Monday, January 26, 2009

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Well, well, well. Right now I am actually using this letter as an excuse to procrastinate learning lines, not that I wouldn't write you anyway-it just becomes more sweet when it's used to combat another encroaching evil. I say evil but I really do love the play I am in. It's called Crow and Weasel, and I am a Mountain Lion and a Grizzly Bear & stuff. I am now officially an English Major. I was flipping through a copy of American Poetry Review and I noticed some new stuff by Yehuda- "I am not like a flat, wily spatula"-I thought he was dead; I guess not. I have yet to run out of steam in my Leonard Cohen infatuation. My favorite are his psalms-Book of Mercy. That was all rather desultory. Please forgive. Tell me if you're taking any classes this semester. Or what you're generally up to. I am not going to go on anymore. I will, however, close with a poem I wrote the day before yesterday.
I found this letter in a stack of papers that haven't been looked at, paged through, pored over, studied, reviewed, or tossed aside in over seven years. I didn't even realize I still had this letter, one of two surviving records of the correspondence carried on between a handful of artistes scattered through out our fair country after graduating from high school. Reading it, I remember how taken I had been with the writings of Yehuda Amichai, the first Israeli poet to write in colloquial Hebrew. It's hard to believe we'd write about poets in our letters and then include our most recent attempts to ape our betters with barely literate scribblings of our own. It seems so quaint, so naive. As if anyone outside of university english faculties had any care in the world for poetry anymore.
Anyway, I re-read this letter this afternoon and knew, in the twelve years that had elapsed since the writing of this note, that Yehuda Amichai had to be dead. And dead he was, for eight long years. My hero, my idol, the Thomas Wolfe to my poor, poor Kerouac had been dead for nearly a decade and I never knew. What a poor disciple I make.
So let me set things right on this day, eight years, four months, and four days after his death:

Yehuda Amichai, born in Germany in 1924 but raised for the most part in Palestine, was a soldier who fought in too many wars. He was a poet who loved, too much, his country and his wives. He could not escape or, to an extent accept, the fact that he never faced the pogrom that ravaged through Europe in the 1940s. He was the first poet to write in the newly resurrected Hebrew language and helped pull it kicking and screaming out of dusty tomes and scrolls. He was emotional, but emotional like Sam Spade: always putting up the brave face, the cold front.

National Thoughts

Caught in the homeland-trap of a Chosen People.
A cossack fur hat on your head, you--
Offspring of their pogroms. After those things,
As ever.
For example, your face: slanted eyes
Of sixteen-forty-eight, forty-nine, thine. High
Cheekbones of a Hetman, chief plunderer,
But the mitzvah dance of Hasidim.
Naked on a rock at dusk,
Under the water canopies of Eyn Gedi,
With closed eyes and a body like hair. After
Those things, as ever.

Caught in a homeland-trap:
To talk now in this tired tongue,
Torn out of its sleep in the Bible: blinded,
It totters from mouth to mouth. In a tongue that described
Miracles and God, now to say: automobile, bomb, God.

The square letters wanted to remain
Closed; every letter a locked house,
To remain and to be enclosed in a final D
And sleep in it forever.

(from Poems of Jerusalem)

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