Since Then

I fell in the battle of Ashdod
In the War of Independence.
My mother said then, He's twenty-four years old,
And now she says, He's fifty-four,
And lights a memorial candle
Like birthday candles
On a cake, to blow out.

Since then, my father died of pain and sorrow,
And my sisters got married
And named their kids after me,
And since then my home is my grave, and my grave - my home.
For I fell in the pale sands
Of Ashdod.

And since then all the cypresses and all the orchard trees
Between Negba and Yad Mordekhay 1
Walk in a slow funeral procession,
And since then all my children and all my forefathers
Are orphans and bereaved parents,
And since then all my children and all my forefathers
Walk together arm in arm
In a demonstration against death.
For I fell in the war
In the soft sands of Ashdod.

I carried my comrade on my back.
And since then I feel his dead body always
Like a sky weighing heavy upon me,
And he feels my bent back beneath
Like a convex segment of the globe.
For in the terrible sands of Ashdod, I fell
Not just he.

And since then I compensate myself for my death
With love and dark feasts,
And since then I am of-blessed-memory,
And I don't want God to revenge my blood.
And I do not want my mother to cry over me
With her beautiful, precise face.
And since then I fight the pain,
And I walk against my memories
As a man walks against the wind,
And since then I mourn my memories
As a man mourns his own death,
And since then I extinguish my memories,
As a man puts out a fire,
And I'm quiet.
For I fell in Ashdod
In the War of Independence.

"The feelings raged!" they used to say then, "The hopes
Ebbed," they used to say, but no more,
"The arts flourished," said the history books,
"Science prospered," they said,
"The evening wind chilled their hot foreheads,"
They said then,
"The morning wind swayed their forelocks,"
So they said.
And since then the winds do different things
And the words say different things
(Do not see me as if I were alive),
For I fell in the soft, pale sands
Of Ashdod in the War of Independence.

1. Kibbutzim in the Negev which fought in 1948 against the Egyptians.

From: Time 1978

How did a banner begin? Let's assume there was something whole
Like the dress of a woman you yearn for. Then it tore
In two, and was enough for two warring camps.

Or like a lounge chair in an abandoned garden
From my childhood, torn stripes waving in the wind,
This too is a banner, telling you to get up and follow it
Or cry near it, betray or forget.

I don't know: in my wars, the standard-bearer did not go
Before the gray host in clouds of dust and smoke.
I saw things that began like spring
And ended in hasty retreat in pale sand.
Now I am far from it all, like a man
In the middle of a bridge who forgets both its ends
And remains leaning on the parapet
Watching the waters flowing below,
They're a banner too.

From: The Travels of Benjamin the Last, of Tudela

Everyone hears steps at night,
Not just the prisoner, everyone.
Everything at night is steps,
Disappearing in the distance or coming close,
But they never come to you,
Close enough to touch. It is man's mistake
About his god, and God's mistake about man.

Oh, this world, everyone fills it
Up to the end. And the bitter will come and block
Your mouth like a stubborn recalcitrant spring,
So it opens wide, wide in death.
What are we and what is our life. A child hurt
While playing or hit, holds back his tears
And runs to his mother, in a long way of courtyards
And alleys, and cries only with her.
So all our lives we hold back
Our crying and run a long
Way and the tears are choked in our throat.
And death is merely a good cry
Continuing forever. Blow, great blow,
Great cry, great silence. Sit down. Today.
And the silver hand pointing to the reader
In the Torah Scroll, moves among the difficult lines
Like an arm of a great holy machine.
With its large, twisted, hard finger
It scans and points and hits the words
That cannot be changed. Read here. Die here, here.
And this is the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not want.

I think about forgetting as about a growing fruit,
If it ripens, it won't be eaten for it won't be and won't be remembered:
Its ripening is its forgetting. When I lie
On my back, the bones of my legs fill up
With the sweetness
Of my little son's breath.
He breathes the same air as I,
Sees the same sights,
But my breath is bitter and his is sweet
As the repose in a weary man's bones,
Blessed be my childhood's memory. His childhood.

I didn't kiss the ground
When they brought me as a little boy to this land,
But now that I have grown upon her,
She kisses me,
She holds me,
She clutches me in love
In grass and thorns, in sand and stone,
In wars and in this spring
Till the final kiss.

From Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry 1948-1994. Selected and translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav. Harper Perennial, 1994.