Selected poems

Downstairs, from heavenly Aleppo

Aleppo, I, Matityaho Ibn Shifra, your old daughter, a grandson of your Arab-Jews, mourn the erasure of your city of poetry

Aleppo, how did they forget to save your libraries

Aleppo, was it not fireworks that lit the skies of the Arab spring? Or were the night stars shining all night long

Aleppo, tell me who is the devil that drops explosive barrels upon your residents, and thinks that in this way — they will write his name in love

Aleppo, will you listen to the old, weeping Iraqi who lives inside of me? Here, at the gates of our European towns, stand thousands of your sons and daughters, standing with keys to lost homes, waiting to enter

Aleppo, rich poems will flourish in your botanic gardens; Free, we will walk among your Middle Eastern shifting sand-novel-dunes; freedom will be tattooed on our children’s hands, red words of prayer will spread in the wind

Aleppo, torn poetry books fly in the wind; your children’s memory squashed beneath the rubble

Aleppo, the few who read your heart’s beating poems fighting with those who don’t know shit about the little girl who dances while she writes a love letter to her mom

Aleppo, your daughters, are the new Jews, who are exiled between the libraries of the world, and inside their headphones you can hear the compassionate womb of the Oud

Aleppo, we will not fight with weapons that lead to victory. Nope. We will put our hopes in the gentle candle wax and surrender to mountains of words where the sweet snow melts into rivers; where love springs out

Aleppo, tell us again how we can raise neighborhoods of believers and atheists; among the alters who scattered our souls

Aleppo, your stories will come back to my ears, like a child who sits on his grandmother’s knees

*

Words of Departure

This poem will soon collapse

As

I left the life of guaranties

To find a new life in Berlin

I speak broken English, Broken German, Broken Hebrew, Five Shekels a Euro

I disconnected my Jewish phone

I said goodbye to my mom

My books

My life’s beloved

Loved

Ones

Hebrew letters

My friends

**

Here is the poem in three translations

***

The cause of my death: too many love songs

Come with me, but don’t give me your hand

On our right there is Beirut

On our left there is Cairo

Behind us -Amman

In front us – Ramallah

And where are we?

And now give me your hand and let’s travel far away from Hebrew poetry.

This poem was first published on My fifth poetry book – Last Tango In Berlin

***

An Arab-Jew in Berlin

I ask fewer questions

And lose myself more in the jazz of Berlin

Flowing from the many Diasporas

At night I climb through women’s windows

In the morning I labor

And on Sabbath with holy words

I talk to myself in Hebrew, with no country

I talk to others in another tongue, with no country

I miss my father’s memorial

And recall him in every word

I don’t know where I come from or where I’m going

But even strangeness has a birthday

And I’ll wake in your arms

And between your thighs

Remembering

Like a child

(From: Mati Shemoelof, “Last tango in Berlin”, Booxilla, 2014)

***

Why don’t I write Israeli Love Songs

To Amiri Baraka

First bring me back my history

And then my textbooks

And don’t tell me my poem is a political manifesto

When you haven’t got a clue ‘bout your wrongs. So here is a lead:

I want compensation from the National Bank of Israel

For the Palestinians, the Mizrachim, the Women, the Gays and the Lesbians

For every comment, transit-camp, closed military zone

Disappearance, disfigurement.

I want you to open the poetry safe

And give back the land to those you took from

And compensate for a horrible occupation

I will wait by the national bank of Israel,

Outside the window of the National Insurance Institute,

Under the cars of the treasury Department

Until you aptly compensate for all the distilled racism

And only then, when the children of children of the compensated ones

Will study in university, in an equal society

Only then will I be willing to write Israeli love songs.

The translation was first published on “Fusion” Magazine – Big Bridge #15, Spring, 2011 >>>

***

In an Entire Ruined Village and at the Jaffa Expulsion 

Listen my mother

A satisfied white rat

Convinced the contractor

To dine with the supervisor

To feed the politician

To sleep with the judge

And to flatten the history of the people.

A great rat, mom, I swear I saw

her chewing on the ruins

hungrily, and her excrement is the culture

that eats and can never be filled.

And why am I telling you this, O mother,

Maybe because I feel like it can’t go on this way

We have to stand together

In front of the rat and scream

the pain of the bites.

You’re right mom,

We aren’t rats

But the marks on the body

The ruin in the eyes

Have already passed to my daughter

Who asks how it is that we didn’t

do anything.

Translated from the Hebrew by Chana MorgensternTranslation published in Zeek magazine page 18 > LINK
***

Ballad of the Middle of the Twenty First Century

(with thanks to Serge Gainsbourg and Danny Blair Shwed Jones Grossman for the inspiration)

I peek at her white body and at that other one standing beside her,

her body shrivels from him, and her spirit sings a gentle song versed by her fancy.

So, the Botticelli painting stands in my bathroom

the orange with the black stains of mold.

Her colors don’t fade,

the light shatters on her body,

only her clothes shrivel

and get wet on the old floor tiles.

I look at her and him from afar

like a grownup peeking into his childhood,

and my mind captures photos with a rare camera

that you can’t buy

despite all the advanced technology of the age.

The bathroom colors the painting

with wet orange, and that other one cowers from the holy

water, under the mold.

On the walls little angels and fairies,

dance around her only.

After washing her hair,

she’s busy drying

while that other one

chews the fat

with her shadow.

The smell of her hair knocks me down from the peeking stance,

that other comes right over to see where the racket came from

and then right in front of my eyes, from my hiding place,

his goat’s feet come into view with the terrible smell.

The movements of her towel are so gentle,

that the bathtub itself wants to get up and make love to her

without penetration, just a sequence of touch after touch

stringing together a pleasantperverse feeling.

I look at her white body and at that other one standing next to her

I get hard from her and from him.

And this is the angel of death

that is competing with me for her love

and I have no way to beat him

but to die at her feet

and wait

for her to come to me

and my arms to be weaved into hers.

This poem was published first on Scar Minimizer (Tel-Aviv: Gwanim Publishers, 2001) and then on “Märchenland: Die beteiligten Autoren setzten sich mit den Märchen der Gebrüder Grimm auseinander, brachten ihre prosaische Form auf eine lyrische Ebene und begaben sich in die mitunter ambivalenten Bereiche des kulturellen Gedächtnisses in Deutschland und Israel.”***

 *

And It Is Not A Quotation, It Is a Burning Sign On My Neck

The time has come to say the oppression isn’t finished

The land is not Middle-Eastern

The fury compels to write an illiterate poem

Black in the midst of white tunnels

Words torn apart in some unknown prison

Stand united and revolt the language

We stood up

In the ruins of the racist words that surrounded us

In transit-camps that weren’t vowelized or dotted

We are the slaves of Homer and the maids of Bialik[1]

We Call Mizrahit[2] against and over, a type of a

T h i r d option for poetry


[1] Bialik was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poets and came to be recognized as Israel’s national poet.

[2]Mizrahit – Sepharadic or Mizrahi Jews are Jews of Middle-Eastern descent whose families in most cases immigrated to Israel from Arab countries. They form about half of the Israeli Jewish population. The painful reality this anthology deals with is the division within Israeli society between Ashkenazi Jews (of Eastern European descent) and Mizrahis.

This reality often goes unnoticed by outside observers, who naturally focus on the more violent aspects of Israeli political reality and the division Jew/non-Jew which the Israeli state draws. In fact, in the mainstream of Israeli discourse there has long been a systematic avoidance/denial of this division, maintaining – as is perhaps “demanded” by the core of Zionist ideology and its ongoing nation-building project – that the Jews are a distinct people and that Israeli Jews have a unified ethnicity and a shared history. Indeed, the mere notion of an Arab Jew, as some Mizrahis identify today themselves, is close to unthinkable in most mainstream media and consciousness. But the divide is not painful simply because it is denied. There is a history of political, economic and cultural oppression of Mizrahis and, as relatively recent scholarship establishes clearly, much of these elements are present to this day

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