Mordechai Geldmann




translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut


Poems in this volume have appeared in Jerusalem Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly, Object Lessons, and Tel Aviv Review.















Ficus Bonsai *


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



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.



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.


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.


Ficus Bonsai


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