Wednesday, September 14, 2016


My Parents' Lodging Place


I passed the cemetery where my parents are buried —
in a poem Ibn Ezra called it "my parents' lodging place."
I didn't go in, just passed by on the road outside the wall.
I wave to my parents whenever I pass, my soul shaped like a hand.
My soul changes shape: sometimes my eyes, my eyelids,
sometimes even my eyelashes — all these are my soul.
Peace to my parents, peace to their dust,
peace to their lodging place in Jerusalem.


In their great love my parents saved me from disappointment,
from pain and sorrow. Now I am left with their savings
plus the pain I would like to spare my children.
How all those savings have piled up on me!
My parents always told me, "I'll show you,"
sometimes threatening, sometimes in a voice of sweet love:
I'll show you. Just you wait, I'll show you.
"Someday you'll learn," sternly. "Someday you'll learn,"
in a soothing, reassuring voice.
"Do whatever you want," yelling and screaming,
and "Do what you want, you're a free person,"
like the good angels singing in chorus.
You don't know what you want,
you don't know what you want.


My mother was a prophet and didn't know it.
Not like Miriam the prophets dancing with cymbals and
not like Deborah who sat under the palm tree and judged
       the people,
not like Hulda who foretold the future,
but my own private prophet, silent and stubborn.
I am obliged to fulfill everything she said
and I'm running out of lifetime.
My mother was a prophet when she taught me
the do's and don'ts of everyday, paper verses
for one-time use: You'll be sorry,
you'll get exhausted, that will do you good, you'll feel
like a new person, you'll really love it, you
won't be able, you won't like that, you'll never manage
to close it, I knew you wouldn't remember, wouldn't
forget give take rest, yes you can you can.
And when my mother died, all her little predictions came
in one big prophecy that will last
until the vision of the end of days.


My father was God and didn't know it. He gave me
the Ten Commandments not in thunder and not in anger,
not in fire and not in a cloud, but gently
and with love. He added caresses and tender words,
"would you" and "please." And chanted "remember" and "keep"
with the same tune, and pleaded and wept quietly
between one commandment and the next: Thou shalt not
take the name of thy Lord in vain, shalt not take, not in vain,
please don't bear false witness against your neighbor.
And he hugged me tight and whispered in my ear,
Thou shalt not steal, shalt not commit adultery, shalt not kill.
And he lay the palms of his wide-open hands on my head
with the Yom Kippur blessing: Honor, love, that thy days
may be long upon this earth. And the voice of my father —
white as his hair. Then he turned his face to me one last time,
as on the day he died in my arms, and said, I would like to add
two more commandments:
the Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not change,"
and the Twelfth Commandment, "Thou shalt change. You will
Thus spoke my father, and he turned and walked away
and disappeared into his strange distances.


The Poetry of Yehudi Amichai
edited by Robert Alter
Farrar 2015