Monday, October 18, 2010


It takes a lot of muscle to get into Aharon Shabtai's poems, or maybe you won't think so.

One day I couldn't get a spark going as I read.

Months later it was all there, or I finally was.

This is the beauty given from poetry. Unlike today's new world, it isn't a flick of a switch.

This man writes beautifully and big about the biggest and smallest ideas, concerns, walk of the day. Peter Cole translations champion each poem with just the right verve, and the publisher, once again New Directions, gives it to us.

Aharon Shabtai was married to the scholar and activist Tanya Reinhart until her passing in 2007.

These are love poems to mother, lover, country.


..........................for Tali Fahima

It was a bad year.

People got used to lies

as though to bread.

Toss them

for the umpteenth time

the same old fabrication

and they'll race to gobble it up

like a pack of ducks.

The stupid cruelty

[ats itself on the back,

and looks, smiling, into the camera.

At the nursery they're selling orchids,

while within a bark's distance

millions of people are caged like beasts.

A young woman from the country's poor,

a certain courageous swallow,

let the voice of sonscience be heard

within the kingdom of baseness,

but the fist of power

grabbed her, too, by the hair,

and threw her into jail.


Many books,

many collections of poems,

were printed in 2006

and set out on tables

during National Book Week.

I leaf through a few,

and on every page,

from page 1

to page 30,

to page 80

and 308,

I see only

a single sentence:

Mothers and children

in Gaza are searching

for food in heaps of trash.


I'm a widower

and will stay a widower,

because I'm a widower

and my wife has gone away

and my wife is gone,


her table too

isn't her table

and her husband, well,

is not her husband


"Tanya was gorgeous"

I tell Moishe

and he raises his head

over the bowl of bean soup

and just as he did ten years ago

he looks at me and says:

"Not everyone thinks so."


If our memory matters at all to you,

please, please, for the space

of a single year or more,

for ten years or twenty,

let it rest in a little oblivion

so that it might be draped

in the pure curtain of silence.

For fish in ponds as well

when it comes to water require freshness.

And you've pushed and pulled us

to the point of utter exhaustion.

Please, spare us at least for a little while

the hot air of your pronouncements.

Nationalist blather isn't

kindly received

at the threshold of heaven.

For heaven's gates are open

and generous to all mankind,

and neither rabbis nor officers

nor those in positions of power

hold any sway over us there.

So shut up and let us hear on high

the sorrows of the Bedouin too.

The Filipina worker's weeping,

what the hungry

Indian in Bolivia's saying,

what song it is they're singing

on the Euphrates' banks.

If you've learned a thing from looking

at the mounds of our eyeglasses,

please take into account

the eyes of a boy of nine,

instead of making your pilgrimage

to the barbed-wire fences

where we were sent for extermination.

Because — enclosures intended for people,

so experience teaches,

gives rise to infectious disease.

Aharon Shabtai
War & Love, Love & War
(New Directions 2010)