after Agha Shahid Ali
Beloved, I fear the language of shame is Hebrew.
Once loss was all, now loss is hard to frame in Hebrew.
Yours is the well from which my sorrow springs,
your water, but the earth that steals the rain is Hebrew.
With you I have railed at the shuttered sky
and wept, yet know that tears are not the same in Hebrew.
In the wilderness Jews yearned for a home –
the home that we built, the home that we maim, is Hebrew.
Uprooting olive trees, scarring the soil,
we fight, crush foes like fruit, apportion blame in Hebrew.
Each body-bomb blown up and rocket fired
inscribes my anger when the land aflame is Hebrew.
Like the smear of dust on skin, grief mars me.
We brush off dust but who can brush off pain in Hebrew?
Don’t protest we’re not our brothers’ keepers:
the tale that poets wear the mark of Cain is Hebrew!
Witness our songs – I am yours Beloved
and you are mine – witness Solomon’s claim in Hebrew.
To resist complicity, ‘not in my name!’ –
how? when the root of my soul, of my name, is Hebrew.
(published in Modern Poetry in Translation, No 3:11, 2009)
for Mimi Khalvati
In our hanging house, one wall sheer to the dry riverbank,
rooms staggering across split levels, the hours are sticky
with fever and all I see of you is a passing shadow climbing
the stairs opposite my open door. We spend our days apart
but in the evenings we walk and distribute our greetings, Hola,
Buenos Noches, to the people in the street, or exchange
Farsi for Hebrew: Laila Tov, we say to each other, Shabékheyr.
Last night we talked of Córdoba, alliance of Muslim and Jew,
and you pulled me back for a moment – this is how it was, this! –
when we strolled past a woman cooking barbeque on the steps
of the village square, a man (her man?) humming a cante jondo
to his father. You were wearing my gipsy shawl and I,
slipping back to the Golden Age, began to compose a gacela
as Lorca called them. How easily it built in my sleep, couplets
folding into themselves like accordion scales, rising from kitchen
to living room to the vine shaded terrace where you lay
on the rattan chair, smoking, always smoking, and in my sleep
we became Al-Ghazali and Halevi, dreaming of this: a new Jerusalem.
* Buenos Noches (Spanish), Laila Tov (Hebrew) and Shabékheyr (Farsi) all mean ‘Good Night’. Gacela is Spanish for ‘Ghazal’. The medieval Spanish Jewish poet, Judah Halevi, was greatly influenced by the Persian Sufi philosopher, Ibn Muhammad Al-Tusi Al-Ghazali. Al-Ghazali’s name translates as ‘The Ghazal Writer’, Halevi’s as ‘The Priest’.
(published in The North, No 50, 2013)
Aviva Dautch has an MA (Distinction) in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths, and is reading for a PhD in Contemporary Poetics at Royal Holloway. Her poems, reviews and literary essays have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. Twitter: @AvivaDautch