toothpaste that neutralizes the palate
the fire, the fire that boils water for the powdered Brazilian fruit,
the fire, the eternal fire, the primal fire, the fire that will consume
the entire world,
the clothes, the clothes of impersonation, the face, the illusion of the face,
the face that suits the owner,
No one will see my face,
the driver-self that drives my face,
the self that partakes in civilization,
two bonsai trees that should have been placed in the sun,
the tiny statue of the man in meditation,
the cafeteria cashier who was paid for the coffee,
I couldn’t see the morning light,
I was in the light but saw no light,
only now I see my pen, I wrote, I write, I shall write,
but I saw, surprised, the pale post office clerk,
who sold me envelopes and stamps
and I was saddened by her efforts to please
and her doubts as to her beauty,
(Am I trying to please?
Am I too doubtful?)
But what I really didn’t see this morning,
does not float up,
isn’t included even in the blindness
but is thrown out somewhere as news clips
that become obsolete just after screening,
the hungry masses dying in Somalia,
the beaten boxer, the crash survivors, the demonstrating farmers,
the floods, the earthquakes, the fires,
the man who axed his wife and daughter,
who by fire and who by sword,
who by famine and who by plague,
the man who walks the wire over Niagara Falls.
All that means now I wish to see
all that means poetry dilates like a pupil
burns like a blue flame
seduces like a friendly dragon.
In a vase the plant took root.
I planted it by a pillar of my house, watered it,
fertilized the soil, and it immediately took root.
Fearing for the pillar, the neighbor came and tore it out, so
I planted what was left behind the house, near the window.
I said, I’ll guard it against the wicked.
But the cleaning woman threw a rug into the yard and it broke.
I mourned and talked about it with a friend, a woman, and the dog Toot.
I wanted comfort and they gave it.
But I was not consoled.
For a plant holds a hint of the forests. The plant reminds me
that I am from the forests, the forests of Poland.
I am from the snows, from my grandmother’s village.
There she sat at the window watching the snow fall
on the pear tree, the raspberry bushes, the black fields.
When lightning flashed the cows calved in panic
and rain rapped as if the curtain of seas in heaven had torn loose.
In spring the river turned silver from the scales of fat fish.
In the summer the delicate fowl mated in glass air.
And I am from the sea, I remembered,
from the Mediterranean I thought would go on to the end of the world.
Every summer, every morning, I went with a bag of food
to the blue peacocks as to school.
I saw how bodies turn gold
how charm ripens into beautiful flesh,
examined the eternally possible changes of blue.
Boats happily got lost in good-hearted azure,
white balls did not fall from the sky.
I was a narrow-waisted lifeguard
whose generosity matched his beauty
(I hoped he’d save me).
For girls have different beauty with damp hair,
in the wave lies the mystery of strength and weakness—
Desperate longings turn to foam approaching land.
In the foam the gulls were born emerging suddenly.
Little fish practiced their descent to the aquarian avenue of Keren Kayemet
in sifted depths of light.
I sought girls from the provinces,
girls who knew the names of plants,
girls who studies the plant guide, the bird guide.
I loved a boy born in the hills.
My cleaning woman brings me flowers from here garden every week—
Is that sentimental?
I come from the tropical forest
where I have never been,
where beauty and wildness are bound together,
where love is wild, heavy and lithe as beasts,
and shines like dewy flowers laden with color.
I am from the land of hot feelings
where the sun grows blood-filled fruits,
where beauty borders the monstrous,
where sky is sky and land is land and night is night
and love is love and death is death.
If you lend your ear you will hear how in a moment,
this moment, everything grows and fades as one.
In my room are books, pictures, and a mirror.
In my hall a dog, and my work is regular.
The girls are lovely when dressed and lovelier naked.
My choices are open before me and many closed.
many times I have schemed to go away next summer.
THE WHOLLY CITY
A glaring city of rock
shall vanish in refined translucence.
Here skies rise endlessly
and the earth freezes under spiritual pride,
grows plants faded of color, prickled, dissolving in the light,
becoming fragrance in their longing for soul
City of rock dreaming of sacrifice,
watch towers screaming in her skies,
eternal fire burns in her vaults
God’s masks clash within her
His paradoxes ignite fanaticism
in the pageants of black cowling monks
in the ultimate whiteness of the chambers of nuns
where a yellow canary is trapped in the casement.
Hollow city of rock
emptied like a vanished mirage
as if the divine presence were a mad projection
and cold winds whirl in the hollows
like a storm of he who has lost his way, whose regions of wandering
spread to the Judean desert, beyond the galaxies:
My God My God why hast thou forsaken me.
City of rock, blazoning and demanding--
Go thee from my land, thy birthplace, thy father’s house
to the spot of purity, clear and dry
there all the mountain cypresses all the needle pines point --
Go to the diamond heart.
METAPHYSICAL REFLECTION 27
Dressed up as people
delineated with names, addresses, documents, relatives, history
wrapped like caterpillars in the cocoon of tribal meaning.
Trapped awake slumbering in collective dream
but behind the mask--all humaneness and animals
with memories of heredity and evolution
and the divine essence from the sweet transparent beginning
when we were all and all was us
before each particle was created.
Expelled from the divine or blossoming from his bosom
there flowed in the particle the electricity of longing
to the unmaterial whole from which it gushed:
the divine in his essence was to him as a longing for home
and/or a longing for the eternal persistence of his new separate being.
All shall please to cease, longing to return to the divine
and all ask to be, single and whole and eternal
similar desires whose tensions of contradictions
pump tension energy to the endless universes.
Shall an Indian conclusion be suggested in brackets?
Dissolve yourself, do not ask to be as God
and be in him, one, in the wholeness that has no border or restrictions, in God.
In the late night hours
as if afraid of the deep regions of sleep
I went out to the wind open to my body
to the city that celebrates in the elevated, crystalline , chill night
that spoils the demanding and destructive gods of her desire
with intricate foods, dress ornaments, dense perfumes.
Gangs waited in the doorways of restaurants
Cars clustered in the junctions
Desire, like a phosphorus red river in the depths of darkness,
threatened agreements, manners, the softness of love.
And suddenly I knew that now as before
I have been immortal in the margins of my consciousness
as in the time before my father’s murder
in the iron fingers of cancer.
In the flow of desire thought through me
on the mortality of life.
I was a transparent minotaur in the carnival memory
an island of consciousness in the animalian sea of growth.
And the thought on the soul’s perpetuity
became one of the persistence of consciousness
in the actual continuation of the race of man;
a rat gnawed in the personal soul’s eternity.
I was illuded and sober as one
immortal and mortal as one
and I knew that I’ve already died much
and again I will die and again I will live
carrying in the winding flow the particle of my existence.
He arrived without suitcases
since suitcases were not seen when he came
and before I realized he was living with me
my life had become strangely bizarre –
Objects were displaced
food left in pots was devoured
books I did not plan to read were found open on the sofa.
One night the water in the toilet flushed
with a noise that tore me from the dream world
and I knew for sure it wasn't me who used the bathroom
since I was lying on my bed on the orthopedic mattress
These peculiarities and many others
seemed like the tricks of an unseen spirit
but then to my great astonishment
he revealed his face
He did this when I’d come home
while listening to a river's roar
and the birds singing on its banks
recorded for the well-being of city-dwellers
by a friendly American company.
He stood before me slightly embarrassed,
his hands held as if praying
and above the orange monk's cloak
rose his bold and boyish head
peeping at me with eyes of a frightened deer
Since he spoke Japanese
I couldn't discuss with him
his invasion of my home and his reasons
but my deep friendliness toward Buddhism
did not let my heart exile him.
And I have allowed him to go on dwelling with me
as a spiritual mute friend
until he chooses to leave.
But his silence did not eliminate his expressions
and surprisingly enough he had an opinion about most of my deeds
expressed with smiles that should be dubbed post-Buddhist
if they are to be seen as successors of the famous Buddhist smile of the Buddha himself
He smiled at my exaggerated attention to dress
He smiled at my exaggerated interest in CNN
He smiled at my addiction to broadcasts of boxing matches
He smiled at my nervousness about my media status as a poet
He smiled at my tendency to be sexually promiscuous
He smiled at my repeated disappointments in love
He smiled at my habit to escape into sleep
He smiled at my fears of Aids and other malaises
And there were of course more reasons for more smiles
He always sat at the side of my gazes, never confronting them
And transmitted his smiles in perfect timing
He even seemed to develop a liking toward me
and sometimes, when he wasn't sleeping on the windowsill or in the living room
he slept in my bed, naked, clean and smooth as a girl
shrinking his body at the edge of the wide bed
not to disturb my rest and dreams
and gradually I started liking him too –
Since he was a silent smiler
we avoided any annoying misunderstandings
that follow long cleansing discussions
so I could imagine his purpose according to my understandings
His smiles I thought were meant to sweeten my days
and to detach all my attachments.
He had a kind of sophisticated theory
that ridiculed any attachment to anything
beyond my attachments, he seemed to think
there's a hidden question
the question I fear
the question I have to ask
the question I have to calm down with an answer
a kind of supreme Koan
that will beat all firm answers
and all dubious questions
among which I was running around as a blind mow
Summing up the monk as a subversive and smiling question mark
or as a kind of Archimedes point from which
my being will be diverted from its track
did not excite me at all
and I preferred to seduce him into the
common passions of our society
I hoped he'll give up his smiles gradually
and enjoy with me the pleasant nonsense which surrounded my life
various kinds of sorrow and worry included
And I saw signs for such a transformation
since he started using one of my after-shaves
But before that battle of influences was decided
he chose to vanish back to where he came
leaving behind him a cloud of sorrow
since in the meanwhile I'd gotten used to his orange presence
and to the pure and delicate spirit that moved him
even when I indulged in the roughest energies
Many days I'll still be longing
for the evenings we sank into meditation
confronting each other with closed eyes
and between us blooms the Ficus Bonsai
half tree, half picture, a contradiction of all measures