Readings (1)

Poems by Natan Alterman

The Silver Salver

"A State is not handed to a people on a silver salver"
Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel

The Earth grows still.
The lurid sky slowly pales
Over smoking borders.
Heartsick, but still lving, a people stand by
To greet the uniqueness
of the miracle.

Readied, they wait beneath the moon,
Wrapped in awesome joy, before the light.
-- Then, soon,
A girl and boy step forward,
And slowly walk before the waiting nation;

In work garb and heavy-shod
They climb
In stillness.
Wearing yet the dress of battle, the grime
Of aching day and fire-filled night

Unwashed, weary unto death, not knowing rest,
But wearing youth like dewdrops in their hair,
-- Silently the two approach
And stand.
Are they of the quick or of the dead?

Through wondering tears, the people stare.
"Who are you, the silent two?"
And they reply: "We are the silver salver
Upon which the Jewish State was served to you."

And spekaing, fall in shadow at the nation's feet.
Let the rest in Israel's chronicles be told.

2. The Third Mother

Mothers are singing. Mothers are singing.
A fist of thunder bangs down. Strong silence.
Red-bearded lamps are marching
in the empty streets in rows.

Autumn mortally ill, weary,
inconsolable autumn,
rain without beginning or end.
No candle in the window, now light in the world,
three mothers sing.

I hear one of them say:
"He was here but yesterday.
I shall kiss his every fingernail and finger.
I see a tall ship in a calm bay,
and my son from the topmast hanging."

And the second one says:
"My son is tall and quiety.
I am sewing a holiday shirt for my dear.
He's walking in the fields. He will soon be here.
And he holds in his heart a lead bullet."

And the third mother says with her wandering eyes:
"No one was dearer or kinder...
WHo shall weep when he comes if I cannot see?
I do not know where he finds him."

And she bathed her eylashes with weeping.
Perhaps he is only resting. Perhaps
in foreign places he mesures
the paths of Your world, O God,
(Like a wandering monk) with kisses.



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17 Apr 2007 / 29 Nisan 5767 0