LOVE SOUP AND OTHER POEMS



                                       KAREN ALKALAY‑GUT




                                                                         for Ezi

                                                                 who never makes

                                                               the same soup twice






Poems in this volume have previously appeared in:

arc, Ars, Bitterroot, Forward, Gypsy, Home Planet News, Hoopoe International, Israel Horizons, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Ledger, Jewish Frontier, Jewish Quarterly, La'Inyan, Lilith, Lilliput Review, lips, Massachusetts Review, New Outlook, Newark Review, Prairie Schooner, Present Tense, Rag Mag, Response, sheila-na-gig, Tel Aviv Review, Trapani Nuova, Understanding, Voices, War, Literature, and the Arts, and Webster Review.






Karen Alkalay‑Gut




Cover me................................................ 1

SOUL MATES............................................ 2

LOVE SOUP.............................................. 3

HOSTAGE CRISIS.................................... 9

SUMMER DUST....................................... 12

AUBADE................................................... 13

SUMMER 1990......................................... 14

MURDERING AN INFANT....................... 16

UPSIDE..................................................... 17

READER RESPONSE............................... 18

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL................ 19

SONNET................................................... 20

BEAUTY.................................................... 21

SELICHOT............................................... 23

AFTER MAKING LOVE........................... 25


SOUTINE.................................................. 27


NIGHT TRAVEL....................................... 29

THE TRAIN............................................... 30

TRANSPORTATION................................ 31

AMERICA................................................. 32

"Fear and I Were Born Twins".... 33

THE KEEPERS OF MY YOUTH.............. 34

LOVERS................................................... 35

STROKE................................................... 36

PROCEDURES......................................... 37

MOURNING............................................. 38

INHERITANCE......................................... 38

A VISITOR............................................... 39


D.O.M....................................................... 42


MUNICH AIRPORT................................ 45


VADI MAMSHEET................................... 48

HERZLIA BEACH ‑ 12‑88....................... 49


FIGURE AND GROUND.......................... 51

LIMITS...................................................... 52

SWAN BREAK......................................... 54

SAFE ROOM............................................ 55

CIVIL DEFENSE....................................... 56

from BETWEEN BOMBARDMENTS: a journal         57

PARDESS................................................. 64

LOVE: TELL ME ABOUT IT.................... 65



Cover me


I'm going out

to write

a poem.  Keep


over my head.





Ah, don't tell me we are soul mates,

sisters, brothers, that we were lovers once

in another incarnation.  There are more people

who have looked deep in my eyes and cried

recognition than you have years behind you.



And yet here we are, finishing the 

other's sentences, leaping to our feet

in recognition of another link, common

ground, desire, hunger, as if there could

be something new about our old, our ancient bonds




On this night I dream we accompany our child 

to the ritual baths, built

deep into the ground, below the vision

of those involved in daily life.  So none

unschooled in congress

can see the lovers in their profound

rites, examining their bodies, 

learning nakedness, 



I awake to the stroke of a hand,

move my body flush to my old man.  



What wisdom can we leave our children about love.

It is our generation which first exposed

our sores to the air, formed elegant tattoos 

from our scars, wrenching joy from pain 

that danger shows.  We are sitting in the cafe,

watching our daughters walk past the men 

they might have loved and meeting 

mirrors of their misery, those 

who cannot give them joy,

and making the wrong men




This woman, whose breasts

tumble from her heart,  takes her measure

in another's eye—the greater

he is, the larger the reflection,

and the farther away 

the more of herself she sees


And in the evening she makes love

to her own body—washing her hair,

massaging her fingers before

her manicure



And of that man whose voice

is honey hunger I know 

nothing; of his flat—

the living room

with its two arm chairs

facing the music:

receiver, tape deck, 

compact disk, speakers—

the wall‑to‑wall record collection

(God he pulls them out as if he knew

where each one was blind folded).  


All those people in all those songs

all alone in their albums



"I slept with Jagger"

my friend from California writes

after years of dreaming

of sleeping with Jagger

"and all the time

I was thinking

of my dream

of sleeping with Jagger"




Why can't Mick get satis

faction?  We were assured

it, or our money



And in bed the other

looks nothing like 

the perfect people 

in movies.  


We have been promised too much

to take our pleasure 

as it comes.



I can't get no 




better than more


Less than all

will not satisfy


When what we want

is possession




In the dark ages before

the Joy of Sex every

touch was its own




Will you teach me love,

She asks.

He turns his back


Thank you.



What do we owe each other in the game of love,

What do we owe ourselves

and what choice do we

have—so many people 

in bed with us,

like Russian dolls

one mother inside the other,

or action shots on low speed film

endless shadows seeming

to move as one.



How interchangeable are genitalia

and how specific desire



Obsessions are easy:

loving someone who doesn't

love back.  So pure.

Hitting ball after ball

into an empty court

you don't expect to return


Then it comes back

and the game becomes





moving, changing, 




The closer you get

the less you see

the more you become


The more you become me

the less you are

a lover


Keep your distance

stay near



What if you fall

into a warm bath 

of love soup

and as you lie there, sated,

the soup cools, congeals,

catches you in its clammy

vegetable grasp



The oldest woman I know,

lectures in rest homes on Truth.


At the movies,

the scene turns sexy

she clasps her breast, whispers

over and again, "O, my heart, my



And Yeats ends hungering

for a girl in his arms



You awakened this poem


I sought you for that

thought of that shudder

strength you would open

that wonder

you didn't know






A young man in my dream

serves me lentil soup

with a deep smile

I am thrilled to share.

I was hungry and you fed me

pottage, I say, and see

he looks like the boy I loved

many years away,

like the orderly

who cared for my father

with warm gentle hands

those days he was dying.



            "One clear loser in the hostage crisis is Israel, which has gone down nine points in the ratings"  NBC, June 30, 1985 




"This is the game ..." You draw a diagram.


"First,  a river" -- a line across the page.   

"On this side lives a husband and wife."

You write (H) and (W) on the bottom half.

"On the other side are her lovers," (L1) and (L2),

who live in view of each other.

(L1) loves (W) madly but (W) is mad for (L2)

who doesn't really care but consents

to sleep with her when she's there.


"There are two ways to cross the river—

a bridge and a boat.  The boatman, (B),

for a coin will carry anyone anywhere.

The bridge is free, but from eight at night

until eight A.M. is patrolled by a murderer (M)

who destroys those who try to pass.


"One morning (W) goes to see (L2).

They spend all day in bed.

She is so besotted 

she forgets the time, and it is eight.


"When she runs to (B) she sees

she has left her wallet at home

and asks to owe the money.

(B), a businessman,

does not operate on credit.


"Returning to (L2) she asks

for a small loan, but he—reiterating

what he said in the morning—shakes his head.

He has no ties to her, except, as she knows,

an indifferent willingness to acquiesce.  Can 

she stay the night, she asks.  He shakes his head.


"(L1) watches her run down his path, desperate,

hysterical.  'If you love me at all, please 

lend me the money for the ride or give me a roof

for the night!'  'Not I—who have watched you two all day—

in love and pain—I will not be further used and wounded.'


"It is bitter cold, and if she sleeps outside

(W) will surely freeze.  Perhaps, she thinks, the

murderer will not come out now.  She tries

the only way left.

When she gets to this point," You draw an (X)

with your pencil half‑way across the bridge, "She is killed.


"Now," you say in triumph, "List

the letters in order of responsibility."




That was years ago and I, a young American, newly wed,

wrote down (W), (at least she should know

to take her purse) then (H), (who could not keep

his wife at home with love, understanding, reason,

who did not go to look for her).


The lovers were somewhere in the middle

but he who loved should have wanted

to save her, had an obligation to that love.


The one who didn't care should 

have cared for self respect.


The boatman—can you blame a capitalist?


At the bottom of the list, I wrote (M).


After all, I had been everyone, felt shame

for all of them, except the man on the bridge.




Sometimes in summer you lose your way,

as if the very smell of dust in the air

blurred the fingerprints of places

and the sites you knew blindfolded

are suddenly so like their opposites

you cannot tell a wedding from a wake.


Painting our room we begin to altercate:

Covering over the dust of summers

with one white wall, one red—

we are baffled by our silence,

suspect hidden furies as if we'd

forgotten we've been best friends,

never known mute passion,

not weathered the chaos

of many summers.


Then we recall—like the couple of Ithaca,

reunited—the secret of the bed, its rootedness

deep in unchanging earth.  Suddenly the room

is cool, dark as buried truth, welcome

as an unearthed treasure chest containing

personal, particular jewels.



You send me off every morning shaky‑legged,

in a mood quite unsuitable for the dignified role

I try to play.  Sometimes, dreamy, I begin a reply

to a stranger's query as if you and I were still

woven together, and then wake, surprised,

make a sudden sentence twist into the real world.


"Lente, lente," I call to the sun, just like all

lovers in Classics do, but though it doesn't listen,

shines defiantly through the blinds on my face,

I stay with that love almost half the day

till my sea‑legs come and loneliness and the longing

for night.

SUMMER 1990     


That summer I wore nail polish that was almost black

and twisted and turned in the puzzles of names

and sought order in woman's life and the idea of life

while the woman I loved most turned away in her dying.

That summer my protege left and I met with old friends 

and found the oldest of them empty or evil.

That summer Mellors went back to France 

and I didn't say goodbye or tell him I'd cared.

That summer a man fell so strangely in love 

and I watched his writhing and felt nothing,

understood and didn't care 

enough, though I myself have endured obsessions

as helpless and sad as his for me.

That summer I slept alone more

than I've slept alone since I've known you

and spent more sleepless nights than I've ever known,

though you held me and loved me deeper than ever. 

That summer the betrayal of blood linked me with a family 

I had thought half a world and a generation away.

That summer I dreamt the stones grouped together

and growled as I passed, and I shouted "no no" in my sleep 

but the stones though I knew they could not destroy

followed me to the gate of waking.

That summer my companions were vampires from books,

especially LeStat, stalking the streets of New Orleans.

That summer someone dead kept whispering

"This is what you deserve—this pays you back

for pretending ignorance for so long," 

and I looked at the blurred photo of us— 

with my back to him in his white gown

and begged—not forgiveness but peace—

and even in the photo he said: "Say goodbye

to whatever peace you desired.  This

is what you deserve—it will kill you

but you'll know what it is like to feel.

That summer I wore blackberry lipstick

and my face was pale and I didn't dare hope

the summer would end without agony.



Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires



Believe me I didn't know

you were within me—

thought myself merely curious:

devouring strange concoctions in the night

while the family slept its righteous sleep,

the nausea a function of a menopausal system, 

the malaise, illness—not creation.


Then there you were

smiling in your cradle

my breasts suckling‑ready


I know

how lovely you would grow

which corners you would reach

how far you would have taken me


And it will be years

before the things I link with you

will neutralize, not bear

the heavy weight of trivial incidents


And though I take the pillow

here to your sweet mouth

your voice will never 

leave mine



Sometimes it is good

to turn the house upside down

looking for costumes, clothes from before

this era, or grotesque combinations

dreamed up for some forgotten play


—the way to new understandings, new

ways of dressing the tired self

or undressing its hidden ways


I do not weigh this game

lightly, finger the sweater you wore

when I first saw you and remember

the terror of our passion, put it on

and become you, looking at me


a strange woman, waking

unknown nakedness



What do you use me for, my dear?

To augment your vision, expand

the topics of your conversation,

tell your friends about the woman

you are reading now (as if you had

conquered me by deciphering a few

erotic verses).  Let this poem

be witness: verse is the antithesis

of communication.  Knowing me this way

is not knowing me at all.


But if you've learned anything from

reading me, you should be asking now

how I use you.  Oh my dear—

augmenting my stores, delineating

the topics of my conversation,

hearing echoes of what you see of me

in reading me now.  But by now

both of us have engrained this truth: 

Verse is the antithesis of communication.

I pretend to know you but have made you up.




Even you, Prince, are sometimes blind,

living so deep in darkness as you do—

sure that evil is easy as egotism,

that some one like me would savor

your sort of loneliness, relishing

those seductive days, nights in empty beds.

What can I say? Yours is such a masculine way—

and when we met that night at the crossroads

I walked a piece with you, watching the twisting

of your walking stick, wishing I could soothe

all the writhings in your world.  I thought

to cradle you, like an agonized disciple,

in my bountiful lap—didn't even hear

all the offers you made of wisdom

in exchange for my soul.

Even when you flashed the contract,

secure in my signature, I wasn't paying

attention, bedeviled by that pain

in your eyes, that need for something good—

dare I call it—love?




A suckling child lies by my side, its butterfly lips

pulling gently, in tiny rhythm.  And vaguely, dreamily, I trace

the pull through my body to contracting womb.

It is a sacred afternoon, one of many I bare myself to;

my mind is not quite there, but no where else either,

and I cannot imagine a better place or partner

than this parental bed, this child.

Then it is a man.  I open my eyes when kneading

infant fingers begin an insistent caress, and mouth

grows hungry for more than thin blue milk, adding kisses

with voice, tongue, teeth.  If I shift

my hips, we are loin to loin, but I hear myself,

among the moans, enjoining, "Come back to me, baby!" 




Always it is the woman's body

for woman as well as man—

he proves maleness through his intrigue;

she proves womanhood by hers.

And every detail of that female form—

a subject for attention, desire, controversy—

nails, hands, cleavage, silk 



Always I have fled from that obsession,

covered myself with negations of all

but the beauty of nudity.



Naked in the middle of my living room

she shows me her aging body, outlines

with her hand the wilting breasts, the sad

pouting belly, pocked buttocks and thighs

that join to make one ancient 

whitened olive tree,

and asks me to imagine how

a young man would look at her


so she will not be fooled by his pleas

to think he wants her, and not the prestige

employment she could offer him if she choose.

I want to be truthful, but what if

he really looks at her through my loving eyes

and not as I imagine her now through his.


Is the nobility of my own form diminished?

I strip in harsh light before a mirror, examine

the blue roadways on my thighs

the scars that fade but revert to their old anger 

on bad days, the spotted hands

naked now of gloves or rings, those things

that serve to divert only me from their age.


I try to be clear,

objective, fair,

but each groove

recalls old loves

old givings

old cares



My old lover comes by for a little talk

and to show me how important he is now

since he left me.  I let him go on

about his accomplishments—listening

only part of the time because I'm measuring

his lips, his hair, his narrow chest and

remembering how he once drove me mad

and how I could let him feel amazing

right now if I choose.  If I choose,

buddy, I could make you feel the groove

where your heart was once.  And 

I start in on how wonderful life is

with love— "You look absolutely great,"

he begins to rise to the bait.  "Yes,

and it's all fulfillment—my man and me,

we put in a lot of time in making

each other feel good.  You know."

I know he's beginning to remember me

from way back, although it's hard for him

to remember a human being other than

himself, since they don't exist for him.

He and his wife don't sleep together,

pass by in the hall and offer their backs.

And strength to pursue other women

is waning, he admits; the trouble

it takes, he'd rather live without sex. 

From the balcony we watch the men 

walking up the street to the synagogue 

for night prayers.  The names

of all my friends he screwed, one way

or another, come back to me.  He

isn't aware, I know, of what he's done

how he's shamed Marianne and Yvonne

and doesn't understand why Daniella

won't even say hello on the street.


Sweet revenge, I think, that you

have missed all hope for joy and

tonight I can show it to you.

God makes accounts my dear

and here you have reckoned your life

and lost.



"Finish eating," my grandmother 

would urge her children

hoping to clear the table

for the next meal.  But they 

would laugh, "Finish?"

and nibble their bread.  

"When you've finished eating,

you're dead."



For my father alone

I learned to read. 

The teacher

discovered my illiteracy

half way through the year

when my technique of memory

by pictures became clear.

I do not recall any shame

at being discovered a crook,

Sunday mornings in my father's bed,

with only the joy of a heavy book

he wanted read.



"Soutine...although he is perceived as the quintessential Eastern European immigrant Jewish artist, never painted a single Jewish subject."

                                       — Jewish Museum 



A boy on the road pulls along

a girl, who clutches a little sack, perhaps

a doll, distracted for a moment

from the forward movement,

the urge to be home

before darkening clouds

explode in thunder.


The painting is called

"Children Before A Storm".  It is




The old man and I sit on the porch—

It is Indian summer and the weather

lures us with our books outside.

And the madness of the season

makes me stop the lesson of Bereisheit

with ‑‑ "Rebbe, what do you think of Darwin?"


The rabbi of the "Kippele" shul knows no English—

we discuss the Bible in Mamme‑loshen.  

And what has he read

that he should know of "The Origin of Species"

So he asks me to explain—and I do—

in my most grown up eleven year old tone—

about the apes, the jungle, survival

of the fittest.


It is eleven years since the Holocaust.

In the twilight he is silent, rocking

very slightly as he arranges his decision.


"Bobbe Meisses," he says, and I nod,

suddenly in revelation.

"You learn what you must for school

but of course no one can really

believe in such stories."


        for my parents


On that night in Danzig the trains did not run

You sat in the bus station till almost dawn

knowing that if you could not get out,

the invaders would find you, grind you among the first

under their heels.


Toward morning an announcement came of a bus,

and without knowing where it would go 

you raced to the stop.  

But the Nazis were there first, and you watched

as they finished their search—

checking each traveller for papers, 

jewelry, a Jewish nose.


Among the passengers you recognized  

a familiar face—a German woman—sitting

with someone else you'd seen

in the neighborhood.  

They winked a greeting,

waited for the soldiers to leave,

and jumped out—

pushing you up in their place.


Thus you escaped to Berlin, remaining alive

by keeping silent through the long train ride

from Berlin to Cologne in a car filled with 

staring German soldiers—


And arrived the next day in Holland,

black with fear and transportation.



‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑from Salzburg to Vienna,

as swift and clean as those in dreams

The day—bright and crisp and clear

as only May in Austria can be.


We discuss Kultur—you and me—

or rather names of those who count.

too distracted by adventures

to go beyond surfaces.


At Linz, where Hitler grew, we glide into the station.

You don't skip a word, but I

hungry as always, thinking of Torten

look to the tuechtig platforms

the neat beige and green girders

the single man in a raincoat—

cream, clean, closed up all the way,

except for one button he opens

to release a long

red shlong...

(Could that really be his?)


By the time you turn

to my excited cry, he is as he was

—the perfect Herr;

Two policemen wandering the station

pass without a glance.


You close your eyes and scoff

He winks at me

The train takes off




There are always the ties of responsibility— 

Try to fly, you remember you owe something

to the earth.  Now we are in a plane

on that long, stuffy ride from New York

emptying our wallets of credit cards to make room

for identity folders, health clinic booklets, army

releases, special permission passes for everything.


The first time I left America for Israel my mother

spurted blood all over the rug—I knew

it was because she could endure no more losses.

But she lived through it, fifteen years ago.

Today she is a new widow, with everyone she loves

in the ground or in the air, and though

the pilot explains the rocking of the plane

as turbulence, I know it is that cord




In America even the onions

don't make you cry

at least this was how I

remembered the world I grew up in


As I chased the desert out of the house each day

before beginning elaborate preparations for dinner.


The land of the bible is not

one for housewives—doves

crap all over the laundry

electricity stops and the meat

drips from the freezer

men go for soldiers some

come back


Here they're home each night.

You can trust them the way you trust

the water, phone company, soap powder.

News on tv proves

all is well.  The bad guys

get exposed (briefly), before

the serious business (ourselves)

begins.  Then comes 

gossip, weather, gay


painful self incriminations,


analysis of the nation's beating heart

on a talk show coffee table

Even the onion lies

gentler in the plate.

"Fear and I Were Born Twins"

                 — T. Hobbes



And mother dressed us the same

so no one could tell us apart


And some days I come out

and some days she

and some days both of us walk

together   so close we can change

places without missing 

a step

and I become my fear

and fear is me





        "I have now lost my barriers between me and death" 

        — Swift on the decease of his mother




At the Jewish Old Age Home in my home town

the keepers of my youth sit in wheelchairs

sunning themselves in the crisp autumn air.


Shrivelled hands grasp at my clothes as I pass:

my third grade teacher, the doctor who set my arm

(broken from my first encounter with a bicycle),

the smiling crossing‑guard, my Hebrew School nurse.

Those who can speak and whose minds are clear 

reminisce with tears in their eyes; others

look on and nod.  "You played Haman in the Purim Spiel,"

rasps the accompanist from the Folk Shule,

"And now you are a grown up lady

with teen age children of your own."

"Look how tall she is—from all the lunches 

she ate at my house," my old friend's mother adds.


Here I am still in my flower.  With a gentle hand

I smooth the shawls around their shoulders 

tuck the bright wool blankets into their chairs

and whisper encouraging farewells to my troops at the front.




I hear him groaning as I enter the room—

old man catching against his will at air—

and I call out "Are you alone

or doing something you wouldn't

want me to know?"   The groan ripens 

to a guffaw, and by the time

I am seated on the edge of his bed,

he is all smiles, flirting as if

emphysema and pneumonia had been banished

from our play.  You don't ask 

a dying man how he is, you know,

especially one so ambivalent of life,

so I move in right away with questions

I need answers for before it's too late.

"Do you ever regret a time you passed up?"

I say, while I am still shaking my coat

from my shoulders.  And, as if we'd been 

long rehearsing this scene,

he responds to my prompt, "Once."  

And now we are dancing a slow waltz together,

entranced in the telling of a story 

sixty years old, about a cousin long since

incinerated in Europe, who visited his bedside 

night clad and looked and looked and looked

at him.  But they were afraid—she turned

(as I would have) and left the room.  Of this night 

they never spoke.   


The room is quiet in the gathering dusk. Now 

I see her bending by his bed, 

almost naked 




My father fell in Babel

from the tower

and now every hour

tries a different way to let me know

something.  What is it?  I ask.


Do you want Mother?


Money?  Does it start with m?

Ah you want the bathroom!


mmmmm and a nod.


put words in his mouth!" My mother groans.

"He doesn't know what he wants." The aide

assures me, and then a smell

rises that proves he does.


In the nursing home

I kiss his quivering cheeks, lock

with those clear eyes so much like mine, 

and leave him

alone, crumpled by the tower


in exile 




The day we decided to decline further surgical procedures

for my father—I think he was awake for a short spell

and looked at me—his eyes immobilized by pressure on his optic nerve.

I said, "You're going to be all right, Dad," and kissed his hand.

Then, as he lapsed once again into unconsciousness,

breathing those shallow pneumonial breaths, I left the room

and asked the doctor once again what would be accomplished

by a main line to his heart.  "He may be more comfortable,"

the doctor said, "and it may prolong his life a few days."


From the doorway we watched my mother sleeping in the chair 

she had not left for over a week.  A bell rang on the monitor

and she shook awake to her eighty years,

sixty in love with the man now dying.

"Is he breathing?" she asked me.  "Go check."  


"What do you think we should do, Doctor?" I asked,

and I saw how young he was, and afraid.




My brother, who does nothing by halves, shovelled 

spade after spade of dirt on our father's grave

and the rhythmic thud of wet earth on wood

said: he is nothing now—go home to the feast.













My father left an empty notebook in his desk.

I found it, leafing through his yellowing papers,

and filled the notebook with poems.



My friend's ex‑wife comes by I haven't seen her 

for a while—she's a little crazy but I'm just 

in the mood for good woman talk and we have 

coffee in the kitchen complaining about the heat

and what it does to eye shadow—then she looks

at me very straight, very serious and starts in

about the politicians who are gassing her through

the pipes in her apartment.  Worst is she's picked 

my favorite member of parliament for her nightmare.  


In the cozy kitchen she begins twitching—or is it

that I'm just beginning to notice the agitation of her hands— 

and promises she will stab him in the heart if he

doesn't give up torturing her.  The man next door

is a Russian psychiatrist she says who used to work 

on political prisoners and now she is one in her own home 

in this free country.  Please tell me

what to do.  —What should she do?  All I can think of

is how to get her out of my kitchen


When I am alone, I begin to twitch just like her.

Did I do the right thing telling her she is stronger

than all these imaginary enemies?  Was it fair to agree

that she call the cops on this guy, knowing they may well 

put her away or—worse—ignore her pain?  And should I now

be blowing the whistle on her somehow, calling, say, 

my government hero and whispering this story I'm telling you,

warning him to beware of a forty‑five year old madwoman 

in the attic of a building down the street from him?  

Will he think I'm playing politics?



(for Sharon Moldavi)


That evening you finally induced me to hear

a record of "Because of that War," 

I had been wondering

why I was still in this land


when even my own son

had declined to return,


when the banal reality seemed so far

from our pioneer dreams,


when Saddam's missiles

were turning towards me.



We'd been talking about parents:

understanding their European nightmares,

as if knowledge could bridge the gap,

fill the silence of forty years.


Then Poliker's music filled your living room

with a beat that drives home the fear

that we really shouldn't

be here, that being alive

doesn't give us the right

to rejoice, that we owe

too much

to the graves

over there.


Not surprised you moved me,

you flashed an awkward grin

like the smile of Willy Neisner

who hung himself in '52

when my brother and I taunted him

for not remarrying

after the war.  I stood at the door

and grabbed your hand, your arm, your

neck, then ashamed, withdrew—

 don't let them take you.


Now your first time on stage

you scream, "Let's

disappear into the night,"

hoarse, wild, singing suicide

everyone understands as sex


I stand in the crowd, absurd,

moving to rhythms meant for another world,

a different generation,

gripping the hand of the man I love

shuddering   improvising still  here



Today I am an ageing scholar, a man

who has suddenly turned from his books

to see, in the sunlight, the form of a youth, 

and a terrible spirit invades him.


I smell myself, the blueblack pinstriped suit

with its naphthalene, the stale tobacco smell

from my fingernails—all these odors more sharp

in the hazy sun.  It is an old, familiar smell,

although I do not know from where.


A character from Thomas Mann—  

the genteel degenerate European?

How is it that now, in jeans, 

listening to Nick Cave on the car radio,

I remove from my breast pocket 

a folded pressed handkerchief

and with delicate white fingers

wipe my brow, the jowls above my beard

the tears streaming from my eyes.





Born in London, raised in the U.S.,

in the bathroom mirror I appear a typical Israeli:

curly hair (the perm, remember?) dark eyes (kohl),

a free and conscious walk.  I am suddenly aware

that for the past weeks I have been the subject

of constant stares—the smoldering oriental…



The toilets here don't work—

anywhere else I wouldn't be surprised,

but I've been reading little cards

next to big, polished machines

about the superiority of German technique...



In the history of machines, the Germans seem

to have led the way.  The poster tracing

Model Aviation has only a few, early names

that are not aryan.  And when I ask about the big rocket

around which the stairs spiral, you say—

"This is the Father of the Scud."




Finally we come to an old friend—

I don't recognize it, of course,

because it is unnamed and seems to be missing

from the catalog, although the date

of its last flight—March 29, 1945—

is the day I was born.  "It's a Buzz Bomb,"

you say, and suddenly the whole museum

comes together,

like a perfectly designed machine.



Not the regular one— 

Going off to the Holy Land

we are a special risk

and have to be separated

from normal people (Munich). 

The terminal is detached—

as it is everywhere, now—

and the Israeli hunger for Duty‑Free

must be disregarded (Massacre). 


We begin our grumbling early—

waiting in line

to enter the building

—the first passport control,

the first x‑ray, the first

security check (Munich). 

But when we are finally through

with the second kindly bifocalled border guard

and enter the hall where our suitcases

will be dismantled, inappropriate rebellion

(Never again) wells up as if by instinct.

I watch the soldiers with M16s

patrolling the observation balcony above us

(Munich), knowing the extent of their protection

(massacre), the elaborate precautions.


I had a friend once whose mother was

what we considered overprotective—never

let her do anything that could endanger

herself.  One day, by chance, I caught

her unobserved glance at the daughter

and saw hatred, resentment, an overwhelming desire

to see that girl counter her and fall victim

to some mighty peril.


Inappropriate instinctive associations.

The guard whose unpleasant duty it is

to sift through my laundry

hides his smiles at my jokes

because he is supposed to treat me

as a potential terrorist. 

But when he comes to a zippered plastic picnic basket

wrapped in my beige raincoat, black stockings

and high heeled boots, he starts.

"Ho! What is this?"  "Sausage," I answer sheepishly,

then when he remains frozen in disbelief,

add "a little cheese."  "Other people," he murmurs,

prefer to smuggle video cameras, microfilm."


Thus we are reconciled, the guard and me,

each in our roles that try to prevent

the repetition of history.




Never met the man myself.  It was my brother

who lived in the house on his sabbatical. 

My boyfriend Ed and I would drive

the Yamaha up Route 104 weekends

to escape the tyranny of parents. 


The house itself was very old, almost

untouched—it seemed—from the time

it served as an underground railway

in that war before the world debacles.

There was a cradle that contained

sheet music—sonatas that rocked gently

when the cat would jump off the dusty sofa

and stir the braided rug. 


The canopied bed in the ground floor bedroom,

the vine out in back we would lie beneath

those late summer days, all the trees

sheltering us from a world we had come from

and to which we would have to return

kept me in mind all the time

of the dank passageways in the cellar

that led nowhere now.


The cat was called Fiddle and the tom

that courted her my brother named Beau,

hardly knowing, then, how apt it was

to make meaning

by naming it.




It doesn't work in this town

my love for you, my loneliness—

drinking beer in a sidewalk cafe

watching the wrong people fill the street.


So I go to deserted Memphis,

city of extinct people,

nomads who accommodated the Romans

with gold mosaics in the wilderness.



Here the pure lines of empty buildings

show the social directives.  Here, 

every drop of water is caught 

by channels leading to cisterns,

every child born destined to a place

in the walled town.  Though the air is clear

I have not breathed for centuries.


Once out of the rigid streets

I can conjure all kinds of love:

the river bed with its layers,

quartz marble shining among the sand

and donkey turds, flowering bushes 

jutting from stone cliffs,

earless rabbits listening quietly

to our footsteps, our chatter. 


Only the fear of flash flood keeps me 

from setting up camp here for the cold Negev night



Ah, love

as we lie together on the sand

in a declining summer day

the salt so sweet on your answering skin

I feel the whole of paradise upon my tongue


Further inland the earth is heaving, 

overturned by entire generations dying

for the taste of this sand.



It gets worse and worse—

the painting over of old sins

with new rationalizations, hopes

to contradict truth.  Now

I sit once again, in the

Women's section—and instead

of prayers my mind

seeks and finds

big words to clear the slate,

greater sinners

to make me pure


Though our sins be as scarlet



(Holocaust Day, April 13, 1988)


Fidgeting in a lecture about women and war,

I note down "Wittgenstein's goblet and profiles,"

"Virginia Woolf," and "War/ Daily life,"

the difficulty of viewing both figure and ground at once.


The voice of the lecturer blurs

as warplanes, rehearsing 

for Independence Day Demonstrations

zoom back and forth overhead.


"While Woolf was correcting galleys [Roar]

of Between the Acts

she was overcome by Reality [Roar]

and walked into the sea."


"The way women write, blurring

the boundaries between genres, subjects,

between figure and ground,

Patriotism and the herd instinct ‑‑ "


Outside our tower, people

are throwing stones, wielding clubs.

"If I make it back from Gaza,"

a student said,

"I want to write about Woolf."



      They are the ground they throw.

      We are the figures trying to throw ourselves

      into greater relief.



In '65 Hashim took me through the border

of the divided city.  That night

holy was united


though the guide

was only Hashim. 

                                    How many men

            have I wanted in this world?

            Less than a handful

            and all but one were mine.



and relation—

Buber warned me in my youth—

Good fences

make good lovers

since they maintain

that perspective needed

to love clear


But you shift the limits

with each day.  Sometimes

we are so near, I fear all borders

disappear.  Then, suddenly,

we are back to profane—each one

"imprisoned in our own skins."



Of course I direct

some of the veerings— 

an insincere confession,

bad faith, misplaced

intimacy—any one enough to elicit

new screens.


And there we are

me watching as you turn away

from the other side of a fortified wall

slicing through wholly  holy  holy.



It hits me in the middle of the night, this soft

feathered thing like an enormous bird.  I think

at first it's the eiderdown, tossed by Tyndareos

getting up to piss, but then it is in me, urgent,

the way he never is any more. 

                                                                        Why is there such

great hunger with so little heft, I wonder

the moment before I hear the wings, fluttering

high above in rhythm to the pulsing in my womb.  

And he is whispering through that icy beak,

"Knowledge and power, knowledge, power, power,

power" as if I care for anything more than this

wonder of pleasure no human would ever believe

if I told. 



This afternoon we will be selecting

the family "safe room."  For this

I need your cooperation.  We are looking for

the room in the house 

with the least exposure 

to potential gas attacks, a room

we can seal off with adhesive tape,

that contains a phone, a radio,

water, baking soda, canned goods,

plastic covering, and of course,

the masks.  We will sit in this room

together, fighting 

for our right to breathe 


and we will not die

like our elders 


January 1991


Here is your family

gas mask kit.  It will do

good only with

the right gas.  Of course,

with the other gas—

that infiltrates the skin—

you must stay inside

the nearest third story 

flat you can seal.  You

don't want to go too high,

however, in case 

of conventional 

bombs.  Because gas 

is heavy, it will invade 

the lower

floors and shelters.

But if gas and bombs are used together,

you have what we define as

a problem.

from BETWEEN BOMBARDMENTS: a journal  



Unable to move

waiting to be sprung

into action, we anticipate the sirens:

remembering the missiles of last night

targeting the people we love—

missing, missing, yet striking the heart:

the child choking on her vomit in her mask,

the old woman suffocating in unavoidable ignorance,

the psychotic whose nightmares came true.




We sit in the sealed kitchen with the dog,

the children all grown yet unschooled

in the blind hatred of aimed explosives.

We need each other, stroke each other,

the dog licks the rubber mask, nuzzles

the strange inhuman faces. 

And then, when terror ebbs,

we remember the others,

reach for the phone:

are comforted

by comforting




False alarms spring us from our beds

fitting masks to our faces

still asleep.  Someone must be enjoying

our terror, I think, 

as we will learn

to enjoy theirs.



I think of Rena in Canada,

chewing her nails and screaming

when she recognizes the neighborhood of a hit

in Tel Aviv.  Somehow her heart

reaches me, even here, even

hiding under the kitchen table with a quaking dog.




Sleeping with a radio and a shivering dog

while my one‑eyed man 

scans the skies for missiles.  Somehow

this is not the front I had imagined,

and all those handsome heroes 

are missing.



"Think of the children in Baghdad"

the radio announcer tells the kids,

"how frightened they must be

—hiding in their shelters—

by the unrelenting bombing."

The news is on next—celebrations

high on Palestinian roofs 

that our time to die has come.



My brother from New Jersey reminds me on the phone—

in the middle of a missile‑ridden night—

of the metal table in the kitchen—the one

we would dive under when we heard

a loud noise in London

years after the blitz.

Where is that table





Tonight we wait for the alarm.

Who wants to get caught in the shower

or the toilet or in the middle of love?

You say, "I'll wash my hair after

the attack" and I decide to put off

lacquering my nails, read

short poems about decadence instead

into the night—And it doesn't come—

And we take off our shoes and lie down

fully clothed, alert, prepared

for the sudden race to the shelter.

Even towards morning while the radio clock

shines out 3 and 4, illuminating

the passing minutes, we wait,

remember the shock of the 7:00 a.m. surprise.


Although I try to weary us with chapters from Jeremiah,

"I need my nightly missile," you say, "to fall asleep."





Oedipus tries to get to

the heart of all wombs

with 400 pound missiles

and we sit here, breathless

waiting for the next




"No, no sex," Eyal says.  "What man

can compete?  This missile

gives it to all of us at once.

A war with no heroes, every man

for himself, every woman

fearing her own life,

everyone divided

from the others,

and with so many faulty options—

everyone divided against themselves.


"Even jerking off 

can't do it."



We hear what we fear—

listen for similar noises—

in particular the whirring motorcycles

that zoom down empty streets

as evening falls

and we begin to anticipate the sirens.

But even our names called aloud

anticipate adrenaline,

an alarm 

to seek shelter.



Mike and his wife can't stop 

fighting. Why does she leave

him every night to sleep 

in some distant village?

Why can't she trust her husband

to protect her?  


Our phone conversation is interrupted by a siren.

Two hours later, back in place, he calls to gloat:

the missile fell near her village.



Instead of his leash

the dog brings my mask

to remind me of his walk.



Nights without bombs are suddenly empty

Still alert, waiting at home—

remembering passionate friends in cafes

involved in each other

without thought of the skies 



My sanest friend is sure a target 

has been painted on her chest,

that the Iraqis with eagle vision 

seek her out each night,

each missile aimed at her, 

and only standard deviation

keeps her alive.  



Some people terrified for their lives cut 

themselves off in times like these.  Even I

spent hours in my room, unable to face the rest

of the family those first days of war.  Weeks

later we meet our friends like wary dogs,

sniffing from behind, asking about sex

and digestion before we can kiss and smell

the sweat that emerges now from deep inside. 



"The next missile will be chemical,"

my gay friend predicts, "But who knows?

Maybe Zyclon 2 cures AIDS."  For weeks

he has been alone, his lover torn from his arms,

hiding from him and the anguish outside wrapped

in rubber.



And the voice of that man that always warms me more

than I expect is frost‑bit now.  I hear his control

on the answering machine and long 

to rub that voice with ice the way my brother 

would rub my hands reviving the blood

after long afternoons playing in the snow.



"Man like the generous vine supported lives,

The strength he gains is from the embrace he gives."

How often Pope's words return to me—that lonely outcast

who knew how much was needed and how much it cost.



The morning after a three alarm night

I smell my mother in my bath 

that acrid bloody woman‑smell

filling the bath and becoming,

suddenly, sensual—a sign 

the womb continues its tasks

when all outside is destruction. 



Little Smadar gets an evening pep talk

from her British mother, about her fear

of extinction.  "We must show that nasty man

we don't care.  That is the part we Israelis play

in this war."  


And in the morning Smadar asks, tentatively:

"Do you think Saddam will notice

that one little girl is frightened?"  



"Who do you think you are?

A post‑modern Anna Frank?"

a friend remarks when he sees

I keep a journal.  She 

died when I was born,

I reply, why not continue

the keeping of accounts. 



Fluttering between war and Purim,

the little fairy princess watches

the latest SCUD victims evacuated

from the Army compound in Riyadh,

takes both her masks, waves

her magic wand, and goes off

to school.



And now it seems it will go away, this

threat that has hung over our skies

like Joe Bl*$*#&%#$'s cloud for so many days—

thirty nine missiles.  But my daughter just now

is engulfed in terror for the first time,

seeing how she has changed 





So we begin to plan 

our adult purim costumes

as if back into the swing of things.

Diane paints formulas on her face

to parade with me down the street

as a chemical warhead, and I can't think

of how to conceal what I have become

even though I expect to drink

until I can't distinguish





The floor of the orchard is green, 

orange and yellow. All the fruit 

that wasn't picked 

in time, victims

of the war, slowly returns 

to the earth—emitting

an acrid smell like all 

the days we have wasted

waiting for missiles 

to shatter our windows 

our lives.


  for Michal


What is it and where is it found?


            A voice on the phone, eyes locking in surprise

            something about someone promising

            a measure of comfort

            sanction, sanctuary


Possibly false signals

learned techniques

to tempt you only to reveal

your need


            Onetime or other

            there is something real


            I need you to need me.


How does it grow?


            Not like in novels, films, plots—

            you don't feel it deepening

            when there is no conflict to menace

            its being.  Little cries in the night

            may die out for a while, may grow—

            delight is not an orgasm alone.


I've seen it disappear

like the face of Narcissus in water

and never return

though need, desire, remains

throbs like a phantom limb.


            On the other hand

            I know love that stays steady

            in inner unknown storms,

            have seen a woman

            with the sealegs of a weathered mariner

            and only her gait

            reveals the passion

            of passivity

            of perpetuation


What kinds are there?


            Once I thought

            there must be something wrong—so many people

            so many ways to feel


I've given up the survey—

for every two beings,

a different dialogue