Slightly Nasty Poems
This started out as a postcard-size desk-top collection with a hedgehog on the cover, intended as a sort of visiting card. The idea for this size of a booklet came when I invented the slogan "A Good Story Deserves a Cover of Its Own". (I also write short stories and wanted to print them separately.)
WAKING UP IN THE MORNING
Waking up in the morning
my unshaven cheek feels against the back of my hand
as if time, having eaten up another twenty-four of my hours,
left the crumbs on my face.
There are no cockerels crowing at dawn in Tel Aviv
(and if there were, they would believe it is their crowing that makes the sun rise).
And no bells on the synagogues either;
we go to our weddings
to Mendelssohn's march, and to our graves
to the intonation of the Kaddish.
There are only alarm clocks,
ambulance and police sirens, drivers honking their horns,
and people calling each other idiots.
And, at night, the screeching of lovemaking cats;
(perhaps small loves, like those of cats, are loud,
and great ones, like mine for you, silent).
And afterwards an abandoned kitten,
wailing throughout the evening and the night,
finally giving out in the small hours.
There are no nightingales in Israel.
The following poem is my most famous one. You sometimes sit at home feeling that time is passing and nobody knows about you and nobody cares, and then, once in a blue moon, you get invited to read something, and you stand there leafing through your things trying to decide what to read, and all of a sudden a terrific shout goes up: "Zyggy! Read the one about the bus!" Fiona Pitt-Kethley, the English erotic poet and writer, included it in "The Literary Companion to Sex" , ranging from the Bible to our day, (Sinclair-Stevenson), which she edited, and I thought it would be lost somewhere in the (longest) 20th Century section, but no, she placed it last, giving me the last word on the subject!
After Ravel wrote his "Bolero" he took to saying that he is sorry he ever wrote it, because ever since everyone wants to hear his "Bolero", to the detriment of his better and more profound things. This poem is my Bolero.
WITH ALL THE
With all the
why is the bus so crowded?
WE ARE A NATION
We are a nation with bearded and lustful kings,
that lives between the stones of an old wall;
between floods and locusts.
(Trying to keep a little above the floods and below the locusts.)
God watches from above, and vultures from telegraph poles.
So many of our women are old maids and young war widows.
There are three or four Israelis who don't like Jerusalem; I am one of them, for the following reasons.
I know it's been there for the past four thousand years
but it still looks temporary to me.
A transit camp, with tribes that do not mix
like sacred oil and holy water,
on their way to some other place,
preferably with a beach and a port.
(They used to build of Jerusalem stone because it was to hand,
and keep on building of it because of municipal rules
to preserve the appearance).
Perhaps one should come to Jerusalem a virgin,
I already had behind me
my first girl
my first war
and my first continent
by the time I saw my first
scorpion under a Jerusalem stone.
"Lord, it is time; the summer was quite long;"
It must have been a package deal:
The Promised Land, and, in small print, these summers.
Rich tourists from the cold north pay through their noses
to spend a fortnight here; and the poor ones will die
without having ever seen these skies, bathed in these warm seas.
you can think but not imagine,
read but not write,
fuck but not fall in love.
It is the heart's dry season;
the summer hibernation of the brain.
We operate from airfields we did not build,
smuggling explosives we did not invent
onto planes we wouldn't know how to pilot.
Thank you, civilisation, for your blessings.
FOR LORD BYRON
Neither shall we
(go again a-roving)
because the streets are dangerous
especially by moonlight.
Yes, our hearts too
(are still as loving)
but we shall let them beat
between the locked door
and the pistol in the drawer.
The rich have more to eat
more to drink
and more to fuck
They can travel anywhere they like
any time they like
and buy themselves adventures
The rich have better doctors
they live longer
and die healthier
Sometimes I think that the rich
don't go to the same paradise we do;
but then, with such different backgrounds,
a little afterlife apartheid is probably best for both.
A BAR IN MANILA
Here I sit in a bar in Manila
a dark spider in a dark corner
and all around me
bright graceful fragile twittering tropical birds
that feed on spiders.
There is this road running along the beach
always glancing sideways,
Although quite long, it only runs from A to B
and feels very one-dimensional.
On the sea, you can travel in any direction, any distance,
circling the world if you want to,
visiting new strange places, not just A and B.
The sea does not suffer from potholes;
the nearest to a traffic light they can saddle it with is a buoy,
and it immediately decorates that with a seagull.
The road runs parallel to the beach, and parallel lines never meet.
And some nights, when the moon is full and the road is empty,
it tries to sing sea chanties,
out of tune, in a cracked concrete voice.
THE FIRST DIVE
On my very first dive, at once this feeling:
I have been here before.
Green weightless world;
Curling of tentacles towards a silver ceiling.
There is no love and no hate at this depth;
and, in spite of some red,
the colours here are mainly blue and green.
Such silence; even strife is silent here,
and most deaths, swift.
We left it all behind
the day we landed.
THE BLACK CAT
I was walking along a deserted street one evening,
and a black cat jumped off a garden wall
and crossed the street in front of me.
I made two parachute jumps on a single Friday,
and swam in choppy seas on a thirteenth,
and could walk without mishap under all sorts of ladders;
so I just chuckled after the black cat,
and walked on,
on my way to the party
where I met you.
WE ALWAYS ENVY BIRDS
We always envy birds because they fly
and never pity them because they have no hands.
You sing or write to your girl how you would fly to her
had you but the wings of a bird; but if you did
you'd have no hands to hold and caress her
when you're together;
what is love like
using only your beak on the nape of her neck,
treading her with your feet, off balance,
your bodies insulated by the feathers?
Or is our lovemaking, with its kisses and sweat,
repulsive to birds, like that of slugs to us?
With hands, you can even make wings of sorts,
while the birds remain handless forever.
There are birds which migrate south in the autumn
and animals which hibernate deep underground
living out their allotted span without ever knowing
what winter is and what the snow looks like.
If only we
could hibernate through our unhappy loves,
or fly away in time at their approach.
A moth circles the lamp, lands on the wall, and turns to stone;
It is dull, buff, and mottled; yet its shoulders
shimmer with gold, and the lamp's gentle swaying
makes its eye gleam like a cold precious stone.
Born of a dance around some other lamp,
brown alchemist of the night, how did you turn
decaying foods into this gold and jewels, and what for?
There is no answer. The blank eye is gleaming,
and, somewhere in the night, an owl hoots and is gone.
A butterfly's wings are its wedding dress and its shroud;
It turns beautiful only to lay its eggs and die.
To eat and grow you can be wingless and ugly,
(it even helps;)
a butterfly only unfolds its wings
to start leaving this earth.
If it could think like us,
the sight of its wings would scare it
like we are scared by our first heart attack.
Premature ejaculations, for God's sake;
a baby is premature at seven months;
congratulations are premature if the engagement is then broken off;
but ejaculations, so long as the go where they are supposed to?
All right, we're gentlemen, we do our best to delay them;
but what if a tiger jumps you while you are delaying?
Evolution has been delayed long enough;
Mother Nature is mainly interested in babies;
it couldn't care less about your orgasms or coming together;
for that she has given you wet dreams and masturbation.
(Could it be that spiders suffer from premature ejaculations
and that's why the females devour them afterwards?)
Thank God for little favours:
for wet dreams,
and all ejaculations, whenever they come;
and above all for not having created us spiders.
There are two or three women who think I have written the following poem for them. Perhaps it's better this way.
Writing the original is probably the most difficult translation of them all. There is this difficulty of telling a story, word by word and sentence by sentence; what comes out has to be linear, one-dimensional, like a thread, while the brain from which it came is not like that at all. Like some huge multiscreen, the brain holds all the memories, knowledge, and associations it has soaked up during the owner's life within instant reach, and is constantly weaving them into new combinations and insights. Telling a story, you have to select and translate from this enormously complex simultaneity of the brain into the primitive and one-dimensional human language, hoping that once this bare thread has reached another's brain through the narrow passage of his ears or eyes it will be re- translated into what you were trying to say. It is the most difficult translation of them all.
In the original
you wear revealing dresses
and the colour of your eyes is untranslatable.
In the original
you belong to another man,
another collection of poems.
I would like to translate you
into a naked woman in bed with me.
It would be dark
and all your colours would be lost in the translation
and I would lie there thinking
how beautiful you are when you're unfaithful.
WE SAID GOODBYE ON THE PHONE
We said goodbye on the phone; only your voice was there;
I could not see or touch you any more,
so, after we hanged up,
I opened the map of the town
and kissed the spot where we used to meet so often.
(To reporters, shortly before his death:
"I am not totally blind; only during the day;
in my dreams, I see again.")
It was a soft warm summer afternoon;
(I still had my eyes then.)
Delilah, heavy with caresses and sperm, asleep under a tree,
and sunlight on her like Philistine gold.
Then two green mantes meeting on a twig above her head,
and making love.
I watched, amused, my hair mingling with Delilah's,
and then the female mantis gently turned around
and ate the male.
I did not see the warning,
though I still had my eyes then.
If you die famous
they put up a statue of you in a public square
and then the pigeons come and shit on you
till you feel like a small guano island.
And the non-famous but still living people
bring their children
and buy them bags of corn to feed the pigeons
so they can shit some more.
It's all a question
of whether it's better to be famous and dead
or an unknown young parent
what they call a living dog or a dead lion
but the sun is shining
and it's all very complicated
for an overheated bronze brain under a layer of bird shit
so let's just say
it's probably better to be alive than dead.
It's nice to remember adventures
long after they have happened
now that one knows that they have ended well:
one did not miss that charging lion;
one did not catch anything from that woman;
one did not rot in jail in that banana republic;
and none of the planes have crashed.
The outcome wasn't so sure while the adventures were happening;
one was either hot,
or several or all of the above.
The adventures were raw material for memories at the time,
and something of a handicap ever since;
without them, one could have invented better ones.
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©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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