Jericho Brown and Yonatan Berg// Transatlantic Poetry Online


Returning
I am back where slopes pour over
the Dead Sea, where the sun extinguishes
the prickly rose, leaving only olives to burn silver.
My father sits in the dark, a spoon of honey
in his mouth. My mother hugs herself,
thinks of her parents, far away. The cherry trees are covered with pink snow;
my dog gazes with yearning at the deer.
All this trickles into the dark.
On the other side of the valley a bonfire burns,
a wild voice rises, a Middle Eastern one.
Someone is going to synagogue. The muezzin, the moon and the barking. Trembling
overtakes the fig, sown with light through branches,
through approaching forgetfulness.
All this has passed. Only the fumes remain. I sit on my childhood bed, my parents separated,
my dog dead, the synagogue locked.
But the light sleeps over dips in the wadi,
and the child comes out of me,
sits under the tree, clods of earth between his fingers,
and the same hot summer ripens the air,
moving nectar into my eyes. To My Mother
You ask me with your eyes
where autumn and anger emerge.
You pass me a handkerchief,
ripe figs. I have distanced myself for years,
finding you before nightfall,
tucking the blanket around me, singing
of angels and children. How can I explain to you the animal
that roars, the same rose
pinned to every hour, staining
the light red, me
sitting by the tree, sketching
its movements, the olive that releases stars,
and your hand,
gesturing to me, come back. After a Night in the Alley of Worshippers
The point is not the frayed light of six am.
or the barking of dogs, half-crazed by the scent
of blood, who we had to drive away.
Nor the fatigue from a night spent deep
in death, the network that only now falls
silent, the shouts from the platoon above, identifying
bodies, the reflex that all this was to be expected. The point is not how they lay there, after
the dogs lunged into them, their faces
distorted, their wounds festering, strewn together,
black-garbed, the dirt of the road stained darker
by their blood. One held the glimmer of a smile,
not wicked or revengeful, just lost. The point is, I volunteered, and Vish, the officer,
was my friend. But when we got there I could not,
I simply could not. To this day I see Vish and a soldier,
shoving them into the armored truck. They are dropped,
are dragged, I don’t have a better image for all this:
the bodies dragged, dropped,
over and over. Map
My car turns at Hizme checkpoint, turns
into the village, passing pottery sellers,
the wall that punctures the narrative
of the hills, the barbed wire fence, olive trees
wrapped in the melancholy dance
of childhood. So why on earth cling
to this intimacy with the land, this fervor of ideology,
these urgent prayers and sense of sacrifice? Why stay in the same cramped community
that prevents the cold, the solitude and lust, the skepticism,
from washing over the houses? And what about the births,
the constant preoccupation with scraped knees and bandages,
with candy bars and juice, the tears and laughter before bedtime? Further along the road is Adam, the first settlement,
the industrial area, gas station,
my brother’s vineyard, the events center,
the houses of the outpost of Migron:
Just another humdrum day.
And the generosity towards hitchhikers, the mutual help,
cakes for every occasion, a genuine concern for the sick
or bereaved, the synagogue and gossip, the social club – bar mitzvahs and weddings.
So why on earth not? My car enters the settlement, turns
toward manicured gardens,
the youth club, the mikveh, the school,
the tiled roofs: The bourgeoisie are the same
wherever they live, busy in their living rooms,
tiptoeing over children and barrels of gasoline. Walking

The wind struck everything, the water contorted
this way and that: the sea moved inside itself
like the murmurings of a madman. Some rowed there:
the surfers’ colors diluting into gray. Through the frail light I saw a flock of birds,
sculpting dark lines of a journey home,
doubtless tired, waiting for the brassy sun
to warm their backs. I saw the hubris,
the frenzy to move faster: my own body
for whom home is something else – empty, diaphanous, made of memory. The fishermen
folded up into layers of fabric,
the wind in their faces betraying patience,
tension. I walked swiftly to Jaffa –
not to the stone buildings, not the watchtowers,
nor the vapors of the sweet orchid –
but to the ancient within me, the other city. Love
The evening rests a soft hand
on the shoulders of the slopes.
They tremble for a moment,
then succumb.
The dog strays for a while then
returns to rest at my feet, panting,
waiting for a sign. Back then I slept on iron beds,
dreaming of long roads.
Other boys slept beside me, wilting
in the close air of the tent, guns at rest. The dog senses my despair rising up,
stubborn as the thorny bushes growing
in the wadi, spreading everywhere.
He rouses himself and draws closer,
allowing his heavy breath to mingle
with mine, reminding me how,
in the old house, we wrestled together
on the grass, and how we grew together. The darkness releases cold from the rocks,
flames of electricity erupt from the houses.
The dog gets up, hearing the rustle of rabbits,
but gives up, suppressing the instinct
and thrusting his face into my open hands,
nudging them with his snout. In his canine heart
he knows I must return to the army
so he brings me twigs, pebbles,
and begins to play. He is in his last years but cheats time,
cheats his aging body, pounces on me,
eyes shining in the dark. Unity
We travel the silk road of evening,
tobacco and desire flickering
between our hands. We are warm travellers,
our eyes unfurled, traveling in psalms,
in Rumi, in the sayings of the man from Nazareth. We break bread under the pistachio tree,
under the Banyan tree, under the dark
of the Samaritan fig tree. Songs of offering rise up
in our throats, wandering along the wall of night. We travel in the openness of warm eternity. Heavenly voices
announce a coupling as the quiet horse gallops
heavenward. We travel with the rest of the world,
with its atrocities, its piles of ruins, scars of barbed wire,
traveling with ardor in our loins, with the cry of birth. We sit crossed-legged within the rocking
of flesh, the quiet of the Brahmin, the bells
of Mass, the tumult of Torah. We travel
through the eagles of death, dilution of earth in rivers,
in eulogies, through marble, we travel through the silk
of evening, our hearts like bonfires in the dark.

4 thoughts on “Jericho Brown and Yonatan Berg// Transatlantic Poetry Online

  1. Be sure to turn on "Subtitles/CC" on the YouTube player in order to see the English subtitles while Yonatan is reading in Hebrew!

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