Biblical Poems

I wasn’t brave enough to turn
when my home was burned
and my happiness was torn away.
I envy you
for turning in mid-flight
turning to salty stone
to guard the love you felt.

Fearing exile more than God’s anger,
your longing was stronger than his hard punishing word.
Your home nested in your eyes,
cradle, orchard, flocks of sheep,
in that split-second when eternity conquered.

Now you watch over all your dreams,
and the bare mountains and the dead sea.
The blood trickles into your limbs at sunset;
reflecting the flame,
your body shimmers in the pink light, young again,
and you smile, remembering,
a smile of betrothal to your own name-
you are yourself again and no longer just your husband’s wife.

I wasn’t brave enough to turn,
and my heart turned to a clod of stone,
and the word turns to salt on my lips,
the taste of my unfinished tears.

The earth is red,
Like Cain’s dream
In the humid, sultry night
When Jehovah was young
And Abel gently pensive.

An angel whets his crooked sickle
On the old, tall cliff
Crumbling stone by stone,
As if memory aroused
The sorrow of the past.

In the crumbling sand beneath the stars
One still hears the sigh
Of that hour,
That stood watch
Over the Sultry night
And the tears of Eve.

I cannot rise from bed
To open the door
For thee.

Like saddled horses
My crutches lean against the wall
Waiting for someone’s hands
To guide them toward me.

From earth and sky
Am I estranged
A sky dealt niggardly to me
For its sparse embrace
Of that single window in the wall.

And all that I can see is the moon
Tearing clouds asunder
To prepare a path
For thee.

Elijah the Prophet – – –
The table’s not prepared
Nor is the winecup filled
But you shall come in any case to me
In this nocturnal hour
For who – who else will come but thee?

And even then
When you were merely dreamed by men
To wander far and wide
Replacing the sorrowful night
For a goblet of sparkling wine
You must come to me
With outstretched hand to touch
The crutches leaning ‘gainst the wall
Dreaming of a childhood
In some greening summer wood.

So Many Times
Translated by D.S. Glick

I have been annihilated so many times.
At the point of a moment,
On the thorn of a word,
On the barbed wire of hate.
Through hidden hypocrisy,
On burning roads,
In worlds made bitter.
I have been annihilated so many times
I can’t remember the time nor the place.

Still I return and am reborn
And on the new I become renewed.

Through the breath of the wind
Through my own tears
Like a little seed
That is sown in the fall
I become a part of a new scroll
Signed with a single star.

For A. Glants Leyeles on his 60th birthday

As if heaven opened
in a downpour of scabs and curses
that washed my blessings off
and made me stand before you naked.

Loneliness became my kingdom.
I saw wife, friends, neighbors
turn away in disgust
at the sight of my festering sores.

You stoned me, God,
with news of tragedy and holocaust
until I lay my face buried in the dust
and stammered, How much more?

Yet in my deepest, most bitter loss
I was richer then than now,
with cattle, children, wife and friends restored.

When you beat me with a heavy hand
I served you truly even as I blasphemed,
you gloried in my tears,
and even in my bitter accusations you were justified.

Now you give it back in overflowing measure,
double the number of sheep and cattle,
once again seven sons and three daughters,
so that I can drink my fill of a father’s joy.

How can I be joyful?
I am riper now by three and seven deaths.
I have buried ten of my dead in my blood.
I have long since wept for everything that was worth a tear.
I no longer weep or laugh at anything.

And I carry my name like a sack of ashes
to pour on all the mourning in the world.
I am a tent,
my door forever open
to all misfortune, let it le4arn from me,
to all catastrophe, let it come and borrow tears,
to all punishment, I am the eternal witness.

How can I believe you when you
lack faith in your own creation?
How can I trust you, when just for the sake of the game,
you gambled with Satan
and put me up as stakes,
a prey to blind chance?

Wasn’t my simple reverence enough,
my bowing to your radiant face
daily as the light came up?

I was whole and full in my days of joy,
I was still whole in my pain and suffering,
but now I’m cracked like a clay pot,
because there’s no longer any sense to your will, Lord.

If you tested and punished me in anger
to raise me as a flag of misfortune
for the people to see and to recognize you in my pain,
so that doubters would fear
and be reborn and believe –

Or if you doubled my suffering
or multiplied it by a thousand times
until I understood
what you mean by what you’ve done –

But you all-comprehending great Lord
of joy and sorrow,
you want the sky’s blue and the valley’s green
reflected in my eye again,
you want the wailing and howling I had in me
when my body wept pus and scabs
hidden by a quiet, unassuming smile.

Do you want me to forget it all,
bind myself again
to things that stand in blind assurance
this side of every woe?

Now I play games with you.
I wear my Sabbath clothes,
my holiday face.
I bring you every kind of sacrifice,
burn incense on the altar,
give you signs to make you think
I’m the Job I was.

But I have come to the last boundary,
the border where there is no guard or watchman,
where good and evil have no power.
Through my suffering I have come down to fundamentals,
but now I am poorer, more lost
than in my scabbiness or loneliness,
for who can restore my greatest loss,
who can take your place my God?

November 1949

Translator’s Note: In my translation, I rendered “brokh” , disaster, as holocaust, to emphasize the symbolic intention of the poem. As Rachel Korn explained it in conversation with me in August 1980, her Job is both a biblical figure and a Jew who lived through Maidanek (concentration camp).