“And all the earth is to me a gallows”

            Haim Nachman Bialik





In vain were you terrified.  I admit: you were right:

Almost always did I look back

at the living,  betraying the dead,

and betrayed the living with the dead.

As if everything here was a tiny leaf in the wind

and only there in my ruins a shelter for the head.


Yes, possessed by a dybbuk  I looked back.

And even when I didn’t, or escaped

from a magnet I was sucked into

the pit,

but not as you feared:

I wasn’t a pillar of salt.


I am well.  Fine.  Perfectly all right.

Really.  If it is all right to feel all right

in the land of the dead.


In a plane, enveloped in a shawl of clouds, I prayed:

If only everything beneath me could be covered in lime,

as in the Middle Ages,

I n cities cursed with cholera and plague.

And now we land and the door of the plane opens

and a distant aroma, almost forgotten and now right before you,

of lilac,

a sea of lilac,

lilac in white

and lilac the shade of lilac.

Of all the aromas,

precisely that one –

the lilac

invaded my mouth

my nostrils

all of me


the entire head for the smell of lilac,

blossoming here and now is a knife in my eyes:

the world on its axis May moon on time

and no lilac in lime can blossom.


And how lovely it is here.  Terribly nice.

If it is nice to say lovely

in such an awful place.

And what quiet, an island forgotten by the heart,

like all the cries:

                        A green cathedral

of quiet, empty of man and God.

At last they are together, crushed finely

inside the dome of dust,

with Esther and Father, and my grandmothers

with and with and with.

Names like the sand on the beach,

names of affection and nicknames,

that if lifted on the shoulders of the other,

would become a ladder with its head in the skies,

on which no angel of God descended to see

such cries

As now he does not descend to hear

their silence.

Because I do not know where their dust was scattered

All the world is a graveyard to me.


Last night, at the inn, a shout’s cry away,

between a sip and a crossing,

when the white-mustached one in the brown of his foul beer

and his eyes rolling as if they’d struck a dead man

or a shade, an old farmer told me:

Every night

on this dome a quorum of wolves gather,

gaze at the moon in silence.


Like me now, in the same moldy inn,

Opposite the Jerusalemite, who comes here,

twice a year,

no, not to preach to the dead,

or to mourn.

They are so lonely, said the man,

whose doors are open summer and winter

to shades; if they leave too,

who will dine with him in the evening?

And added, that between the memorial candles,

that he lights here and at home,

a candle in memory of God was not missing,

and added: if despite all He survived,

He too has lost His soul.


I conclude.  A bit tired.  Even the Inn is spinning,

wobbling like a boat from the beer, wine, and vodka

and clattering heels on a squeaking wooden floor

to the rhythm Ach!  and hai-hai! and Ha! and Ho Ho!

of thick-waisted country girls,

who seem to have invaded the inn straight from the canvasses of  Breughel

with the sounds of fire and nakedness that race the blood.


My Beauty,

the night is late and I conclude.





On the phone you asked when I’d be back.

Soon, my love, soon.

But there are places from which one returns

and from which one never leaves.






translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut