Karen Alkalay-Gut




From far away everything looks like a miracle,

but up close even a miracle doesn’t look like one.

-          Yehuda Amichai, “Miracles”





I suppose. 5

The Awakening. 6

Over the phone. 7

The curtain opens 8

To a friend: 9

There is no one. 10

What do I know?. 11

When you came home from the hospital 12

"Where is the wife?" 13

Chemo. 14

Medical Research. 15

Statistics just explain away the wonder 16

In A Tel Aviv Hospital 17

Trying to Pray. 18


When the neurosurgeon. 21

A chocolate. 22

Perhaps if I were the patient 23

Black and white. 24

Just 25

You have transcended. 26

Today I suddenly understand. 27

You take it 28

I don’t know where to begin. 29




I suppose


I suppose the whole thing only begins

with what you think is due to you


and how much you’re paying attention.


You and I

like to live randomly:


The puppy we found on the street

who peed on our carpet

as soon as we brought her in --


We kept her.



The Awakening



That night the tests came back --

you were half asleep when I logged in and saw them

and you continued your journey into dreams

while I surfed all night, lost in a web of facts,

suddenly grown up, with real death before me

and only a virtual world to commiserate



Over the phone



You tell me lymphoma

What do I know

where it will go


I am here at this moment

just home from our visit

out of one shoe

off balance to hear

the news



It can be cured.



Back in Ward D

I slip into your bed

two orphans

in a lonely world.



The curtain opens



A hushed silence falls upon the audience --

in this case the patient,

and me

curled up

next to him

on the narrow bed.


And as if

an extra old lady

mattered to the diagnosis,


the big nurse booms,

“This is really not all right,”


And I leave the stage.


To a friend:



What if I suggest

you stop asking questions


There are other ways

to show us you care


And I'm scared enough

without trying to think


Of what will come next.




There is no one


to tell me

how to help you

your distended stomach

your pain

is strange to me


I am ashamed

at how little

I know



What do I know?



The few words I catch

from the cold


the PET scan


we deliver it

to the physician

read danger

all organs



Even the doctor

seems disturbed

even though I know

he is used

to dead end



When you came home from the hospital



After the diagnosis

After the laproscopy

After the PET


Your face spoke to me

from another world


Lit from a reflected source

at an angle




I could not be sure

if it would grow

or fade



"Where is the wife?"


the nurse calls out

to the waiting room.  I am there

filling out papers.

"Go upstairs to the lab

and deliver this order."


I do not want to leave this space,

but trace my way through the halls

glad to be able to do something

that will move his cure forward.

"Come back in half an hour,"

the girl says, shutting the door

on me, having taken the prescription.

I rush down to hold your hand

then back up to snap on

the plastic glove

and take the plastic bag

with the cherry solution

from the sterile shelf.


At that moment

it is an honor

to be a wife.




Up close it seems even more of a miracle

There is poison pouring into your veins

That could save your life.


I call it the cherry elixir

And we laugh.


The hunger to survive can poke through even the rockiest of earth,

In many colors



Medical Research



One human, slipping off the edge

into his own grave

is pulled away

by countless hands of

anonymous people


who may never know

the specific wonder they bring



Statistics just explain away the wonder



The thing about miracles is their unexplainability.

Disasters always seem traceable to some cause or other. 

But surprises that cannot be reasoned away,

they happen

before your own eyes.



In A Tel Aviv Hospital



If you close your eyes

as if in prayer

you will hear as many pleas to Allah

as our Lord.



Trying to Pray



It is not only the problem of letters:

that when you focus on them, you can’t see beyond.

It is the whole throng of words

bunched together in uneven fragments

with no apparent leader, or even limitations.

The logic of them escapes me

and the idea of sequence itself

seems so dependent on mere faith.


In the hospital the believers read the Psalms

blindly, rocking back and forth

and sheltering their shamed faces

in the tiny white wings of their books.

Perhaps some day, they pray,

I will be free enough from fear

to see one idea follow another

and be led through the shadow of death.




(from the Yiddish)


Who has given you the evil eye

May rough bark cover his hide.


Who has given you the evil eye

May rough bark cover his hide.


In the forests there are four clefts

May the curse disappear in their depths.


In the forests there are four clefts

May the curse disappear in their depths.



A summer dress hangs on two pegs


The sash flutters out, like a butterfly

Who knows where it belongs

and the wind fills out the flowered bosom

as if spirit alone

was enough to give it life



When the neurosurgeon



cancelled the treatment

just as were off to the hospital


we went to get the car washed instead

and as the system of water and brushes

took us into itself and spit us out


we felt right at home




A chocolate



left on my pillow

over a year ago

and slipped indifferently

into a now forgotten handbag

when the hotel room was cleared


falls out onto the floor of the ward

this moment



the amazing time

before what I know




Perhaps if I were the patient



I would be keeping a journal

writing down my feelings every day

like a fever chart, watching the chemo

seep into my body through that slender tube


Perhaps if I were the patient

I’d allow myself the luxury

of debating philosophies of will

imagining the forces of good

working against the debilitating ill.


But I’m the little elf

dancing around the IV pole


trying to actually find something

to do.



Black and white



Always I speak of shades of grey

but that day, sitting in the waiting room

reading the PET scan results

it was all black, BULKY in caps:

stage four with fingers in every organ.


Now it is white, with a few treatments still to go

but I cannot say the word grey

without feeling the way

life may exist today

and grade into the other

at any given moment








And look at the fish


The prescription

Will be ready soon

And you

Can take it down

To the neurosurgeon

For the intrethecal treatment



At the fish

The grey one hasn’t moved


Just keeps looking at you.


You have transcended




the doctor says

and smiles


Now that

in itself

is a miracle



Today I suddenly understand



the fear of the evil eye.

It is not the terror of jealousy

but the knowledge

that once you announce joy,

it is absolute

and therefore

can be inverted.


You take it



as a matter of fact

make a gift to the hospital

and don't look back


I think

now I know God from within


I don’t know where to begin



After such an illness everything

seems trivial, a waste

of strength needed to deal

with doctors, medicines, tests – living

in a real world.


Maybe that was the deal:

You get back the light

of your life but

no will

to write

a simple poem.