Thursday, April 8, 2010

Over the House, Large Hanging Fans

On the table is a cat. On the cat is a newspaper. In the newspaper are two poems by Agi Mishol.

I came down to the hamlet of Kfar Mordechai to interview Mishol, One of Israel's best known poets. The interview itself belongs to my own newspaper and is to be published next week. But if I can't speak of Mishol, I'll at least speak of her home.

By now Mishol has lived in Kfar Mordechai, about 30 kilometers south of Tel-Aviv, for 37 years. Many of her poems touch on these surroundings. Her new book opens with a loving words directed at it. "This field is my prayer mat" she writes of the green expanse seen outside the window, and in another verse:

I wish I could shake words out of me
The way I shake pecan trees
till the nuts hit
the ground
So that the poem leads me
home.

I decided to explore that field, that tree, that home. The house itself is drenched in flowers, like everything in Kfar Mordechai.

I took the long way back to the highway, wandering through the fields, the pomegranate and persimmon groves, the vinyards. Magical? yes, and yet this is Israel, which Mishol knows well. "Pastorale" a poem out of the same book, opens thus:

Over the house, large hanging fans –
combat helicopters from the army base.

Underneath, the scent of rice has already faded
from the Thai workers' trailer.
The sorting machine grumbles in the shed.

Because of his wool hat it’s hard to know
whether he’s Tawa-chai or Nee-pon,
“Kahane was right” printed on the t-shirt
someone gave him.

At this time of year blossoms and fruit share the tree.

The streams, in this case Gamliel creek, just north of the house, are overflowing.

Nature and mankind cooperate in seemingly perfect harmony.

So close to all of this is our imperfect reality. Israeli urbanism, for example, is eating up the fields at an atrocious rate. No less than three massive towns can be reached on foot from Kfar Mordechai (seen here are the outskirts of Rehovoth, to the north). The military base mentioned in the poem, the Tel-Nof air field, is no more than four kilometers away from the Mishols' house. It was from here that planes took off to bomb Gaza during the onslaught.

So is this place good? is it bad? Is it a cosy home? Is it a slaughterhouse? Maybe we should simply learn from our poets and look in both directions.

(portion from "Pastorale" was translated by Lisa Katz)

2 comments:

Lisa said...

The poem "Pastorale" in translation by Lisa Katz: online at Poetry International and forthcoming in this version in "How Quiet on Your Farm"

Over the house, large hanging fans –
combat helicopters from the army base.

Down here, the scent of rice has already faded
from the Thai workers’ trailer.
The sorting machine grumbles in the shed.

Because his wool hat is pulled down low, it's hard to know
whether he’s Tawa-chai or Nee-pon,
“Kahane was right” printed on the t-shirt
someone gave him.

Through the slats in the creaking shutter
I see the sun poking the wheat,
the Saluki chasing crows.

Silken voices emerge from the radio,
the beeps of the fruit truck in reverse
signal time to get up

to give water to the dogs,
a wash tub to the geese
and milk to the porcupine,
to sprinkle the ground
so that scents will rise
and then –
to listen to the news.

Earlier poems by Mishol, translated by Katz, in "Look There" Graywolf Press 2006

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

Thank you Lisa, and I'm adding your credit into the body of the blog, sorry for not having done so before.