Aharon Shabtai Love & War, War & Love (selection)
translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole

alligatorzine | zine


Many books,
many collections of poems,
were printed in 2006
and set out on tables
during National Book Week.
I leaf through a few,
and on every page,
from page 1
to page 30,
to page 80
and 308,
I see only
a single sentence:
Mothers and children
in Gaza are searching
for food in heaps of trash.

gaza: two poems

I. January 25, 2008

This minister of defense,
these pilots and these tanks

would, without any hesitation,
also kill Jean-Jacques Rousseau,

Voltaire’s home,

and cut off the legs
of Garcia Lorca.

II. December 28, 2008

Spinoza tossed a fly
into the spider’s web
and laughed with pleasure at the sight
of the spider devouring the fly—
for death comes from without
and with a perfection that nature grants
to creatures lacking intellection.
Whereas I see
the man-spider sitting in his plane,
bombarding the people—
flies trapped below—
and do not laugh at the sight
of death emerging from within
the people-spiders
and the people-flies
caught in a single web
out of desire, necessity,
blindness, or clarity.
And those who are spiders today
tomorrow will be flies.

they want peace

They want peace, but they’ve lost their desire like a pair of glasses,
like a soft lens that fell by the sink and which they step on
because they think it’s on the shelf, beneath the mirror
beside the deodorant. They want it but their wanting is like a prick
that won’t get hard, although they sit at the edge of the tub
and stroke it all week long. Their solution’s in gobbling down chocolate
because they’ve got an appetite, but they do not know what wanting is,
what desire born of thought and freedom means—meaning it in every muscle,
with a will that bulges in one’s pants. They say “want”—
but the word is just like the others, haunted and hiding,
and in fact, they’re running and hiding from them. They get down
off the edge of the tub and try to take cover in the closet.
Each settles within a box and dresses up as a voter, prime minister,
officer, security advisor, or commentator—stuffed pundits on tv.
You see boxes in boxes in boxes. They want peace, but they’re hiding
from wanting, hiding from having to know. They’re only
used to porno, to nakedness filmed on glossy stock.
They do not know what peace is, how peace is made actual and entered:
gently, with dignity, trembling, with pleasure. Every week they’re brought
piles of rotten apples, and they lift their heads from their boxes
and trumpet peace. But they’re always the same worm-eaten apples,
and peace is repulsive, and stinks. They have to hold their noses.
They want peace, but have no desire, and take no joy with others,
and know only hunger. For years they’ve been offered garbage,
and now they won’t be cheated. They’re demanding actual nourishment,
big game, and not with a hunting rifle. With explosives and cannons
and choppers. So that there’ll be plenty of meat—in the belly, the freezer,
and the basement. They’re living in boxes, and so the entire region
has to be fenced in. They’re forcing the Arabs, by the thousands, into cages
like chickens. They want peace and peace is a thing to be eaten, a feast.
They’ll cut off the Arabs’ beaks, and let them grow coxcombs.
Peace will drive the economy, and provide them with lots of meat,
for export as well, and fill their baskets with lots and lots of eggs.


If our memory matters at all to you,
please, please, for the space
of a single year or more,
for ten years or twenty,
let it rest in a little oblivion
so that it might be draped
in the pure curtain of silence.
For fish in ponds as well
when it comes to water require freshness.
And you’ve pushed us and pulled
to the point of utter exhaustion.
Please, spare us at least for a little while
the hot air of your pronouncements.
Nationalist blather isn’t
kindly received
at the threshold of heaven.
For heaven’s gates are open
and generous to all mankind,
and neither rabbis nor officers
nor those in positions of power
hold any sway over us there.
So shut up and let us hear on high
the sorrows of the Bedouin too.
The Filipina worker’s weeping,
what the hungry
Indian in Bolivia’s saying,
and what song it is they’re singing
on the Euphrates’ banks.
If you’ve learned a thing from looking
at the mounds of our eyeglasses,
please take into account
the eyes of a boy of nine,
instead of making your pilgrimage
to the barbed-wire fences
where we were sent for extermination.
Because—enclosures intended for people,
so experience teaches,
give rise to infectious disease.

Born in 1939, Aharon Shabtai is one of Israel’s leading poets. Previous collections of his poetry in English translation by Peter Cole are Love & Selected Poems of Aharon Shabtai (Sheep Meadow Press) and J’accuse (New Directions), which received the PEN Translation Award for Poetry. The poems published here are from Love & War, War & Love, a new collection to be released in 2010 by New Directions (www.ndpublishing.com).

English translation © Peter Cole
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