“Clutched by an endless poem” – Darwish
“What has happened constantly rearranges itself
in front of those it happened to; it fruitlessly and
endlessly seeks a convincing form.” – Mrs Kaplan
Between Allenby and the tayelet and the sea
we are three.
We are Eric, we are David, we are Alan.
We are two Jews and one not.
We are two Americans and an English.
We are each looking in different directions.
We are about to rob a bar and we must be quick.
David has said I want to do that too.
David has said when are you guys going to do that?
One of us has said if it were done when ’tis done,
then ’twere well it were done quickly.
Two of us have heard and wondered at this.
We don’t have an Uzi or a Galil or an M16,
but someone in there may two of us caution David.
The bucket they throw the money in is under the bar counter.
David wants to impress Eric and Alan
and he will grab the bucket and run.
We who will enter the bar first will pretend we don’t know David.
We will appear confused by the uproar and impede any who try
to follow as he runs out through the door and into the side streets
of south Tel Aviv. Two of us have assured David he will not be shot.
David has said but these motherfuckers here are crazy. We have said
but you are wearing a magen david on a chain around your neck,
you don’t look like an Arab. David has said
how much money will there be and sitting on the balcony
of the Riviera hotel we three see at that moment
a soldier enter Amram’s Bar across the street and one says
at least some. The girl after she has masturbated him
will throw his money in the bucket along with the money
for the glass of coloured water in the Campari bottle
she will suggest he buys her, so someone says
multiply that by how many soldiers have gone in there today
and Eric has said I just want my money back, I got nothing
and Alan has had an unhappy childhood and wants some excitement
and David has listened to a disconnected telephone last night
telling him he cannot come home. Yea they robbed you man
says David outraged. And you’re a Jew, they did it to a Jew,
I didn’t think they’d do that here and Alan says
Ben Gurion said we won’t have a country to call a country
until we have our own policemen and our own whores and thieves.
Two of us didn’t think the city would be like this. One of us says
I thought they’d be like good cowboys in white hats and white shirts
and someone says
first day here by the seafront shacks a pretty girl called out in a man’s voice
‘hey gingey, want to buy me a drink?’ and one of us said
did she want you to fuck her? and one of us said
you should look at the size of their feet in case they’re men
and David said show me one show me one.
And David said
and what about you? and Alan said
she masturbated me liked she wanted to pull it off.
Like she didn’t know what to do? said David.
Like she wanted to pull it off said Alan.
She kiss? said David. She tasted like copper coins
but wet and soft and that was enough and Eric said
my girl gave me nothing and I might die for this country soon
and she gave me nothing. And from the balcony the three of us
see a man in a uniform in a wheelchair approach the girls at the door
and one kneels and even from here you can see she is tender
and she wheels him through the doorway into the dark.
This was all after the Dead Sea, this was all after
two of us came back crazed with heat and thirst,
This was all a long time ago and who knows
which of us is even still alive.
The city doesn’t miss you like you miss
the city. The city’s like a lover
who knows whatever once was is no more.
The city has moved on. It holds a few
beloved to its heart and though you have burst
and shone in your time, then so have all others,
all have been witness to their age, drawn their conclusions
changed their opinions, seen decent innocent people
of all times fought over by the jaws of despots and saviours,
been consoled by sad voices of all poets since the birth
of mark-making, all have known men and women
and sympathised over lost lives, looked over their shoulders
at lists of names of departed lovers whose turning away erased them
and yet still the city does not hold you to its heart
and number you among its beloved.
Everyone in the city does what they do not because
of their ability but because of their disability.
The brothel is long gone now, swept away
from between Hayarkon and Allenby
and the tayelet beside the sea.
The barmaid from Leicester who spoke English
as if she’d forgotten how it works is a ghost.
Afterwards at the bar she soothed them
with her simplicity about men
being so foolish for their cocks. She consoles
the American zionists, the layabouts, the religious
men, the fools who arrived to be masturbated or robbed.
She says simply for sense it’s not Campari
it’s pink water. But watch, they are good
with the physically crippled, they are kind
to those who have suffered far away
from anyone who could take them
in their arms and say “I am mother,
remember me? I love you.”
She soothes, didn’t you know that prostitution is illegal
in this country? No not campari, pink water. Yes illegal.
But foolishness is not. If you are lucky, if they can be bothered
in the heat one or other of the girls on the door
may take a man to a cubicle, pull a breast out,
and feed him. One of them, kissing, at least,
tastes like copper coins….
…at the Dead Sea
we were two. One saw dead eyes
in a man’s face whose lips were moving,
hissing what are you doing here?
He hated both of us with a vengeance.
Maybe he would have reached for a knife.
Maybe we would have puzzled at the glint
of sun against the steel. Maybe bleeding
on hot tarmac we would have wondered
whether it could really be happening. Maybe
we would have thought perplexed but
this is such a stupid way to die. Maybe
we would have bled cold on a hot day
in that high summer in the Judean Desert.
Maybe the Border Police jeep arriving
saved our lives. Maybe.
He wanted to kill is all I know.
By now he may be dead himself – February,
all these years later. He may be dead, and this pen
won’t work. The story won’t come. It runs ahead,
It twists. And she leans forward,
the one who hears this story, and I glimpse her
twisting, and the lace rustles
and the nylon rustles
and I think will I be able to read
my own writing later?
Maybe once a year,
I think about him, like I am now,
when I hear some poem or other
shouting to me in front of floor-to-ceiling glass,
while this history I believed, which
is so beautiful from behind, bends to show me
what it has done, what it can touch,
Mocking, you believed a different book.
Like now, when the disembodied voice
whispers bilaad bilaadna,
wa el yahud kalebna Mocking.
Like September at the Jaffa Gate;
George and Issam confessing sedition,
whispering about a million fedayeen,
about uprising, and the stench of teargas
rising, whispering it is not good
to whisper of these things,
Like on the blue divan of W—- R—-
in the Christian Quarter, her blue ink
needling one arm with peace and life
in one square and one fluid language.
The gun hissing what are you doing here?
This history which is beautiful from behind
is accidental. It is saving him from thinking.
It may or may not get him a poem. It makes
a show of applying red gloss to her lips. Poetry
of the Committed Individual is on the table
between them. She walks away. She comes back.
She carries a tall cup of coffee
poured by her mother from Nazareth.
He watches her walk away,
sees her from the back, catches her eye,
signals a message I didn’t know I didn’t know
how when bending low history is beautiful
from the back. The coffee steams.
At Ein Feshkha there was iced water
in the cafeteria on the shore
of the Dead Sea. In the car park the dead eyes
of a man who held me responsible
for history. I remember the bright white lines
of parking spaces on black hot tarmac.
I can see the blood of what may have happened
pooling into seven rivers, leaving me.
What are you doing here?
We need a poem. The book falls open.
We don’t own our shadows…
…and though David wasn’t a poet,
or claim to be one and didn’t have a pen
on him when someone asked once
he said something beautiful about the time
he’d rung his father and his father had told him
to stay here and had hung up the phone on him.
David said that when his father hung up he had listened
to the noise on the line and thought about that line
and that noise, about how it stretched all the way
from Tel Aviv to Michigan, and all the way
to the handset in the house he’d lived in
before being sent here. And he said
he was in that room too, trapped just behind
the earpiece grille of the handset,
longing for his father to pick it back up
and find David still there and tell him this time that yes,
he could come back again, that he didn’t have to stay here
to build and be built. He said I listened for a long time, man.
And then the poetry went right out of David and he swore
that one day he’d kill his father for that, for making him listen
to that noise stretching all the way to Michigan,
all the way into that room he wanted to be in.
He ranted about what a cunt his father was,
about how until just before his father had suggested
he come here and then pulled an airline ticket out of his pocket
David hadn’t even known he was a Jew.
One of us who wasn’t a Jew said he was the first Jewish kid
I’ve met called Dave and said I’d never thought of Dave
as a Jewish name. And the other one of us who was a Jew said
there are plenty of Davids but you don’t hear too much
about King Dave. Or Dave Ben Gurion…
…if it’s not the gun it’s the knife and if it’s not
the knife it’s the bomb and if it’s not
the bomb it’s the food and if it’s not
the food it’s the water and if it’s not
the water it’s the air and if it’s not
the air it’s a love affair and if it’s not
a love affair it’s a place that conspires
against what we hold dear. When missionaries
come to my door they better bring women.
The security man at the supermarket on Ben Yehuda knows.
He knows if he doesn’t follow the three of us round the store
that the empty little bags on our shoulders are going to be full
when we leave and we won’t be paying for any of it. This barmaid
in this clip joint brothel shack masquerading as a bar
on Allenby knows. She knows enough to be able to tell
the ones of us called Eric and Alan to forget it if we are planning
to rob the joint. She knows enough to point to David
at the other end of the bar and tell us that she knows
we are with him even though we all came in separately
and have been pretending not to know each other.
She says don’t do it. She says you will get hurt. We three
pull our stools together and we three sit at a line at the bar
and listen to her lecture about what the fuck do we think we’re doing
and do we want to be found floating face down in the harbour
at the north end of Tel Aviv beach and do we really think
the sort of people who own bars like this would think twice
about killing little cunts like us who’ve got themselves all agitated
because we three, or the one called Alan and Eric at least,
got ripped off yesterday by two of the girls who work here
and spend all day fleecing mugs like us for coloured water
from the Campari bottle and for offers of sex which turn out
if you’re lucky to be a wank where you think she hates
you so much that she is trying to pull your cock out by the roots
for 50 dollars or if you’re unlucky getting nothing at all
from the lovely young girl who’s enticed you up these stairs
in the first place and isn’t going to be happy till all the dollars
she’s spotted in the one called Eric’s wallet are in her own purse.
So, asks the woman from Leicester why is he here? pointing
at the youngest one called David. And the answer to that
is that David is crazy, David has nothing better going on than to be sent
to Israel by his father at the age of 17, to find himself, to become a man,
to sort your fucking head out, and in a dormitory room at the Riviera hotel
he has met two guys called Alan and Eric who have told him
about visiting whore bars and getting ripped off and told him about how
they are going to get Eric’s money back and David thinks thank you
thank you , I have found my people, and has become enthusiastic
for this sudden excitement, this whiff of desperado-ness the likes of which
he hasn’t felt since he took much too much angel dust back in Michigan
and liked how it gave him the strength and menace of ten jilted men.
This fucking country, man he says. He thought it would be different to this.
I tried to tell my dad on the phone and David’s face drops as he remembers
how his dad had told him to man up, to learn fortitude, and instead
of telling David that of course he’d send the money for him
to come home he’d hung up the phone and left David listening
to 6000 miles of dialling tone. That’s the place, you can see it
from this balcony and David loves this new turn, his heart
has burst back into life and he’ll help, he wants to grab
an M16 from the shoulder of any one of the soldiers back
and forth between here and the beach and burst into the bar
and make an offer for the bucket beneath the bar they can’t refuse.
Blessed are the architects of Oslo on Memory Mountain, but still,
they are not farmers, and there is no Levantine
Common Agricultural Policy to check the memory mountain
which grows and grows and grows, and, as freely as butter
to the European poor, is distributed gratis to the fellahin
and the sheikhs and the mayors of Nazareth and Nablus and Jerusalem,
and the families of the martyrs and the innocents
of Deir Yassin and Ma’alot and Gaza and Tel Aviv.
In the bus queue, the orchard, the land, a man carries a photograph
of a ghetto, and another man carries the iron key to a home
to which he is forbidden to return, and they have both seen maps
which don’t mention the names of places their neighbours destroyed,
where strangers walk above the bones of both their fathers’ fathers;
and they have both lost a country and only one has found one.
And in fat years Pharaoh’s granaries are put to shame by the warehouses
in the country beneath our feet and in the country of our minds,
where the memory crop is stacked to the eaves, where the seed is myth
and the fruit is illusion, and if it were to be found it in a seedsman’s store
it would be stored under ‘C’ for ‘Cut and Cut and Cut and Come Again’
and, unlike the land, the shelves could not bear the weight.
By day we wait for war again.
We listen for radio items that make no sense,
for lists, numbers, archaic words and usages,
clues to the call-up of reserves.
We walk barefoot to the supermarket,
watch lovers inflaming each other.
We imagine those women turning to catch us peeping
as they wave their men off to war.
At night we sit on the flat roof listening
to the distant sea. How the noise of the daylight hours
disrupts the senses. Late at night when it’s quiet
we can smell the ocean from here. We can taste it
on the salty breeze. We have learnt to say
omelette, matches, the time, because the women
here are beautiful, slowly,
I don’t understand.
The English-language newspaper writes often
of terrorist incursions in the north. We imagine
Bedouin trackers and their private photographs
of dead fedayeen lined up like fishing trophies
between the smiling hunters. We debate
the foolishness of travelling to the border
to buy matchboxes full of kif,
and we go just the same.
We communicate with Galilean Arab girls there
in nods and smiles. They reward our earnest attention
with golden-teeth grins and we wonder about
their strong thighs, and what if things were just
different enough for them to yearn to come into the trees
with us, or for us to slip into their lives as serious prospects.
On the train back south we talk of how the death of Elvis
shook us, even though none of us can stand rock and roll.
We talk of how we might extract the morphine from Diocalm.
We talk of the wonderment of Fantasia on drug-addled senses.
Catching our drawn faces reflected in the window between us
and the night I wonder what the oldest Arab girl, beautiful
with those heavy breasts beneath her embroidered Bedouin dress,
must have thought of us today, as we sat at the roadside café
guzzling the cheapest red wine, bleary-eyed, bullshitting.
Off Tel Aviv the sun drops to the sea
so quickly, and so orange; it’s all fire,
and far off, contained. The glass of mint tea
between us trembles, green and red – the wire
will be as simple and hot. Behind us,
across the street and across many more
(but yes, just up the road), there is a bus
charred to its bent struts, to even the score.
Here a man is screaming into his phone,
desperate to know the price of a deal.Life goes on.
The sky of fire is now red,
the street is hosed of the darkened blood. Bone
fragments are recovered. We eat a meal.
Life goes on. A phone rings. Lovers are dead.
In a café on Rehov Ben Yehuda he said
we carried on, we heard birdsong
after the radio report of the attack.
As we lay twisted on the cool tiled floor
her back was arched like a bow
and the thin red curtain was ruffled
by each shallow breath of the breeze.
A small bird hopped along the sill,
singing a song like a serenade
for lovers who were slipping and sliding
in an intricate coiling of limbs.
And like some small, black, red-beaked fan
the bird fluttered across them and back,
and when only the palms of her hands
and her feet touched the floor
the bird flew under her body’s bridge
to sing on the sill while they slid.
In a bar in a lull in wartime on a street corner
on Ben Yehuda, the weed from the border
and the tequila connive with the tongue
The trouble with life someone says
is you don’t get to see how the story ends,
you don’t get to see the ice or the fire
or the vitrification of the desert or the peace
or the annihilation or the coming together
or the breaking apart. Ranged we are, around
a horseshoe of a bar, ten voices in all in this play,
more than in Hopper, but the combination
and the codeine makes it feel as important as that,
and everyone is trying their English
and the trouble with killing yourself is that you can
only do it once and another says but you can try it often
and another says I’ll drink to that and another says
I’ve been trying ever since ’67
and another says I’m glad I failed,
and another rises and says something like that
should be done impeccably. He stands and sways
and declaims, with his arms open wide, like this,
the grand flamboyant gesture, the arms thrown wide
as the train hits you or the trigger is pressed,
can always be done better. Imagine, if you can, if maybe
at that second you felt the aesthetic could have been improved
by this or that gesture, or the angle of the entry of the needle
into the vein, and you see the scene of your finder could be rendered
even more squalid still and scour a deeper hole in the recollections
of the ones charged with collecting your body parts, your bones.
And someone said imagine if you had only one performance
of Hamlet to deliver and you fucked it up and could never
do it ever again. And David lifts his head from the bar
and asks where he is and Alan says in a painting
and Eric says listen to this cunt, I’ve heard him before
and the Finnish nazi stumbles to his feet. I wanted to be a Jew,
you disappointed me, all you yids the Finnish nazi says.
He’s accusing the whole place, his outstretched arm
is sweeping round the horseshoe bar like the barrel of the gun
on the turret of a tank, slowing in its arc to alight on us all.
I wanted you bastards to be better than us.
The barman, laconic, with his cloth inside a glass, says,
it’s not our job to delight the world and die in pits.
The Finnish nazi says I don’t know if your morality
delights me or disgusts me. I wanted you to be a light
unto the nations. David has stumbled from his stool
and is crawling across the floor. David, drunk, from the floor,
says look, I am a commando The barman, laconic, with his cloth
inside another glass says our light unto the nations
will be white phosphorus until people like you learn
that it’s true that you will perish in the pits you dig for us.
Eric in his mind is storming what someone not there might call
a nest of terrorists. Alan is watching the faces, including his own,
in the mirror of the horseshoe’s jaw, of the Finnish nazi’s
audience. The Finnish nazi says Hitler was right, you all know that.
In the bar on Ben Yehuda, when we drink, even in company,
we are solo drinkers. The linguist in any observer would see
how a man can be described as nursing a drink,
tending a drink, lifting a drink lovingly to his lips. Each man,
lifts his glass, checks for signs, bubbles, level,
visions, colour, smell, notes the affect of these, checks
on his own functions, his dreams, his musings, glances across
at the Finnish nazi who is venting his young spleen.
David has listened with care from the depths of his drinks,
thinks he will soon rise from the floor and walk as if wandering
around the curve of that bar. His gripping of the arm of his stool
before he slid to the floor found its weakness and the length
of that side of the stool worked loose in less than a minute
and after that minute, and that slide to the floor of the bar,
and that crawl like commandos he’s seen in a film, David rises,
and from behind the Finnish nazi, taps his shoulder
(for he wants to see his eyes) and crashes the length of hard wood
again and again into the Finnish nazi’s young blond face.
David imagines screaming, he imagines himself coming up
on Michigan quaaaludes and angel dust, he imagines the feel
of his tongue forming nazi cunt nazi cunt nazi cunt
as he batters the nazi to the floor of the bar
and batters him until he merges him with the floor,
and the laconic barman, taking his time, comes
from behind the bar and gently lifts David off
the Finnish nazi and like a nurse, over and over,
says gently into his ear it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok.
David jumps and David says I’ll never get used to that.
Every sunny day periodically the sky is torn which never fails
to make him jump. They are bombing people to the north of us.
Jets scream from south to north. Someone screams and someone
else screams hide yourselves, death is coming.
And from the balcony of the hotel between Allenby and the tayelet
and the sea we three with mad plots overlook the cafes and brothels
and bars from whose open fronts blares mizrachi music and from
below the balcony, every time a jet rips the quiet blue sky
on its way up the coast to drop bombs on Lebanon
a guy doing deals yells into his phone questions about prices
what? in dollars? I can’t hear a thing, these fucking planes…
We are acquiring the language through listening and lipreading.
On the other side of Allenby Street the woman lunching
is too far away to have her mouth surely read. She is dabbing blood
from her lips, she is leaning towards her much younger
companion. Someone suggests he gets the idea somehow
that she is breathing to him that she loves rare meat.
I may be wrong. He may be not of her tribe. She may be
explaining those jets and how these things work –
touch one of my family and I’ll kill all of yours.
Mrs Kaplan has written to the military. She has said
Not the bell.
Not until the ceasefire,
not even then, not for three – no – to be safe –
make it not for five days after that.
If you must come to visit a parent of absent children
do not telephone first, and neither press the bell.
Tap lightly, with just the tips of your fingernails
on the glass of the window, and if you are not answered
leave quietly. If you must, you must call again. The mother
may be floating through the hushed hours
and the empty rooms, feeling the light pull
of the blue balloons
of her tethered fears
tapping at her ankles, reminding.
And if you must write, wrap your words in a bright envelope,
nothing official-looking, nothing that could be mistaken,
nothing that could make you drop to your knees sobbing
entering the hallway to collect it.
And again, let me stress, if you need to visit
do not telephone in advance,
do not press the bell, nor wear anything whatsoever
that from behind the frosted glass could be taken
as the garb of a military man bearing condolence.
We beg you.
In Wadi Adamit Peter has taken
a chance with his Uzi, he wants
to show off to the volunteers,
he doesn’t know why. He has aimed.
“See that tree?” Splinters fly. The F16s
have screamed north, the green stream
has flowed beneath the canopy of figs,
picnickers have passed from the shade
into the startling light
of a wildflower meadow.
A music of crickets and bees and goats’ bells
recedes; the sun throws long shadows
on the green valley wall, the Uzi is cool
and heavy on his back, the sky
is criss-crossed white
with vapour trails, jet scars, war.
In the dormitory room of the Riviera hotel, a thief.
The photos gone. The diary gone. A day’s shared tips
from the bar at the intersection of Ben Yehuda
and Dizengoff. What is a thief to make of a memory?
American Suzanne then slips and slides
on cool white tiles,
and hot breezes and radio waves
lap against thin red curtains
as her one jet earring
swings and sways in space.
And he pushes this way and that,
telling her everything he’ll regret,
as coils of orange blossom perfume
from her wrists and nipples and throat
wrap around them in sympathy
with arms and legs. And tongues
lick unspoken unkept promises
clean away, and afterwards,
as in a war in which they’ve taken
each other prisoner, they hold each other,
and from the edge of sleep
Suzanne listens to the screaming
of rocket-laden jets flying north,
and she wonders out loud
what those pilots think about
just before they fall asleep.
Mrs Kaplan, sage, buys David’s watch for good money,
takes him to the old city, the holy, the city of the syndrome,
Tells him where the truth is too much to bear religions exist,
tells him on the Jaffa Road the air is thinnest water
on which history floats, quite at leisure, lightly down this hill,
on boats dispassionate of the manifests of all your dense cargoes
destined for here, and night falls and the walls of the Old City
out of sand turn orange and the air returns to its thin purple
gauze. David teetering till dusk on the edge of that syndrome
pulls back, sees how people pass quickly, the pious quickest
of all. Mrs Kaplan says see, twilight is an unsentimental engine,
it jerks their necks left and right, marks them as folk aware
that punishment stalks us and is psychotic and may or may not
emerge devastatingly from holy architecture. David feels
the alleys are haunted, echoing with footfalls, nervous
for assassins and the dark. It is as holy and as unholy
as Michigan, away from lamplights traditionally
there is little mercy. Mrs Kaplan says see, David,
the sages whip the living, no-one looks into anyone
else’s eyes. On the balcony of the Riviera hotel,
between Allenby and the tayelet and the sea David
tells Eric and Alan this about his day, looks
at his empty wrist, says, she sure did give me
too much money for my watch.
Towards the end of the war, evening trade
on Dizengoff picked up. Customers came
to sit again at the café tables,
with their gas-mask boxes and atropine
injectors and long tubes of grey powder
to be sprinkled onto nerve gas droplets.
And that evening, late, the siren’s voice
had remained silent; everyone was tense
with waiting, unrelieved. Men and women
sat together and alone. The yellow
lamplight, the sound of the coffee machine’s
escaping steam, the chatter of a voice
among other voices on the terrace;
here sipping their coffee it may have felt
that they were absent from their bodies, tired,
existent only in tension, floating,
until they rose to walk, when the night air
would feel heavy on them, holding them back.
See this man sitting as he likes to do,
at a corner table of the shallow
terrace. He likes to read from the poems
in front of him and then to scan the street
for daydreams, such as the look of a man’s
face, and if maybe he has killed, or a
woman’s body, and if maybe she was
kissed earlier, and the interaction
of students, and do they know anything,
are they cutting through the old narrative,
seeing their betrayal, how they are meat
to be ground, providers of surplus value
At the next table he hears a man ask
another man if he thinks that a thought
could be an airborne virus, and that this
is how ideas spread. A drunk woman
stumbles to his table, asks him if he
would like something spicy. The clatter of
her heels drowns the reply. In his Walkman,
headphones the sound of hundreds of Cairenes
on their feet applauding the star. The far off
orchestra restarts, men whistle, the crowd
roars, the crowd applauds, she begins to sing
Beyid Annak. He wonders about what
this other woman means by spicy. She
has self-medicated, is opiated.
It is a lot to think about. The smell
of coffee, roasted pistachios. Raised
voices. The lit shop fronts. Laughter. Fragments
of conversations. Women. Men. The warmth.
War. The smell of the sea. The hissing surf.
The music from Cairo, miles to the south.
On Dizengoff after Night 34
light and shade beneath sunsplashed trees, dappled
pavement in wartime in spring, and we two,
breakfasted and temporarily calm
with the world, sip coffee at the Café
Cassit and admire the passing parade
of these decorated gas-mask boxes
belonging to young girls and schoolchildren.
This morning relief. The air-raid sirens
are silent, everyone is tired. Yawning
drinkers of coffee turn the dense pages
of imported European papers
whose front pages proclaim the arrival
of Day 35, without mentioning
for a moment that here it is in fact
the hours between Night 34 and Night
35, or that at this table here
in the city by the sea a student
of history is reading the national
poet in his own square language writing
of the death of his Uncle David far
far away in the High Carpathians.
And no mention that the calm signatures
and terrified fingermarks of Rachel
Jacobs and Barbara Pfeffer are frozen
forever on the white label above
the death’s head pictogram on the gas-mask box
which now belongs to that reader drinking
coffee. His lips move and his fingers move,
not quite imperceptibly, as he reads
and calculates the distance from Europe,
from the sealed wagon to the sealed room. All
history is within reach. All maps are small.
Every hour on the hour the drivers of the buses
of Israel and Palestine lean forward and adjust
upwards the volume of the radio and like madmen
throwing grenades heedless into crowded cafes
they give the latest news to Arab and Jew and men
from far away, while we catch our breath like rabbits
startled in the lights of oncoming troop carriers.
We watch the grenade spin like a child’s top
turning and wait to catch sight of pin in/pin out,
and listen for news of bombs/no bombs,
speculation about war/no war, death/no death,
tomorrow/no tomorrow, and news of fluttering/
no fluttering of the wings of yellow butterflies
in far-off rain forests, and in that moment
each man guards himself from his neighbour,
and makes computations of what this hour means,
for Jerusalem, and for the world, and for his solitary place in it.
I remember the bus to Kfar Ruppin,
I remember fragments of scenes there,
a room, two guitars, the dining room,
a cold vanilla yogurt, a black dog.
I don’t recall arriving or sleeping
or leaving. It was all a long time ago.
I remember the startling heat in the open air.
I remember the coolness of the stone walls
inside an Ottoman café at a rest stop,
I remember the iced water, the hummus, the salad.
I no longer remember if it would have been
the bus station at Afikim or Afula
we stopped at. I remember the poem
but not the direction from which the melancholy
arrived. I remember looking up
from the page, convulsed inside,
seeing a road sign to a place we had left.
I remember translating the characters in my mind
to give myself respite from the resonance.
I remember how it was to be laid waste
by a poem, I remember knowing I must look pale.
I remember feeling the injustice of our burden,
of having just one lifetime for moments
like this, the perfect beauty of them.
The life I set out towards,
matching my speed, receded,
and is not this one. The poem
I set outwards, matching my speed,
receded, and is not this one.
Like a travel writer viewing
a city from afar I can only guess
that both would have been fragile
and light, that they would have put an end
to my wanting, would have had the eloquence
I have failed to find on the subject
of my pursuit of you, displayed a short soft
delicate tracing, like the clear cold water
which barely murmurs as it gently streams
between the twisted canopy of fig trees
in Wadi Adamit, and which, upon leaving
that shade, bursts into the startling light
and heat of the wildflower meadow
and there leaves its earth journey,
without protest, without sound,
and is lifted, evaporated, molecule
by molecule, into its sky journey.