Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yehuda Amichai, the Elvis of Jewish poets

I just finished reading The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai -- the newly revised and expanded edition translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell (1996 University of California Press). I have never read Amichai's poetry as translated by other folks, though other translations exist. This collection is most excellent, however, so I am happy to stick with Bloch and Mitchell.

A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention

They amputated
your thighs from my hips.
As far as I'm concerned, they're always
doctors. All of them.
They dismantled us
from each other. As far as I'm concerned,
they're engineers.
A pity. We were such a good and loving
invention: an airplane made of a man and a woman,
wings and all:
we even got off
the ground a little.
We even flew.

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 sunk 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
we have.

(From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai Newly Revised and Expanded Edition translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, 1996 University of California Press).

No comments: