Nothing is more useless than God
he doesn’t stroke my forehead
doesn’t stretch a moist tongue
to lustfully lick the blood
from every high hill and every mountain peak
and under every green tree.1
Most of the time I divine the inner
parts of his body
(his sharp resinous odor rises
like the odor of sex)
find him in the blue reflecting from the knife’s blade
fine as light frost. He does what he has to do.
The ice now quickly melts in his mouth, his tongue is very long.
On a dark night at the beginning of April
I cover his face.
The body awaits its demise
(one must keep clean and daily change outfits)
and here we are standing like idiots
in rooms lit by television
oblivious to how dear our lives are.
Always someone is cracking bones with a knife
afraid to lose the world.
Someone pulls down the blinds
in some forest a terrible fire starts
(we have become addicted to the smell of burning).
We are always in search of secluded beaches
in line with European standards
the fair-skinned among us linger over their sunblock rituals.
We are always busy and consumed with worry
and yet appear remarkably self-possessed.
Always on the fifth-floor level
Chinese workers hustle across scaffoldings
always on TV at eight o’clock women politely
murmur the news,
the ever-present Great Rift Valley,2
of a morning, large migrating birds circle, soar above it,
benefitting from the column of rising warm air
and covering great distances.
And pleasure is always surprising, instantly
it withdraws and it is cold
and the partitions are thin
and the scraping of chairs a dialogue.
There always will be those who commendably
rise after a fall
holding knife and fork.
There will come a day when we will tell ourselves:
“A holiday would perfectly suit our wishes,”
and with sweet abandon we will open
two brilliant tin cans
and admit, while sipping drinks,
a vulgar truth:
There is no room for pain
one must resume and live
dance, hop in the dark, rock the air,
otherwise we are lost.
Mister, Prime Minister
Mister3 Prime Minister,
I am thinking about the plates,
the flower arrangements, the lighted scented candles,
the gleaming knives,
the impeccable tablecloths,
the pistachio ice cream you love so much
(a deluxe flavor not readily available),
the fruit sorbet your wife favors
depending on the season,
right now it is strawberry, in summer
it is lemon-nana,4
vanilla for the kids.
Mister Prime Minister,
you must be very proud of your country
as you observe the goings on with your eyes shut.
Do not bother your head about terror and fire,
living on the edge is surely a stimulating
motive,5 nothing to be afraid of.
And the occupation is so straightforward—
look at the beauty of climbing plants on a terrace,
clutching a fence.
Which gives us a reason to stand for years
in the square6 and sing.
Mister Prime Minister,
it doesn’t matter how much we endure
how much we feel
how much we fight
how much we fall
how much we pray
how many knockout victories you promise
how many times we are revived.
Once upon a time someone said:
The Temple Mount is ours
The Temple Mount is ours, Over,
and another replied: Well done, well done,
(all forces cease fire)7
entrusting us with the future
our heads held high
our bodies in the chinks, between the cracks,8
we’ve remained this way for years, for years.
Mister Prime Minister,
go in peace,
and when you leave the residence9
put on a sweater or at least tie it around your neck
Anat Zecharia is a graduate of the photography department of The NB Haifa School of Design, and of the Alma College of Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv. Poet, dance critic, and editor, she’s a member of the Artists’ Greenhouse for Social Activism project in the Musrara School of Photography & Media in Jerusalem. Her poetry has been awarded the Prime Minister Prize, the Street Prize from the city of Tel Aviv, and the Young Poet’s Prize from Sha’ar International Poetry Festival. She has published three poetry collections, and her work has been translated into ten languages, including Albanian, Arabic, Chinese and Swedish. She represented Israel in The Poetry Parnassus, a festival of readings and performances at the 2012 London Olympics. Zecharia lives and works in Tel Aviv.
Tsipi Keller is the recipient of several literary awards, including National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowships, New York Foundation for the Arts Fiction grants, and an Armand G. Erpf Translation Award from Columbia University. Her translations have appeared in literary journals and anthologies in the U.S. and Europe, as well as in The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization (Yale University Press, 2012). Her most recent translation collection, Years I Walked at Your Side, a volume of selected poems by Hebrew poet Mordechai Geldman, was published by SUNY Press in 2018. Her novel Nadja on Nadja was published in 2019 by Underground Voices.
1 Alludes to Jeremiah 2:20: “For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.”
2 In Hebrew, the Syro-African rift, also known as the Jordan Rift Valley, and part of the Great Rift Valley. Rift also alluding to the ever-present rifts and conflicts in the region.
3 Adoni, in the original, literally: My Sir. Without the vowels, can also be pronounced Adonai: My Lord/God.
4 A sweet variety of the mint family.
5 Alludes to Netanyahu’s legal problems.
6 Alludes to Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv, where Rabin was assassinated in 1995, and where pro- and anti-Netanyahu rallies take place.
7 Alludes to the capture of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall during the war, June 1967, and based on actual recording.
8 The chinks and the cracks in the Western Wall.
9 Also means day-care center.