for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand;
and thou shalt drive them out before thee.
TEL AVIV 1948–2008
Memory is cut away
with a festive blade.
Then, in proverbs swathed,
the head is placed on the table,
the smell of sweetness in a circling swarm
of chatter and irritating queries.
The head gives no reply, tells us
what is right, given the stories
that lie buried under centuries of will.
It is merely a matter of digging and freeing
them for what they promised to fulfill.
What once stood has been blown clear
of the tongue, pure and white.
Were people once made to flee,
from here, where happiness falls from the sky?
Now is the time, the time of feasts.
The flies buzz, and it matters
not in the least.
In a year unnumbered,
in a town unnamed,
a violence arises in the night.
Set in motion by God's own hand,
it tears down, casts out.
The fulfillment of a vow.
They conceal mines in the rubble,
so no dog dare come . . .
Then a prayer of thanks.
And thus four hundred times.
Then comes the truth,
and she lies down, in the middle,
between the town and the tents.
She lies at the right distance;
no refugee gets around her.
In the new school,
children sing and dance.
Fathers watch, full of pride,
gun in hand.
A POET IN SDEROT*
To words poetry is unbeholden;
words strung like barbed wire.
They serve to secure, to control.
They adapt to the meaning that lies
on the border between us and out
there. An animal invades our sleep
like a mole roving in our gardens,
searching for words extinct.
Abu Shusha, Najd, Balad al-Shaykh,
Lubya, Kirbat al-Shuna, Wa'rat al-Sarris.
It cannot be named, except by this tongue,
in which it sits bound, locked up,
a threat to be smoked out of its den.
Poetry stands by, a minor unsettlement,
in which the animal becomes human again.
Here, too, truth lies in between.
A flood of ink in our heads.
They are equally wrong, those who bereave
and those bereft. They see,
those who venture across the line,
a difference, think “not the same, no”
but then watch someone cast a stone
to the other side, and there too a child cries.
Far from the truth lies a pair of glasses,
broken, knocked from a face.
What could once be seen has been erased,
an empty space, a missing link.
Far from the truth flows no ink.
One does not scrawl fate in the wind.
We seek sanctuary behind
the wall, full of words on our side,
stamped with the holy number, this
stubborn plurality of a faith, in search of a voice
that can unite us in a common song,
a hymn and history to which we belong,
from the ashes of a tongue we rejoice.
The other side of the wall is ours too,
though scarred by signs of enmity.
We simply wipe it clean, unread.
Those who find a hole are blown back
into the void.
LET US TALK
First, we will bury you in the sand,
with your head free to speak
about mutual understanding, about peace;
first, we will make your field our own,
station soldiers between mine and thine,
direct the camera from our side;
first, we will count our dead
from the past two thousand years
and justify the beating,
and wipe the spit from our hands
and declare – it's clear as day;
you want no peace in this land.
looked on, detached.
He stood on their side and saw.
Of our side he only perceived
what from yonder was clear
Not the rights, the history,
our belief in the promised land,
their local significance
in the execution of God's plan.
He saw and wrote of bodies and homes
in rubble, saw the human stream inundate.
He saw and recorded the sober
facts, and while he wrote the rumor came
that there were forces approaching,
driven forth by a terrible hatred
that would wipe out God's chosen.
Then he left and looked at the case
from our side and saw that
which was only visible from here.
And he wrote and he was detached,
as an observer should be.
AFTER AUSCHWITZ 1
When I heard that the house I called mine
was stolen, I asked the authorities who
the owner was. They said: “Your head is full of ash,
you’re still weak, you know nothing of the fight.”
When I heard that the owner was alive
and carried the key in his pocket, I sent
the locksmith away. He went to the authorities.
Then the locks were changed.
On memorial days, called to remembrance
my fellow downtrodden roamed in my head.
Beneath the ash, the issue smoldered, unsaid.
But the owner never came. It slowly went dead.
AFTER AUSCHWITZ 2
Even Auschwitz was nothing special, of course.
Many survivors came to this place,
a little despised but usable, and
received a monument to retrieve
from history the transportation to the camps
and to form the grindstone of a nation.
It was the horror of all ages, of course,
but as such became exclusive, ownership
of pain transformed into ownership of land.
Who lived in this street, in this house?
Who drew water from this well?
Who sold his goods at this market?
Who, about Auschwitz, could have any doubt?
Poet's Note: *formerly Najd