Blesok no. 86, September-October, 2012

I don’t get involved in my neighbors’ lives
Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz

Nurit Zarchi

The Soul Is Africa

Beyond the equator is a table.
When you stand at the door,
New York, Gibraltar and London sway gently above it.
But the soul is Africa.
The way time etches tattoos on bodies,
you might have guessed.

Once there was a different season here.
Colonialism saved us.
I couldn’t conceive of my life in singular,
rather in twos, the other always consuming mine.
Now only we savages remain.

Adam, Eve, I’ve grown so far from you.
Wherever you are, I’m always on the other side,
and I hop from past to past after you
with pale Infant Time shrinking in my arms.


Inside the house as though inside a tear
mother sits on a chair, eyeless, facing the girl.
Grandmother stretches out on the floor,
her mouth opening and closing like the mouth of a fish.

Outside they are digging trenches, in 1948.
Those behind the house may be lost forever.
The girl asks to go outside and play.
Mother and grandmother nod in agreement
without thinking that the girl might be swallowed by a hole.

The girl doesn’t know who is crying hardest.
In a moment grandmother will fall
under the darkness of a chair.

Flowers, beautiful flowers! shouts the man with a wheelbarrow in the street.
The shout cuts the crying short, the girl sees
how a tunnel gapes in the room
like the parting of her ancestors’ sea.

If you don’t buy me a gladiola, I’ll stand behind the locked door
and scream.  The girl straightens up.  What does she want, a sword?
At that moment, she killed time.  Grandmother and mother sit
like statues.

House Plants

Is discomfort a sign that we are out of place?
At night, like the morning, in a sealed tunnel,
the sun and the moon too far to reach us with translucent arms,
butterflies’ lips, birds’ wings.

We translate the outside inward: what is living?
Sharing a planter with a few weeds,
easy to obtain yet they warm our hearts.
They are likely to take over, but who can deny
that feeling crowded is almost like living.

And so we wait for our own blossoming,
the only kind of nature which surprises the environment.
Trapped roots on a pottery floor
we imitate the sound of closeness, the rain breathing, light,
whispering to ourselves, water water, wind wind
is that how it feels to live?

The Pears Are Walking Backward

I don’t get involved in my neighbors’ lives
and they don’t get involved in mine.
On the Maginot line of the morning steps,
I meet the twins.  Their ponytails testify
they’ve been drafted into the children’s army.
Under their slanted lashes, in their distant, frightened glances,
I see my reflection,
old witch from downstairs,
as if holding the mystery of life in my hands.
To be my age is to know
that old is a matter of more or less
and the divider between us is made of the same imaginary stuff
of which the self is made.

The neighbor pants as she mounts the stairs, refuses
to let me take her bags.
Even just one might involve her
in a dead end, if I get sick, or need a lemon  or some flour.
Hello, the word doesn’t penetrate through the music
loaded in the adolescent girl’s ears,
lifting her straight up into her wonderful life.

Good morning, Marcella, good evening,
the new neighbor entered her apartment
and hasn’t shut the door since.  Her bird’s head
tilts on top of her tall body.
She doesn’t know I know that she knows
that there is nothing a closed door can stop
from entering or leaving.


If you’d placed your fist in front of me first, an iron glove,
I’d have made love out of it.
When the body fills with rising bubbles
and the earth sends forth the ability to stand upright,
I will make lilies flower in stone.

Some call living without bones a handicap, and there’s always fantasy
Now, without a future, I'm eating
a cold meal straight from the heart’s bowl.

Time approaches me like a small animal
seeking protection in the steam given off by ice.

I desire this chilly life as if I were dead.
Look, a glove in front of me will remain a glove, an iron fist,
even an egg.  Everything here freezes within its borders.

The Ceiling Flew Up

The girl in the stone house looked up
and saw the ceiling moving away
more each day.
“A mistake,” mother said.
But the ceiling flew up.
“Why are you here?” the girl asked the entering sky,
its edges spotted with forever.
“Move out of the light,” the sky knitters said,
“Because of you we lost a stitch in the fabric of loneliness.”
And they pushed the girl into the hole of not.
“Have you seen a ceiling?” the girl asked galloping horses with steaming nostrils.
“Move out of the way, you’re not letting us unravel the distance.”
And they pushed her into the mouth of rain.  There the ceiling stood.
“What are you doing here?  You made a mistake flying away,” the girl said.
“The horizon is make-believe,” said the ceiling.
“You’re mistaken if you think a ceiling can believe,” said the girl.
It is also a mistake to let a girl see a ceiling fly.
“As one who hates make-believe, I’m not a girl,” she said, and pushed the ceiling down.
At home mother said, “Dress the ceiling in the sweater I made for it.”
“You’d be wrong to think,” the girl said, “that you can clothe the wound of loneliness.”


Today I wanted to buy shoes, a person must take care of herself:
everything depends on that.  Although I find it hard to believe,
each passerby in the street
is hungry and naked under a coat of worry,    
each one of them a windmill whose blades turn endlessly around itself.
See how the beavers build their dams with such small hands,
their lips moving voicelessly above the water as if they were counting money or praying.
Look at the bees’ financial ballet—
hot from sun and sap, tiny envelopes in motion in the post office of hunger.
The earth hums and dances like a simmering stew.
Tired, I want to sit on the edge of the world, to go on strike.
But I continue onward so no one will see
the short distance between me and the homeless,
between them and the pull of the floor, a divider thinner than skin.
It’s only that they have a bigger imagination or sense of the future.
Watch out, Nurit, I say to myself,
only the dead have less ability to care for themselves,
and you can imagine how they look when they’re being removed,
slowly or quickly, like swept leaves, or eyelashes
closing in on a lack of talent for living.


You can’t go on living without the art of substitution.
Mud replaces water and so the forest grows.
To substitute for yourself means to stop living:
once again I lose my love, once again I buy a dog.

In this way I’ve had more than one dog
and more than one house, not to speak of umbrellas.
How can I live; will I find another love?
If only each thing could substitute for itself.

The new dog’s eyes are glued to me
as if it weren’t possible to part or abandon.
I have a friend who waited 24 hours for her lover’s train
until the world counted its way onward.

Houses are loyal to themselves until they crumble.
Now I understand why those who believe in lies die for their religion.
Whoever thinks like that will never improve on the art of substitution.
I tell myself: put your foot forward into the impossible.

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