Poem – My Father

The memory of my father is wrapped up in
white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,

and the rivers of his hands
overflowed with good deeds.

Poem – What Kind Of A Person

“What kind of a person are you,” I heard them say to me.
I’m a person with a complex plumbing of the soul,
Sophisticated instruments of feeling and a system
Of controlled memory at the end of the twentieth century,
But with an old body from ancient times
And with a God even older than my body.
I’m a person for the surface of the earth.
Low places, caves and wells
Frighten me. Mountain peaks
And tall buildings scare me.
I’m not like an inserted fork,
Not a cutting knife, not a stuck spoon.

I’m not flat and sly
Like a spatula creeping up from below.
At most I am a heavy and clumsy pestle
Mashing good and bad together
For a little taste
And a little fragrance.

Arrows do not direct me. I conduct
My business carefully and quietly
Like a long will that began to be written
The moment I was born.

s Now I stand at the side of the street
Weary, leaning on a parking meter.
I can stand here for nothing, free.

I’m not a car, I’m a person,
A man-god, a god-man
Whose days are numbered. Hallelujah.

Poem – Once A Great Love

Once a great love cut my life in two.
The first part goes on twisting
at some other place like a snake cut in two.

The passing years have calmed me
and brought healing to my heart and rest to my eyes.

And I’m like someone standing in the Judean desert, looking at a sign:
‘Sea Level’
He cannot see the sea, but he knows.

Thus I remember your face everywhere
at your ‘face Level.’

Poem – The School Where I Studied

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites.
I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room
where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open
to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape
we were seeing from the window.
The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones.
I remember the brief tumult of the two of us
near the rickety steps, the tumult
that was the beginning of a first great love.
Now it outlives us, as if in a museum,
like everything else in Jerusalem.

Poem – The Little Park Planted

The little park planted in memory of a boy
who fell in the war begins
to resemble him
as he was twenty eight years ago.
Year by year they look more alike.
His old parents come almost daily
to sit on a bench
and look at him.

And every night the memory in the garden
hums like a little motor.
During the day you can’t hear it.

Poem – Jews In The Land Of Israel

We forget where we came from. Our Jewish
names from the Exile give us away,
bring back the memory of flower and fruit, medieval cities,
metals, knights who turned to stone, roses,
spices whose scent drifted away, precious stones, lots of red,
handicrafts long gone from the world
(the hands are gone too).

Circumcision does it to us,
as in the Bible story of Shechem and the sons of Jacob,
so that we go on hurting all our lives.

What are we doing, coming back here with this pain?
Our longings were drained together with the swamps,
the desert blooms for us, and our children are beautiful.
Even the wrecks of ships that sank on the way
reached this shore,
even winds did. Not all the sails.

What are we doing
in this dark land with its
yellow shadows that pierce the eyes?
(Every now and then someone says, even after forty
or fifty years: ‘The sun is killing me.’)

What are we doing with these souls of mist, with these names,
with our eyes of forests, with our beautiful children,
with our quick blood?

Spilled blood is not the roots of trees
but it’s the closest thing to roots

Do Not Accept – Yehuda Amichai

Do not accept these rains that come too late. 

Better to linger. Make your pain 

An image of the desert. Say it’s said 

And do not look to the west. Refuse 
To surrender. Try this year too 

To live alone in the long summer, 

Eat your drying bread, refrain 

From tears. And do not learn from 
Experience. Take as an example my youth, 

My return late at night, what has been written 

In the rain of yesteryear. It makes no difference 
Now. See your events as my events. 

Everything will be as before: Abraham will again 

Be Abram. Sarah will be Sarai. 

 

Of Three Or Four In The Room – Yehuda Amichai

Out of three or four in the room 

One is always standing at the window. 

Forced to see the injustice amongst the thorns, 

The fires on the hills. 
And people who left whole 

Are brought home in the evening, like small change. 
Out of three or four in the room 

One is always standing at the window. 

Hair dark above his thoughts. 

Behind him, the words, wandering, without luggage, 

Hearts without provision, prophecies without water 

Big stones put there 

Standing, closed like letters 

With no addresses; and no one to receive them.

 

Quick And Bitter – Yehuda Amichai 

The end was quick and bitter. 

Slow and sweet was the time between us, 

slow and sweet were the nights 

when my hands did not touch one another in despair but in the love 

of your body which came 

between them. 
And when I entered into you 

it seemed then that great happiness 

could be measured with precision 

of sharp pain. Quick and bitter. 
Slow and sweet were the nights. 

Now is bitter and grinding as sand— 

‘Let’s be sensible’ and similiar curses. 
And as we stray further from love 

we multiply the words, 

words and sentences so long and orderly. 

Had we remained together 

we could have become a silence.

Poem – Love Of Jerusalem -Yehuda Amichai 

There is a street where they sell only red meat 

And there is a street where they sell only clothes and perfumes. And there 

is a day when I see only cripples and the blind 

And those covered with leprosy, and spastics and those with twisted lips. 
Here they build a house and there they destroy 

Here they dig into the earth 

And there they dig into the sky, 

Here they sit and there they walk 

Here they hate and there they love. 
But he who loves Jerusalem 

By the tourist book or the prayer book 

is like one who loves a women 

By a manual of sex positions. 

Translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav

Poem – The Little Park Planted – Yehuda Amichai

The little park planted in memory of a boy 

who fell in the war begins 

to resemble him 

as he was twenty eight years ago. 

Year by year they look more alike. 

His old parents come almost daily 

to sit on a bench 

and look at him. 
And every night the memory in the garden 

hums like a little motor. 

During the day you can’t hear it.

Poem – Tourists – Yehuda Amichai

Visits of condolence is all we get from them. 

They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, 

They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall 

And they laugh behind heavy curtains 

In their hotels. 

They have their pictures taken 

Together with our famous dead 

At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb 

And on Ammunition Hill. 

They weep over our sweet boys 

And lust after our tough girls 

And hang up their underwear 

To dry quickly 

In cool, blue bathrooms.

Poem – I Have Become Very Hairy – Yehuda Amichai

I have become very hairy all over my body. 

I’m afraid they’ll start hunting me because of my fur. 
My multicolored shirt has no meaning of love — 

it looks like an air photo of a railway station. 
At night my body is open and awake under the blanket, 

like eyes under the blindfold of someone to be shot. 
Restless I shall wander about; 

hungry for life I’ll die. 
Yet I wanted to be calm, like a mound with all its cities destroyed, 

and tranquil, like a full cemetery.

Poem – The First Rain – Yehuda Amichai

The first rain reminds me 

Of the rising summer dust. 

The rain doesn’t remember the rain of yesteryear. 

A year is a trained beast with no memories. 

Soon you will again wear your harnesses, 

Beautiful and embroidered, to hold 

Sheer stockings: you 

Mare and harnesser in one body. 
The white panic of soft flesh 

In the panic of a sudden vision 

Of ancient saints. 

Poem – God Full Of Mercy – Yehuda Amichai

God-Full-of-Mercy, the prayer for the dead. 

If God was not full of mercy, 

Mercy would have been in the world, 

Not just in Him. 

I, who plucked flowers in the hills 

And looked down into all the valleys, 

I, who brought corpses down from the hills, 

Can tell you that the world is empty of mercy. 

I, who was King of Salt at the seashore, 

Who stood without a decision at my window, 

Who counted the steps of angels, 

Whose heart lifted weights of anguish 

In the horrible contests. 
I, who use only a small part 

Of the words in the dictionary. 
I, who must decipher riddles 

I don’t want to decipher, 

Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy 

There would be mercy in the world, 

Not just in Him. 

Poem – An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Goat On Mount Zion – Yehuda Amichai

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion 

And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.

An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father 

Both in their temporary failure. 

Our two voices met above 

The Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us. 

Neither of us wants the boy or the goat 

To get caught in the wheels 

Of the “Had Gadya” machine. 
Afterward we found them among the bushes, 

And our voices came back inside us 

Laughing and crying. 
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been 

The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

Poem – God Has Pity On Kindergarten Children – Yehuda Amichai

God has pity on kindergarten children, 

He pities school children — less. 

But adults he pities not at all. 
He abandons them, 

And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours 

In the scorching sand 

To reach the dressing station, 

Streaming with blood. 
But perhaps 

He will have pity on those who love truly 

And take care of them 

And shade them 

Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench. 
Perhaps even we will spend on them 

Our last pennies of kindness 

Inherited from mother, 
So that their own happiness will protect us 

Now and on other days.

Poem – You Mustn’t Show Weakness

You mustn’t show weakness

and you’ve got to have a tan.

But sometimes I feel like the thin veils

of Jewish women who faint

at weddings and on Yom Kippur.
You mustn’t show weakness

and you’ve got to make a list

of all the things you can load

in a baby carriage without a baby.
This is the way things stand now:

if I pull out the stopper

after pampering myself in the bath,

I’m afraid that all of Jerusalem, and with it the whole world,

will drain out into the huge darkness.
In the daytime I lay traps for my memories

and at night I work in the Balaam Mills,

turning curse into blessing and blessing into curse.
And don’t ever show weakness.

Sometimes I come crashing down inside myself

without anyone noticing. I’m like an ambulance

on two legs, hauling the patient

inside me to Last Aid

with the wailing of cry of a siren,

and people think it’s ordinary speech.