The first four poems below come from Moshe Dor’s most recent book in Hebrew, Beshevach Hasin’ah (“In Praise of Hate.” Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2011). They appear in English translation by this author in Scorched by the Sun: Poems by Moshe Dor (Washington, D.C.: The Word Works, 2012), a selection of poems gathered from all stages of Dor’s literary career. The last two poems are from a manuscript in progress, the working title of which is Café by the Sea.
The Hebrew language, dormant for generations, has been a spoken, vibrant, every day language for only about 150 years. This living language of the street and the kitchen is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, on which layer on layer rises to the level of speech and literature, from ancient to modern. Hebrew is roughly one third shorter than English. It is a language based on root words – each with a whole family of words, connections and associations branching out from a single root. There are about 8,000 root words in the Hebrew Bible.
Dor’s poems are marked by a deep attachment to his motherland, eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). He is also considered one of Israel’s finest love poets. Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky says Dor’s work is “ardent, compressed, pungent and lyrical, “ with a “glorious force that recalls the roots of all poetry.”
Spring hasn’t arrived, but in my dream my nostrils fill
with your smell, lost motherland, the smell of eucalypti
on the banks of the Yarkon on a sunny day,
the smell of oil from gas stations along the coastal plain,
falafel browning in frying pans, pine resin wafting
down from the hills, wine foaming in the presses…
I inhale avidly, my eyes smarting. Capricious fate
has overturned all maps. I awake befuddled,
not knowing where I am, groping for a warm
body to define the boundaries of my life. Spring
hasn’t arrived, but in my dream my nostrils fill
with your smell, and all seasons bloom in my heart.
Noon, On Fairfax Road
And if I told you that today, at noon, on Fairfax
Road, walking in this thin drizzle, I saw Death
with a face like mine, not amidst big waves, but
wearing a business suit and a new London Fog,
one hand holding a briefcase and in the other a list
of addresses wrapped in plastic, inspecting the houses
like a real estate agent, would you believe me?
And if I added that he nodded to me and we exchange
a few pleasantries, would you believe me?
Oh yes, you would.
But if I told you that today, at noon, on Fairfax
Road, the thin drizzle ceased and a blue window
opened up in a leaden sky and through it a young
sun was revealed, all distance erased, hands
clasping hands on a common shore and multitudes
of birds taking off with a magnificent clap of wings,
would you believe me? And if I added that all the colors
of the rainbow appeared, promising that no more
floods would visit the earth, would you believe me?
No, you wouldn’t.
……….Man, why did you run away?
……………..Jerzy Andrzejewski, “Ashes and Diamonds”
I ran because what I craved proved to be
a mirage, I ran because in the wilderness
my body burst into flames, I ran because
when the last wadi flooded, my soul
also was washed away, I ran because I’m human
and was afraid the bullet would hit my back
but instead it struck the bull’s eye of my heart.
A man whose son has gone missing
in the forest sits on a tree trunk at the edge
of it. He doesn’t know why his son entered
the forest, maybe to hunt, or fish, or collect
rare flowers, or to discover animals not
included in the field guides. The father sits
and waits, maybe his son will emerge
from the thicket of ferns, unsteady
on his feet, eyes dull, clothes torn, wild
beard reaching his breast, but that’s
his lost son, how can he desert his post?
I sit at the entrance of the labyrinth
in which my country has vanished.
I don’t know why my country is lost
or what I should do to reclaim it
and the sunlight, the good breeze,
the songbirds in groves of oleander
and acacia. For days I’ve been sitting
here, my eyes dim, cheeks stubbly,
clothes in tatters, shoes patched, the bread
in my knapsack dry and moldy, but this is
my lost country, how can I desert my post?
If It Were Fall
If it were fall I’d rake
your memory, motherland, like
a pile of wilted leaves, set them ablaze
and when the blue smoke spirals up,
watch it ascend, my eyes stinging.
But now it’s winter, the trees
shiver and cold grips the earth
in a vise so tight its bones creak.
And the knife of your memory
lodges in my ribs, burning.
I signed a petition opposing
the extermination of elephants.
I oppose exterminating elephants.
I signed a petition opposing
the extermination of whales.
I oppose the extermination of whales.
I oppose harming any animal
on the brink of extinction.
And I wholeheartedly support
my own little plot where no god
whatsoever can claim a foothold,
with my own groaning bookshelves,
cooking corner, computer and with you
and your hand like a fleeting memory
of a distant reserve over the wide plain
of my endangered head.
………………Not in vain did the starling visit the raven.
………………It came because it belongs to the same species.
………………………………….From the Talmud, Bava Kama 92
The raven screeched as if his lover
lay before him like a heavy, gray corpse.
What are you crying for, raven?
You’re not a professional. I didn’t
hire you to stage a lamentation,
and so noisy, at that. And at the height
of the noonday sun.
Raven, listen: don’t be swayed
by those wise adages. Go back
to your brethren at the top
of the eucalyptus, and keep
your distance from the starling
who showers you with affection,
for she will only betray you. Look
for that easily found, easily digested
trash to feed your wife and offspring,
a lebensraum that doesn’t call for a fight
for succession, historic rights, or justice
to be meted out and not just preached.
Raven, be a raven!
© Barbara Goldberg and Moshe Dor
Moshe Dor, born in Tel Aviv in 1932, is regarded as one of the most prominent poets in Israel. Scorched by the Sun: Poems by Moshe Dor is his latest book in English, translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Goldberg. Dor’s own work has been translated in more than 20 languages. A prodigious translator of American poetry into Hebrew, he has published volumes by Robert Hass, Naomi Shihab Nye and Charles Simic, among others. Dor is the recipient of the Bialik Prize, Israel’s top literary award, and twice winner of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Award in Literature. He served as Israel’s Counselor for Cultural Affairs in London and Distinguished Writer in Residence at American University, Washington, DC. As a young man Dor joined the Haganah and later worked on the editorial board of Ma’ariv, one of Israel’s leading newspapers. He is the lyricist of erev shel shoshanim (Evening of Roses), performed worldwide as a wedding song. Dor and Goldberg have worked together for more than 20 years, translating and editing anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (University of Syracuse Press, 1998).
Barbara Goldberg is the author of four prize-winning books of poetry, most recently, The Royal Baker’s Daughter, winner of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008). Goldberg and Dor have translated and edited four anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry as well as The Fire Stays in Red: Poems of Ronny Someck (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002). Goldberg’s work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, the Paris Review as well as Best American Poetry. Among her awards are two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as awards in translation, fiction, feature writing and speechwriting. Goldberg is visiting writer in American University’s MFA program. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.