Yehuda Amichai is widely published and translated. Visit the Yehuda Amichai page at bn.com
Other translations by Karen Alkalay-Gut in this issue:
Miriam Baruch Chalfi
A feature on Karen's new book
In My Skin
Translations by Karen Alkalay-Gut in Spring 2000:
Ben Zion Tomer
Poems by Karen in Spring 2000
Ms. Karen Alkalay-Gut
from Gods Come and Go, Prayers Remain Forever
On the street, one summer evening,
I saw a woman writing words
on paper unfolded on a locked wooden door.
And she folded it and put it between the door and the mezuzah and went away.
And I didn't see her face nor the face of the person
who would read the note,
and I didn't see the words.
A stone rests on my desk with the word "Amen" written on it.
It is a piece of a tomb, a vestige from a Jewish cemetery
destroyed a thousand years ago, in the city where I was born.
One word, "Amen," is cut deep into the stone—
A hard and final Amen for all that is past and will not return,
a soft and melodious amen like a prayer.
Amen and amen, and may it be His will.
Tombstones break, words pass, words are forgotten,
lips that uttered them turn to dust,
languages die like people,
and other languages are resurrected,
gods in the heavens change, gods come and go.
Prayers remain forever.
Jewish Theology, Theo, Theo. As a child I knew a boy
Whose name was Theodore, like Herzl, but his mother called him
Theo. Theo from the playground. Come home Theo.
Don't stay there with those bad children,
Theo Theo, log, ya ya.
I want a God who is visible and not seeing, so I can guide him
and tell him what he doesn't see. And I want
a visible and seeing God. I want to see
how he covers his eyes, like a child playing at being blind.
I want a God, like a window, that if I open
I will see the heaven and stay at home,
I want a God like a door that opens only outward,
But the God is like a door revolving on an axis,
In and out, spinning on an axis
With no beginning and no end.
I say with perfect faith
that prayers precede God.
Prayers created God.
God created man,
And man creates prayers
that create God who creates man.
God is the stairs that ascend
to a place that no longer exists, or that doesn't exist yet.
The stairs are my faith, the stairs are my despair.
Our father Jacob knew this in his dream.
The angels only decorated the rungs of the ladder
like a fir tree decorated at Christmas,
and the song of ascension is a song of praise
to the God of stairs.
When God left the land he forgot the Torah
with the Jews, and ever since they have been looking for him,
and shouting after him, "You forgot something, you forgot!" in a loud voice.
And everyone thinks that this is their prayer, the prayer of the Jews.
And ever since they endeavor to find hints in the Bible
of where He is found, as it is written, "Ask where God is found,
call Him for He is near." But He is far away.
Bird footprints on the sand on the beach,
like the handwriting of someone who made notes
to remember things, names, numbers and places.
Footprints of birds in the sand at night
remain in the day as well, but I did not see
the bird who imprinted them. As with God.
Our Father our King, What does a father do
whose children are orphans while he is still alive? What can a father do
whose children are dead and he remains a mourning father to the end of days?
Weep and not weep, not remember and not forget.
Our Father our King, what can a king do
In the Republic of pain? Give them
Bread and circuses, like all kings:
Bread of memory and circuses of forgetting.
Bread and longing, longing for God
And for a better world. My Father my King.
The Jewish people read the Torah to God
all year long, a chapter a week,
like Sheherezade who told stories to save her life,
and by the time the Celebration of the Torah comes around,
He forgets and we may begin again.
God like a tourist guide
describes our lives and explains to visitors
and tourists and the children of God, "This is the way we live."
The Jewish Time Bomb
On my desk is a stone with "Amen" engraved on it, one shard
saved from the thousands of broken gravestones
in Jewish cemeteries. And I know that all these shards
now fill up the great Jewish time bomb
with the rest of the shards and pieces: broken Tablets
and broken altars and broken crosses and rusty crucifixion nails
with broken household vessels and sacred vessels and broken bones,
and shoes and glasses and artificial limbs and false teeth
and empty tin cans of deadly poison. All of these
fill the Jewish time bomb until the end of days
and even though I know of all of this and of the end of days
this stone on my desk gives me peace.
It is the stone of truth that cannot be disputed,
the stone of the wisdom of all the stones of wisdom,
stone from a broken tomb
and whole beyond all wholeness.
It is a witness stone of all that has transpired in the world
and all the things that shall transpire in the world, a stone of amen and of love.
Amen, amen, and may it be His will.
Translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut