Thursday, March 15, 2012

Amichai's Jerusalem

On a roof in the Old City
Laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight:
The white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
The towel of a man who is my enemy,
To wipe off the sweat of his brow

In the sky of the Old City
A kite.
At the other end of the string,
A child
I can’t see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags
They have put up many flags
To make us think that they’re happy
To make them think that we’re happy

(Jerusalem, Circa 1959)

Yehuda Amichai is the most widely translated Hebrew poet since King David. Amichai's Jerusalem is a 52 minute documentary film about him. And because Amichai lived almost his entire life in Jerusalem, Amichai’s Jerusalem is also a history of the city, beginning with the influx of socialist idealists before the first world war, and ending with the ambiguities of the post-Rabin era. It is history told through the eyes of a poet who scrapes away the layers of dogma to reveal the human presence that gives life to bitterly contested stones.

Who was Yehuda Amichai?

Amichai’s clear, compassionate and sometimes humorous voice has been translated into at least 37 languages including Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, Esperanto, German, Urhobo (a Nigerian dialect) and Yiddish. "The effect his poetry has on me" said British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, "is to give me my own life — to open it up somehow, to make it all available to me afresh....and to free me from my mental prisons."

Amichai first arrived in Jerusalem in the 1930’s, and he died there in 2000. His love of, and exasperation with, the city - were always evident:

The air above Jerusalem is filled with prayers and dreams
Like the air above cities with heavy industry
Hard to breathe

(Jerusalem Ecology - 1980)

Amichai’s poems describe the city during British Mandate rule, then as the divided capital of the new State of Israel, with half the city in Jordanian hands, and finally as the unified – but troubled – metropolis it has been ever since 1967. Together with him we visit places which have been the objects of so much conflict and religious fervour - the ruins of the Jewish temple, the mosques, synagogues and churches. And together with him we wonder at the meaning of these places of pilgrimage:

Once I was sitting on the steps near the gate at David's Citadel

and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me. A group of

tourists stood there around their guide, and I became their point of reference. "You see the man over there with the baskets? A

little to the right of his head there's an arch from the Roman

period. A little to the right of his head." ….

I said to myself: Redemption will come only when

they are told, "Do you see that arch over there from the Roman

period? It doesn't matter, but near it, a little to the left and

then down a bit, there's a man who has just bought fruit and

vegetables for his family." (Tourists, 1980)

Perhaps because Amichai fought in two wars – he fought in both the British Army during World War II, and afterwards in Israel’s War of Independence – his poetry poignantly evokes the cost of war:

Mr BeMr Beringer, whose son

Fell at the Canal that strangers dug

So ships could cross the desert,

Crosses my path at Jaffa Gate.

He has grown very thin, has lost

The weight of his son.

That’s why he floats so lightly in the alleys and gets caught in my heart like little twigs

That drift away.

(Seven Laments for the War Dead - 1976)

Amichai’s gentle humanism leads us beyond the landmarks to a more intimate and personal Jerusalem – the universities and coffee shops where he taught and wrote, his modest home in the picturesque Jerusalem suburb of Yemin Moshe, the parks and playgrounds where he strolled, the hospitals where his children were born and where he battled cancer, and the secret places where love blossoms:

As from "Thou shalt not seethe a kid

in his mother's milk"

They made all the manifold laws of


But the kid is forgotten and the milk is forgotten

And the mother is forgotten

So from "I love you"

We made all our life together.

But I did not forget you

As you were then.

(Instead of a Love Poem)

Along the way we gain new insight into the lives of ordinary Jerusalemites – Jewish, Moslem and Christian who, despite the weight of the city’s history, must deal with the prosaic tasks of earning a living, finding earthly happiness, and managing to die in their own beds.

This English speaking documentary will feature interviews with Amichai, his family, contemporaries and students, and a soundtrack which includes several of the popular songs made by setting Amichai’s texts to music. Archival footage of historical events – the seige of Jerusalem in 1948, the six day war, terrorist attacks, Sadat’s visit - are interwoven with his poetry – some read by Amichai himself – to form a resonant portrait of both the city and the man.

Amichai’s Jerusalem gives us an inside look into this city of contradictions: a city important to many who live far away from it, but whose status as a symbol can often make life inordinately difficult for those who actually live there. A city of shrines and of pubs, of messianic dreamers and software programmers, a city with sewerage problems, and a city with a seeming direct pipe line to the divine:

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite mountain I am searching.
For my little boy
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure…

Afterwards we found them among the bushes
And our voices came back inside us, laughing and crying
Searching for a goat or a son
Has always been the beginning
of a new religion in these mountains.

(An Arab Sheperd 1980)

As we see the places which inspired some of Amichai’s greatest work, we emerge with greater understanding of both a uniquely poetic mind, and of a city which struggles to shake off the burdens of the past in order to forge a more satisfying future.

Jerusalem will be a key component of any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Amichai's Jerusalem makes accessible a prosaic, earthly Jerusalem, as opposed to the national and religious symbol so bitterly fought over by faiths and competing nationalities.


Amichai's Jerusalem: All rights reserved 2002. Amichai's Jerusalem is registered with The Writers Guild of America Registration Department (August 2002 No 883920), and with the South African Script & Story Register (February 2002 -SSR 2713/2002).

The diameter of the bomb

Manofesto cobbled this together in about 2003, when Israel was experiencing a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that left hundreds of civilian fatalaties, thousands wounded and many families struggling with loss and the long struggle of rehab - of people covered by burns, or who had lost limbs or their sight.

Its a rather literal visualisation of a poem of Yehuda Amichai from the 70s. If you'd like to read more of his poems try this post or here.Link

Poems 2012 - 5772

See also: I hold me

My poems could definitely benefit from some more persona "attitude" - a bit of strut and a bit of playfulness and a bit of gesture...

Poems and Aphorisms
Immanuel Suttner

I could get up and walk out
and never come back
just keep walking
past the trucks and houses
garbage bins and trees
junk mail softened by leaves

I could get up and walk out
without turning off the computer
and keep on walking
and never kiss the brows of my boys goodnight
I could walk 'til night falls
and my body shivers in the chilly air
so that all I can think of
is warmth and light

I could walk past the loud
the troubled the stony
until they lost interest
and left me alone

I could walk through green hills
down vaulted dusty roads
past olive groves and spinifex grass
and kangaroos killed by cars
I could rest awhile amongst dancing cosmos flowers
til small crawling things
tasted my flesh
and my flesh walked on
shoes in my hand
gravel piercing my soles

I could crane my neck at the clouds
or stare at the drinks in the back of a shop
so simple these choices
the joy of the road

I could try to leave leave these habits behind
the habit of waiting, the habit of regretting
the habit of fearing what waits on the road
I could walk to a grave yard

where cold winds blow the autumn leaves
and sit and weep at the grave of my longings
for the phantom what-might-have-been

and then I would walk
to a maternity ward
where small beings babble
and despite my accretions
be seduced and make plans
for a wonderful world

and in that walking
that resting
that walking
come to a place
that hangs in the balance
stripped of illusions
kneel in the dust
or stretch to the sunset
and gather wood for the fire.


The General Theory of Ephemerality

There is a heavenfull of household pets
stocked with time struck love objects
a well worn shoe, a well worn song
that lingered before moving on.

You, who were once, who filled this house
where a phantom cat mauled a phantom mouse
where a phantom dog caked with garden muck
stained the rug, but left time untouched

have gone. I hear time trickling through
while I wonder what else was I meant to do?
Vanished the ghost, and also the wall
into which it fled. Coherencies fall

gravewards, lured by gravity
to weightless amorphicity.


the toffee apple of the world
turns out to be an onion
but an onion when alchemised
is also quite sweet.

I am teaching Yehuda
with a wave of my wand
I pull out the last line
there are oohs and ah's
- an exhalation of emotion
you can always rely
on Amichai magic  

she holds down two jobs
gets the kids each day
somehow puts
her anxiety away
washes the dishes
and sobs in the sink
collapses at night
but then can't sleep a wink
goes for a run

I want peace
to see
what looks out
and becomes disturbed

We are playing tennis
at the time of the third meal
tennis balls whizzing like tehillim
up to heaven
others caught in the net
of earthliness
scenario: 4 people are on a tennis court, all of them crouched down,twirlng their rackets, bouncing from foot to foot as if ready to receive serve. This carries on for several minutes with no change - no one serves or receives a  ball. Eventually one of the players "breaks" and says "all right I'll get the bloody balls this time"....

When someone you were close to dies
there is paradoxically a heightened sense of life
the petty concerns
of the daily grind
dissapear from view
and a strange kind of freedom
pulses within
inviting Itself to be taken up
before the gates swing closed
words are historians
inside breakfast
is break-fast
inside shabbat is to sit
you do not need poems
to make you special
and you do not need 'special"
to make you valuable
feel the solidity of
family, home, an income
the power to acknowledge

express yourself
more fully
to those you meet
every day
life signs

traces of margarine in the jam jar
a to-do list receding into the unreachable distance
ants devouring a
dehydrated worm
bird poo on the
brand new car
 "Why don't you Jews stop moaning about the six million and just bury you're dead and get on with it."
Oh you can't bury your dead because they were cremated or you can't locate the mass graves where Lithuanian and Latvian collaborators shot them ...well then have a memorial ceremony and move on"
God is the Joy
that dissolves name and form 
I will not die
and I was not born
a plea to suicide bombers:
turn back, he or she
who so chooses
is not a coward
give it another day
don't be so afraid of life
we will hold your hand, we know
though hard and encrusted with bitter thought
it once was soft and warm
It's OK for us
to have a little hug
and if I find my hand moving around
to cup your small breast
then let us slowly settle into that too


yes we can hug
and if we find my hand
settling on your small breast
that too is just right

I exist
in the creative tension
between left and right
secularism and fundamentalism
rigidity and flexibility
body and soul
if one voice is not representedI feel the tug of redress inside me
reject me or make me wrong and I harden
into what you deny me
embrace me and
I dissolve

Stuck in the cellar
of late capitalist consumerism
and internal contradictions
and running in circles
to be able to look my children and wife in the eye
sometimes the best I can do
is stuff electronic notes into virtual bottles
and set them adrift
on the faceless book

Sometimes I get a crazy desire to fix things
not the world
for which I don't have a license
but something like an iphone 3
into which a zealous child has stuffed
the sim card the wrong way round
and then i will wrestle with the phone
for hours and hours
until both it and I
are broken
keep your own bees at home
grow your own mushrooms at home
recycle your own sewrage at home
develop your own space industry at home

Walt Whitman and Alan Ginsberg were list makers, and so am I


Sri sea

The mottled sea
The throttled sea
The mottled throttled bottled sea
the dream of abundance
rows of lettuce heads
the smell of ripe manure
worms writhing their fertile dance in the worm farm
dignified deaths
mushrooms bursting out of the decaying log
enough breasts and penises for everyone
the dream of abundance
reclaiming the desert
when I'm lonely
instead of a tv set or pornography
a circle of friends
a dream of abundance
laughing and dancing
hard work and rest in measure
everything coming into balance
once again

An ode to balance

with a blouse full of

Your nipples
Are the pegs
Which nail my eyes
To your chest

When I die will fish nibble my toes
Will I die with snot in my nose
Will I be buried where nobody knows
And from my belly spring forth a rose?

will I live in silence and doubt
afraid to go in and afraid to go out
or will I sprout like mushrooms after rain
from doubt and decay emerging again 


I am both the spider and the moth
I have spun a web of ideas
and now am stuck to it
(tell me beloved
do you know of a patent
that dissolves the sticky cords
of our stories?)
What can I do
but listen more and more
to the river
that flows within
(is it the Ganga
is it haYardayn
or perhaps best of all
the one with no name)

If I weren't a Jew
I might also say

"you Jew you"
or "you Jewed me"
or "don't be such a Jew"
in that comforting
banter of mateship
where we're us and they're them

etc etc
Does a person
falling into a mass grave
like ae tree in the earless forest
make a sound so feint
that after six decades
it cannot be heard at all?

At this point
the biggest projects
I can conceive of
are buying a house
and trying to be there as a resource
for my children
ending the predjuidices
outside myself
and more significantly inside myself
seems to big too tackle


I don't want to die in the middle of things
I'd much rather die when everything has been folded up and put away



If we could build old aged homes
facing the sea
some of the inmates
might be soothed
by the changing constant water
bathing their eyes
on the simple true elements
and if it could not be the sea
then outside the window
birdsong and tree
and if that too cannot be
then a potplant on the window sill
that has been there for years
hardly attended to
a friend indeed
very still and quiet

and if even that is too much then
let it be a mass produced picture on the wall
or if not
perhaps a vivid memory
will bring comfort without even or ever knowing why
and if memories will no longer be summoned

The Israel=Apartheid charge is unhelpful and will not decrease the suffering of either Israelis or Palestinians. Like all charicatures and stereotypes, it settles upon and exagerates a few features, while ignoring and minimising all evidence to the contrary. Far more important than the validity or not of the charge is to ask: who are the accusers? Who are the people who associate around it? Does their self declared concern for "justice" manifest universally, or only re this particular issue? What are their true motives? Before you read the history, ask who the historian is.

James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake might have said something like this: Sordid Arabia is using ItsRreal as its stewge to fight a closet whore against Iranium

A 47 year old man has escaped from work. A massive man hunt has been launched. residents are advised to stay indoors.

The fugitive has been found. A community member tipped off the police, who surrounded the escapee. He was on a parkbench, feeding crumbs to the sparrows, but they managed to subdue him.

By the time I turn 50 I would like to have:
ended world hunger
liberated Tibet
made the unconscious mechanism of projection so visible no one could vomit the disowned parts of themself onto the "other"
paid of our large screen television set at which I stare blankly should I not accomplish the preceding items

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Once upon a time, very early in the history of things, there was a content little boy, who lived with his mommy in an enchanted forest near a big lake. The little boy ate when he was hungry, and drank when he was thirsty. He rested when he was tired, and danced and sang when he was happy. When he was sad or hurting he cried. If he had lots of energy he ran around. When he needed to go to the toilet he went wherever he happened to be. His mother warned him not to leave the enchanted forest but one day he stepped out of the trees into a clearing at the edge and met a monster. the monster said "if you won't play with me, I curse you, that you may always be thoughtful"

The little boy thought little of it. He didn't forget the monster but he still ate when he was hungry, and slept when he was tired. And when he was bored he still went looking for something to do. And although he didn't really mean to step outside the enchanted forest, a glimmer of something shiny lying between the blades of gross just beyond the big Elm trees caught his eye, and he told himself there couldn't be any harm if he just stepped out to see what the shiny thing was. So he walked out into the bright sunlight and across to the shiny spot. When he picked it up it turned out to be a round spherical object made of some transparent substance that caught the sun's light and sparkled with it. The boy looked around to see if the object belonged to anyone. There was no one there and so he held it up to the sun again, to admire it, slipped it into his pocket, and turned round to go back into the forest. He couldn't wait to show his mommy what he had found! But before he could move a voice behind him called out, in a high pitched, but very commanding voice "stand still, you little thief."

The boy turned to find that, from seemingly nowhere, a man stood two feet  from him.
Give me back my chazayee, said the man, who had an earing in his nose from which hung a small bowl in which a small fish swum around in tiny circles, and who was covered from head to foot in tattoos and nothing else.
Yes sir, said the boy, here it is sir, I didn't know it was yours sir
You didn't know, sneered the man, do you think a chazayee can appear without its owner
I didn't know its a hazayee sir, said the boy truthfully, I've never sen one before, and I was in the forest where I live and I saw something sparkling...
tell that to the magistrate, said the man, impatiently, you'll have to come along with me now
I can't sir, said the boy, my mommy is waiting for me.

The boy pulled his arms out of the jacket and ran for his life. Soon he was lost in the busy market, and he hid behind a big barrel full of pickled fish that was unattended. His pursuers seemed to lose interest. Now he was on his own. His mother would be angry with him. he had disobeyed her and now he didn't know where he was or how he would get home. tears poured down his cheeks and his sobbing grew so loud that a group of men, who had been sitting on a bench on the other side of the busy street, passing a flask of something backwards and forwards between them, and trying to warm themselves up in the weak afternoon sun, noticed him.

Go get me some herb, said the man, and you can have a sip of this here stuff.
Maybe I should he wondered to himself. Take a sip of this the men offered him a flask, there's a good lad. He took a sip and spat it out. it was horrible.
He could not stop thinking about the mistake he had made. Have a sip mate, said the man, and forget all your troubles. He took another sip....and then another. It burnt as it went down his throat, and then, a few seconds later, he felt a warm sensation in his belly. It was true. He did forget! This was the most marvelous thing. Why had no one told him about this before? He forgot his thoughts, and let out a loud long laugh. his neew friends laughed with him. the fire glowed warmly and the face of the people there semed marvelous, osofy, inviting , interesting