This poetic collection is an honest and deeply reflective look at life overshadowed by disputed settlements and political upheaval in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yonatan Berg is a poet from Israel and the youngest person ever awarded the Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize. This collection brings together the best poems from his three published collections in Hebrew, deftly translated by Joanna Chen. His poetry recounts his upbringing on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and service in a combat unit of the Israeli military, which left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He grapples with questions of religion and tradition, nationalism, war, and familial relationships. The book also explores his conceptual relationship with Biblical, historical, and literary characters from the history of civilization, set against a backdrop of the Mediterranean landscape. Berg shares an insider's perspective on life in Israel today.
We travel the silk road of evening,
tobacco and desire flickering between our hands. We are warm travelers,
our eyes unfurled, traveling in psalms,
in Rumi, in the sayings of the man from the Galilee.
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 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.
About the Author
Table of ContentsPART ONE: HANDS THAT ONCE HELD MANNA Letter to the Reader Unity Particular Timing The End of Naiveté Map Settlement Ramallah Through the Window of a Bus Returning Friday Market Distance PART TWO: DUST RISNG FROM THE BLOW Through the Eyes of Ramallah The Mothers After a Night in the Alley of Worshippers Occupation of the Land The Fighter Speaks Jenin Remembrance Positive Identification Hebron Post-Trauma After the War PART THREE: AN ISSAC MOMENT Improvisation Odessa A Late Landscape Visitation Father Psalms To My Mother PART FOUR:WATER PIERCES ITSELF Adam and Eve Cain Abel Noah Abraham Sarah Expels Hagar Inverted Sacrifice (Isaac) Rivka Rachel Yocheved Job The Prophet Devorah Judah the Maccabee Jesus Babel: The Immigrant Speaks The Khazar Kingdom Martin Buber Rosa Luxemburg Golda Meir Hannah Arendt, Jerusalem 1961 My Father, Meir Berg My Mother, Shoshana Oppenheimer-Berg PART FIVE: HUNGRY AND SURGING A First Encounter with Death Samaria Parting the Sea Report from a Free City Interlude Red Dana Interim Report Love Walking Epilogue
What People are Saying About This
"Yonatan Berg's poetry is fervent and relentless in its language, each poem moving forward in a series of proclamations that are as absolute as they are heartbreaking, 'We told ourselves it would pass./We put everything in place, near/the couches, the armchairs. On the balcony, flowers/spiraled towards the sun.' In the midst of this book's almost unbearable traumas, its attention to that which is rapturous and romantic about the natural world asks us to rethink how our wars kill us and our ability to see the beauty of the planet on which we live. These are necessary translations. And these translations by Joanna Chen bring to light the fact that poetry travels beyond language. This is a beautiful book."Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament, reviewing a previous edition or volume
"Berg's poems aren't the conventional kind. I absorb them slowly and with great excitement, till I'm left with tenderness."Amos Oz, author of A Tale of Love and Darkness, reviewing a previous edition or volume
"Berg is the only poet I know of today whose personal experience and our political experience, the Israeli crisis of faith, are the same. This is what makes his poems so powerful."Nurit Zarchi, author of Otobiographya Shell Delet, reviewing a previous edition or volume
"Here is a book that shows us the urgency and fear of a life in a time of crisis, an overview of life in a settlement, on the occupied territory from the perspective of a person born in a settlement. Here is a voice that speaks honestly about guilt, a voice that admits 'I am a person with no homeland.' It is a powerful, sobering book. How does Yonatan Berg do this? What what means? He combines the nuance of attentiveness with the clarity of perspective. He combines a spell of an incantatory chant and the intimacy of a whisper. His is a voice from a place that overflows with crimes of historybut longs for justice. His is a voice that shows us perversities of silence: 'We do not look at each other, / not even when the coffin is hoisted / onto our shoulders, heavy / with youth and laughter.' It would be a wise thing for us to listen to this voice."Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
"Yonatan Berg's poetry moves between roughness and tenderness. His military poems written with boyish insouciance, mingling horror with grief. A serene moment swiftly becomes an elegy. Bitter ambivalence makes the song of this poet. I like this song."Adam Zagajewski, author of Asymmetry, reviewing a previous edition or volume