March 06


Israel Har

for Yaakov David Abramsky

My father passed away
like a Jew: unprepared.
He knew where he came from
he knew where he's headed
always saw it before him
and yet: unprepared.
It happened in the month of Shevat
at eleven o'clock in the morning.
The parchment of his Torah on the desk
the ink in the inkwell
in his right hand a quill -
a craftsman working at his craft -
he suddenly felt an urge:
hankered for a sour pickle.
And no woman in the house.
(His mother, in my childhood, was buried
down the slopes of the Carmel
a few steps from his infant son
a grandson who would never walk into her arms;
his father in the mountains of Jerusalem
a bit south and above my mother
and now he
still dwelling on the plain
surrounded by housing projects and a wall.)
It happened at eleven o'clock in the morning
in the month of Shevat -
the voice sounded forty days before his birth -
a sour pickle. Sixty years he suffered
from heartburn. His voice in prayer always
loud and clear as crystal.
He who has eyes to see would feel it in his ears:
clear crystal beneath the fire of heartburn.
As if late meeting someone
he put on the rabbinical hat
and crossed the street.
It happened at eleven o'clock in the morning
before noon on a day in Shevat.
He already had one foot on the sidewalk:
a sour pickle - the angel of death
a bike hit him. Ran him over.


Translated from the Hebrew by Tsipi Keller
Image: Bara Sapir


Israel Har was born in 1932, in the city of Chelm in Poland. His is an eccentric voice in Hebrew poetry, and his first book of poems, A Pauper's Discourse on a Bush, was published in 1962. He founded and was editor-in-chief of The Knapsack Library (Sifriat Tarmil) for three decades, single-handedly bringing world literature in translation to many grateful readers. His volume, Edge of Darkness and Bread (1994), was hailed by critics as one of the best books of poetry published in Hebrew in the nineties. In his work, he seamlessly blends the exotic richness of archaic Hebrew and the spoken language of the street. The poem appearing here is from his Edge of Darkness and Bread, and, in the words of Har himself: "The poems in this book were written in times of poverty and sickness; while in love; in misery; in despair; in times of joy and during dark nights of loneliness; during hopeful moments; in pain; while dreaming, innocent." Har received the Akum Poetry Award, and the Prime Minister Award. He lives in Tel Aviv.

Tsipi Keller is a novelist and translator. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, of CAPS and NYFA awards in fiction, and is the author, most recently, of the