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 the Levant Notebook (It will appear in my fourth fortcomning poetry book).
Listen to me reading another poem in Hebrew
My deceased father | I wish I could return between the knives of time | Why there is no (re)union in reunions or, the cabin of our decline
My deceased father
The stamps have collected the final days
of my father unto countries where
he never traveled.
He laid them in a bowl of his soul’s water
and peeled away the envelopes of neglect
of the lower-class neighborhoods of the city of Haifa,
But the octopus-like hands of the government authorities
do not loosen their grip on the stamp
and the black ink persists like the mark of
(“Poetry Between Hazaz and Shemoelof”, 2006)
I wish I could return between the knives of time
Hadar neighborhood in Haifa awaited my grandfather in a worn-out wedding dress
and in honor of his retirement granted him two crumbling backgammon dice,
and poured him a glass of arak
and my grandmother told me how she sat in the roofless bus station, of the Eye without the Sea neighborhood,
and worried, but he never returned from there the way he left.
The past has its own time.
The time has its own past.
Allah be with you, grandpa Shlomo.
(“Poetry Between Hazaz and Shemoelof”, 2006)
Why there is no (re)union in reunions or, the cabin of our decline
A memory of trees dancing between the lotus flowers that the goldfish suffocate
In the grove that stretches back to the thorny high school days in a bug’s dance of incomprehensible moves.
Who dropped to the quiet rocky ground duck-like in their origins and awkward in their movements?
Who touched the angry sky with kittenish clouds?
Not you Ehud Banai, because there is no bonfire here and even the word, burning in a memory with no memory, dissolves.
Dust-mote wars and twigs dropping off bored hornet’s nests selling venom as if it was honey
and before them the children are quiet, silenced by their lack of imagination.
Was it my fault the laundry was colored red?
Devouring sunbeams from pebbles of scalded tea
Facing the passion of one thousand five hundred flies disturbed in the night of the sunflower eaters.
Do not get close to snort all the dream dust, you pair of mothers fucking between silken clamps.
A surrogate stagehand once again forgets to inform the goddesses of the East that the creation of the crucified She ended a long time ago, during high school in Haifa.
(“Apetite for Hugner”, 2013, fortcoming)
My lovely terrorist,
Don’t be afraid of the Jewish people.
I will serve you black coffee.
I will bring you a plate of stuffed cookies.
My terrorist, play me the music you download from the internet
and we will watch movies together.
You are my terrorist.
Terrorist you are my sister.
My sister you are a terrorist.
Come and let’s study together the books of spoken Iraqi that I received from Gal in Haifa.
Dear terrorist, you are so tired, perhaps rest a little on the bed.
We’ll go to the garden and harvest the giant mint bush that spread and overran the entire garden since ’77.
How much sugar do you take?
Shall I leave the tea bag in the cup?
Now before we part with the lovely Jewish blessing: See You Again
And a thousand blessings on your eyes,
We will watch in a long breath for an even longer breath.
May Allah give you health and strength.
(“Apetite for Hugner”, 2013, fortcoming”)
This poems were first published on Anisa Eskar art catalog (2013) / HAIFA MUSEUM OF ART
In the U.S., there is a wonderful tradition. Each year, the administration chooses a poet laureate, whose main job is to bring poetry closer to the hearts of the American people. He or she receives a salary and even an office in the Library of Congress.
The Israeli Poets’ Association was established in 2011, and seeks to bring Hebrew poetry to the broader public. In 2012, the association began collecting signatures on a petition to make Hebrew poetry a central subject of study during the coming school year. This step could lead to an understanding of the central role poetry and culture play in our society. We must not abandon culture to market forces. Rather, we must be proactive in promoting it, as do our counterparts in the West.
As part of the call by poets to declare this the Year of Israeli Poetry, they wrote: “Poetry is a valuable and essential cultural treasure … by way of this initiative, it will be possible to deepen and diversify the exposure of youth and students in the State of Israel to their national poetry, including educational activities that are not necessarily the standard classroom fare.”
The call for a Year of Israeli Poetry is intended to restore this forgotten art form to the center of our public life. It will help give us access to new voices in the culture. Poetry was the spearhead of Israel’s multicultural pioneer society a century ago, and rose again during the social protests of 2011. Those who had their finger on the pulse of newly formed poetry groups, nascent journals and evenings of song and poetry on the outskirts of cities, had an inkling of what was to come. Poetry is the wellspring of imagination in Israeli society.
The Israeli education system’s teaching of poetry is anachronistic and abbreviated. Students are required to memorize poems by old-time national poets, but are rarely exposed to young, subversive and lively practitioners of the art. As a writing workshop instructor, I know how to teach poetry and turn it into a real tool for social change. The initiative to spotlight poetry will require that the Education Ministry bring poets into all schools, to read their poems in new ways in light of students’ experiences.
In the family of nations, Israel is judged through its culture. Each year we wait to see if any Israeli films have been nominated for the Oscars. Poets themselves must stop being so arcane and reclaim their place as primary constructors of culture. The Poets‘ Association proposal for a Year of Israeli Poetry will supplement the few existing tools that currently expose Israelis to poetry, such as the Sapir Prize for Poetry, the recently passed Poetry Law, annual subsidies for poets and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry.
Today, poetry in Israel is at a nadir. Publishers almost never take on poetry manuscripts, due to their almost negligible commercial value. But the understanding and knowledge to be gained from poetry are immense, and many artists continue to publish their works independently, via the Internet, using new platforms such as Indibook and social networks.
Let us revive this country’s commitment to culture, citizenship and our spiritual patrimony. The Education Ministry must seriously address the new initiative by the Poets’ Association, as part of a variety of actions that will resuscitate poetry in Israeli society.
The Op-Ed was first published on Ynet Opinions, July 29, 2010. I thank Efrat Weiss for this transaltion.
Over one week ago several families were evicted from their homes in Beit Shean due to financial debts to Amidar – Israel’s National Housing Company. The community refused to silently accept this verdict. Numerous protesters burned tires as an act of solidarity with the evicted citizens. The families explained that they could not afford the rent as they could not remain without basic maintenance products, such as food.
Some of them families ended up on the streets. Amidar claims that several families ran up debts of tens of thousands of NIS, and since the company did not wish to increase those sums they were evicted.
One of the evicted families consists of a widower with four children, and another has five children. Moreover, eviction notices hover over 38 addition families. The victims demand a comprehensive solution rather than a partial one and blame the State for failing to provide them with sufficient means to break the vicious circle of poverty. The cast out families further allude to the corruption with which the Beit Shean local council is infested – those who pull the strings of employment and public housing are related to the mayor and the residents are afraid to revolt.
No, this is not a case of occupation. Unlike the case of Bil’in, this story has not received vast media attention. The United States does not voice its protest against the eviction of the families. Not one senior politician has stood up in their defense. However, the Beit Shean community can no longer remain silent in the face of these inhumane steps – many families are plunging into an economic abyss and are therefore supported by many who took to the streets in protest against the evictions.
The local police force mobilized a special unit – Israel finds no place for compromise, dialogue or political solution. Thus the police used force despite the fact that some of the servicemen and women are acquainted with the victims and are aware of their plights. The residents turned to Mayor Jacky Levy but did not receive a response.
The pains of the evicted families begin and end with political helplessness. The Public Housing Law, drafted in 1998 by Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit and supported by MK Ran Cohen from Meretz, aimed to transfer the modest Amidar apartments to their residents in order to generate social and distributional justice. Since its legislation, over 34,000 Amidar residents have become, for the first time in their lives, lawful apartment owners.
The State of Israel has offered billions of NIS to kibbutzim and moshavim, either through debt rescheduling or through the possibility of private construction on state-owned land, as is the case with the inheritance of kibbutz/moshav lands. For example, in 1989 the total debts of the kibbutzim to the State amounted to 12 billion NIS. After over one year of negotiations between the Government and the banks on the one hand and representatives of the kibbutzim on the other, the banks waved 2 billion NIS whereas the Government resolved to subsidize 1.3 billion NIS and reschedule an addition 6.7 billion NIS through Government sureties over a period of 25 years. In the country’s periphery, on the other hand, families receive neither land nor debt rescheduling, thus remaining isolated, unemployed and destitute.
The Public Housing Law was shelved through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Budget Omnibus Law, despite the fact that it would enable tens of thousands of families to purchase the shabby Amidar apartments in which they reside. For many years these families had lived in dilapidated buildings and the law allowed them a unique opportunity for limited social mobility. That opportunity, however, was severed by the undemocratic Budget Omnibus Law. The Public Housing Law is presently under terminal threat by the Ministry of Finance officials.
An unusual tie was formed recently between the evicted families in Beit Shean and the Sheikh Jarrah activists. Beit Shean protestors even joined the mass demonstration held last weekend, in order to examine the possibility of cooperation.
Sheikh Jarrah activists are also examining the option of mobilizing to pressure for a solution to the Beit Shean housing problem. This seed of cooperation and solidarity may be the light at the end of the tunnel – it could mark the possibility of brotherhood between various segments of society. A cooperation of this sort may illuminate our path out of Israel’s separatist regime.
Mati Shemoelof is a poet, editor and member of Cultural Guerrilla, merging social struggle with cultural creation