Psalm, --Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch
A psalm on the day
a building contractor cheated me. A psalm of praise.
Plaster falls from the ceiling, the wall is sick, paint
cracking like lips.
The vines I've sat under, the fig tree-
it's all just words. The rustling of the trees
creates an illusion of God and Justice.
I dip my dry glance like bread
into the death that softens it,
always on the table in front of me.
Years ago, my life
turned my life into a revolving door.
I think about those who, in joy and success,
have gotten far ahead of me,
carried between two men for all to see
like that bunch of shiny pampered grapes
from the Promised Land,
and those who are carried off, also
between two men: wounded or dead. A psalm.
When I was a child I sang in the synagogue choir,
I sang till my voice broke. I sang
first voice and second voice. And I'll go on singing
till my heart breaks, first heart and second heart.
From Book of Mercy (by Leonard Cohen, he of the "golden voice"):
I Stopped to Listen
I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.
Sit Down, Master
Sit down, master, on this rude chair of praises, and rule my nervous heart with your great decrees of freedom. Out of time you have taken me to do my daily task. Out of mist and dust you have fashioned me to know the numberless worlds between the crown and the kingdom. In utter defeat I came to you and you received me with a sweetness I had not dared to remember. Tonight I come to you again, soiled by strategies and trapped in the loneliness of my tiny domain. Establish your law in this walled place. Let nine men come to lift me into their prayer so that I may whisper with them: Blessed be the name of the glory of the kingdom forever and ever.
All My Life
All my life is broken unto you, and all my glory soiled unto you. Do not let the spark of my soul go out in the even sadness. Let me raise the brokenness to you, to the world where the breaking is for love. Do not let the words be mine, but change them into truth. With these lips instruct my heart, and let us fall into the world what is broken in the world. Lift me up to the wrestling of faith. Do not leave me where the sparks go out, and the jokes are told in the dark, and new things are called forth and appraised in the scale of the terror. Face me to the rays of love, O source of light, or face me to the majesty of your darkness, but not here, do not leave me here, where death is forgotten, and the new thing grins.
And finally this, which stuns me freshly every time I read it, by Arielle Greenberg:
I will martyr myself at the stake, singing Hear.
A snake knew my name and caressed me.
The bush burned with ideas.
I was speechless; I was a ruby.
Every generation fashions an enemy.
I hid under a trapdoor in Spain, crying half-language.
Coveting, coveting, yes, no, like a jezebel on a rooftop terrace.
I eat nothing containing cartilage.
The oven is full of rock salt.
I went with my brother to interpret his stammering.
The first-born son must fast all morning.
I entered a beauty contest of strangers.
The rains lasted forever, like white dresses.
A dove came by with a postcard.
I killed my brother and hid.
There were dreams of stars and wheat.
The graves are decorated with only stones.
I took a literal train to my death. It was on time.
Boys are plied with wine and snipped.
I pray according to daylight.
Next year will return to the city of gold.
I shield my eyes from the priests’ blessing.
Girls get two candles each.
I stood at the bottom of a mountain with my soul.
A very small parcel of real estate was promised.
I was taken for a fool by my village to make a story.
He offered the angels his most finely sifted flour.
I hid in an attic with my diary.
The tents are goodly.
I was a lost tribe and came out black.
Each breastplate held a dozen precious gems.
The sea boiled and horses drowned.
I hope not to be inscribed in the book of the damned.
A drop of oil burned for eight days.
I win money made of bitter chocolate.
The cat swallows the chicken, and the reaper swift behind.
I made love to my king like a sibling in a cave.
Three, four, eight, eighteen, forty, one hundred and twenty.
Trees are planted like children there.
I pretended to be my younger sister under the veil.
Manna rained down and tasted like muffins.
I looked back and was turned to salt.
Rams, bulls, lambs and billy goats.
I offered you something clean from a well.
A prophet slips in the door to drink from his cup.
I hid from God and was found.