LOVE SOUP AND OTHER POEMS
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.
Cover me................................................ 1
SOUL MATES............................................ 2
LOVE SOUP.............................................. 3
HOSTAGE CRISIS.................................... 9
SUMMER DUST....................................... 12
SUMMER 1990......................................... 14
MURDERING AN INFANT....................... 16
READER RESPONSE............................... 18
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL................ 19
AFTER MAKING LOVE........................... 25
HOW I CAME TO THESE LITERARY PERVERSITIES 26
I EXPLAIN DARWIN TO THE REBBE.... 28
NIGHT TRAVEL....................................... 29
THE TRAIN............................................... 30
"Fear and I Were Born Twins".... 33
THE KEEPERS OF MY YOUTH.............. 34
A VISITOR............................................... 39
AT AN ISRAELI ROCK CONCERT....... 40
EXAMINING AIRPLANES AND THE HISTORY OF AVIATION 43
MUNICH AIRPORT................................ 45
RECONSTRUCTING THE CONTEXT OF PAUL DE MAN'S HOUSE 47
VADI MAMSHEET................................... 48
HERZLIA BEACH ‑ 12‑88....................... 49
TO SNOW THEY SHALL BE WHITENED 50
FIGURE AND GROUND.......................... 51
SWAN BREAK......................................... 54
SAFE ROOM............................................ 55
CIVIL DEFENSE....................................... 56
from BETWEEN BOMBARDMENTS: a journal 57
LOVE: TELL ME ABOUT IT.................... 65
I'm going out
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,
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
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
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
In the dark ages before
the Joy of Sex every
touch was its own
Will you teach me love,
He turns his back
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
The closer you get
the less you see
the more you become
The more you become me
the less you are
Keep your distance
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
but each groove
recalls old loves
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
"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,
For my father alone
I learned to read.
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
(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
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.
— 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
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,
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
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
to the graves
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
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
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,
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.
Buber warned me in my youth—
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
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
for our right to breathe
and we will not die
like our elders
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
bombs. Because gas
is heavy, it will invade
floors and shelters.
But if gas and bombs are used together,
you have what we define as
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:
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
"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."
THE MOTHER OF ALL WARS
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Possibly false signals
to tempt you only to reveal
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
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