Karen Alkalay-Gut


Alter Ego



I知 never going to forge a privileged connection

with this land I have loved all my life.

I値l always live in a strange language

talking to myself and maybe you

while everyone here believes in Hebrew.


That痴 why I知 decided on a radical plan:


I知 going to have to make some one up

who could be my mirror,

only more marketable:

a long dead native woman poet

who passed away without heirs

or any translators

but me.


I値l call her Ruth.

Ruth Ibn Shoshan after my father

and the orphaned Moabite

who so made her way into our faith

she got a book named after her,

and maybe gave birth to David.


But I値l give her a real career

not just make her some

romantic Russian agronomist

too tubercular to work,

or a professional poet demanding flowers

every time her verse appears in the papers.


She値l be a nurse in WWII

busy with passing information

from the British to the Hagana

like how they are going to run away

when Rommell invades

and leave us all to our just desserts.


From her poems we値l learn she値l have

fallen in love with one of them,

maybe a British officer with blue eyes

injured from an explosion in the desert

and recovering slowly in her ward.


And I値l make her write him poems

full of sea and sand and never ending

phoenixes and bridges

and the knowledge of how fragile

all love must be in this dying world

with the other world still only a dream.


But of course he will understand

nothing of her language

and she will be doomed

to read to him in his native tongue

-- verse from Browning

to make him feel less lost

in this strange Tel Aviv colony.


In the introduction to the translations

of the poems I値l invent,

I値l have her sitting at her table at night

when she comes home from the hospital

預fter writing a letter to her mother in Jerusalem

and composing in verse what she cannot tell him

in the formality of wound dressing.


Not too erotic after all, I don稚 want to lose

The modest potential critics and readers --

but a little sexual fantasy can pique

even the most fanatic beast.


I壇 make them short, intense lines,

full of hidden local allusions

with contemporary significance:

添our kiss will not protect me,

like the lions that guard the gate

of my mother痴 home.

鼎an the blue of your eyes

keep the desert fox from my lair?

摘very day it seems

for a moment as if


Well, I値l have to work on it

and I値l be the first to admit

it loses in translation.


But when I found her poems

among the papers

of the discarded archives of HaYarkon hospital

I壇 no choice but to try

to give voice to her cry

for love in the face of upheaval

unburdening sharp desire

on the edge of the world



I would try to get the many levels

not just all the English in the Hebrew,

and the literariness of that language back then

but the foreign models of elegant love she had to work with.

She had probably read Hemingway

and maybe even saw Casablanca,

and was living the same experience and hope.


So love me tonight

Tomorrow was made for some

Tomorrow may never come

For all we know.


But she had a homeland to look forward to,

a hope.


And then the war is over and he goes back home.

She could go with him but to betray an unborn country

seems too great a burden for love to bear.

And she is needed to nurse the refugees.

So she keeps writing him, about how everyone

is reuniting in sadness here, or living with the absence


How people fall into each other痴 arms

from despair after years of blackness.


And maybe I壇 say something

about how when you scrape away

old skin, new skin grows,

and the under layer rises up


But how would I answer the big riddle

since anyone writing in that revitalized tongue

was a pioneer even a woman


Why wasn稚 she famous?


It wasn稚 for want of trying.

Maybe you can see her back

In some café photograph of bohemians in Kassit

Or her hat at some literary event.

But she wasn稚 a part of the local scene,

didn稚 smoke or say intellectual things

and her poems weren稚 even acknowledged

when they were sent to the journals.


Too much western influence, too much pop culture,

not enough Russian suffering, too much real world.


But who was she to question

the authority of the establishment.

So she kept the poems in her desk

then brought them to the hospital

to destroy as worthless

but was interrupted

by a random bullet.


I think I might get away with the scam

if I say the archives burned down

after I made my translations

the way Amichai痴 boat that brought him here

was destroyed after the voyage.


It would be a way to tell the untold story of this country

the one I don稚 have a right to tell from the inside


It would be a way to make her famous,

my 奏ranslations

the basis for a Hollywood film


And me the modest middleman



karen alkalay-gut