Poetry

Poetry Sunday: Four poems from Less Like a Dove
by Agi Mishol


My Father Speaks Again

Let’s see, you probably remember
how you followed my gurney
with a blue plastic cup containing my teeth,
my strength.

Your cries, searching for words,
collapsed into Hungarian stresses
and a doctor called Winker whistled to himself
a morning tune.

As he covered my body with a faded sheet
from Public Health I remembered
how you also got a glimpse when
you were three.

Your little eyes, with only cows
for comparison,
saw teats full of milk
dangling between my legs.

 

 

My Mother Adds

In my condition I can’t remember
what I wanted to say to you
but I birthed you all
bones blood and milk.

And it hurts me to see you –
blue hair, golden eyes
still clambering out
of the abyss of my eyes
like a stubborn spider on webs of spittle
that you weave so well
with all the words you need
to invent for yourself
instead of me.

 

 

Translation

for Joanna Chen

The siren caught us
with open dictionaries,
searching for the name of
a flower in English,
the Wandering Jew.

We did not know what to do:
run to the shelter or keep
translating. We laughed
and panicked in the same
language.

 

 

For Now

The days resemble one another.
The cat’s sharp claws rest
deep within her paws.

In the yard the dogs
gnaw on a rabbit’s skull.
My shadow extends, grows

long. At night the stars exit
their kennel. I listen to the barking
but have no answer.

Spring is putting on its makeup
under the soil.

 

Poems from Less Like a Dove by Agi Mishol (Shearsman Books 2016), translated by Joanna Chen, reprinted with permission of Agi Mishol and Joanna Chen.

 

Agi Mishol is one of Israel’s leading contemporary poets. Born in Transylvania, Mishol is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel in 1950. She has published sixteen books of poetry in Hebrew and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the coveted Yehuda Amichai Prize for Hebrew Poetry and the Lerici-Pea Prize in Italy. Mishol has received honorary doctorates from Tel Aviv University, The Hebrew University, and Bar Ilan University. Her work has been translated into several languages and a number of books have been published in translation, including Look There by Graywolf Press, Journal du Verger by Caracteres and Sheherezada by the Institutul Cultural Roman. She lives in an agricultural community and directs the Helicon School of Poetry in Tel Aviv, where she teaches creative writing. Less Like a Dove can be purchased here.

 

Joanna Chen is an essayist and literary translator. Her poems, essays, and translations of prose and poetry have been published in Guernica, Poet Lore, Narratively, and Consequence, among numerous other places. She writes a column for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Read more at www.joannachen.com

 

Translator’s Note

I first got to know Agi Mishol through a slender book of poems, Wax Flowers, in which she explores her relationship with her dead parents. My mother was dying at the time, and I carried the book in my bag like an amulet. To this day, the immediacy and down-to-earth quality of Mishol’s poetry speaks directly to me: the way she infuses her poems with both humor and jarring realism; the way her meditations overflow with the raw countryside around her. The writer Cynthia Ozick suggests that “translation can serve as a lens into the underground life of another culture;” my wish while translating the beautiful poetry of Agi Mishol was to create this lens for readers of English.

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