Earth for Me is Sky: Poems by Agi Mishol

Earth for Me is Sky: Poems by Agi Mishol

Joanna Chen

                                                         (Translated from the Hebrew)

                                                  מוטב

,מוּטָב עַכְשָׁו לִהְיוֹת חַמָּנִית

לְפַתֵּל אֶת הַצַוָּאר

לְכִוּוּן הָאוֹר

וְאַחֲרֵי הַפְּרִיחָה

לֹא לָסֹב שׁוּב לְאָחוֹר

.אֶל הַשְּׁקִיעוֹת


מוּטָב לְהַרְבּוֹת צָהֹב

שֶׁיַּעֲמִיק אֶת כְּחוֹל הַלָּזוּלִי

,שֶׁל הָרָקִיעַ

וּבִמְקוֹם לָרִיב עִם עֵץ

מוּטָב כָּמוֹהוּ

לְהַעֲמִיק שָׁרָשִׁים


כִּי גַּם בְּלִי וֶרְטִיגוֹ

.אֲדָמָה אֶצְלִי הִיא שָׁמַיִם



Better


It is better now to be a sunflower
to twist my neck
toward the light,
and after blossoming
not to look back
at the sunset.
It is better to bolster the yellow
that deepens the lazuli blue
of heavens
and instead of arguing with a tree
it is better to be like her
to deepen roots
because irrespective of vertigo
earth for me is sky.


                                                 אפריל

יֵשׁ רֶגַע בּוֹ מַרְפֶּה

.הַפְּרִי מֵהֶעָנָף

אֲנִי אוֹכֶלֶת אִתּוֹ

,אֶת הַחֹרֶף וְהָאָבִיב

,אֶת הָאֲדָמָה וְהַגֶּשֶׁם

אֶת פְּגִיעוֹת הַבָּרָד

וְאֶת חָכְמַת הַצִּפּוֹר

שֶׁכְּבָר הִתְחִילָה

,לְנַקֵּר

וְאָז מְכַשְׁכֶּשֶׁת קְצָת

בִּזְנַב הַחֹרֶף הַקָּטָן

שֶׁעוֹד נִגְרָר אַחֲרַי

וּמְרָכֶלֶת עָלֶיךָ

.עִם הַדַּחְלִיל



April


There is a moment when the fruit
lets go of the branch.
With it I eat
winter and spring
soil and rain
hail damage
and the wisdom of birds
who have already begun
their pecking,
and then I wag
my little winter tail
which still follows me around
and gossip about you
with the scarecrow.



                                                  יום כה טוב

מִישֶׁהוּ מָצָא אֶת טַוַּס זְהָבוֹ

מִישֶׁהוּ הֶעֱבִיר נוֹצָה עַל לְחִי אֲהוּבָתוֹ

מִישֶׁהוּ יָצָא מֵעֵץ הָרִמּוֹן כְּמוֹ עָנָף

וְרָקַד בָּרוּחַ

מִישֶׁהִי הֵנִיעָה אֶת אַגַּן הַתְּשׁוּקָה

שֶׁל מָתְנֶיהָ

וַאֲנִי מַה יָּפוּ

בִּמְעוֹפִי

- נוֹצוֹתַי

Perfect Day


Someone found his golden peacock
someone passed a feather over his lover’s cheek
someone emerged from a pomegranate tree
like a branch
and danced in the wind
someone swung her hips
moved the pelvis of passion
and I what beauty
in my flight
my feathers –



                                                  ריקוד חיזור

עוֹד לֹא פָּצַחְנוּ בְּרִקּוּד הַחִזּוּר

,הַפְּסִיכוֹטִי

לֹא פָּרַשְׂנוּ זָנָב כְּקַלְפָן

הַמַּסְתִּיר רַק אָסִים

,וְלֹא רָקַעְנוּ פְלָמֶנְקוֹ בָּרַגְלַיִם

.מְטַלְטְלִים אֶת הַגּוּף


פֹּה וָשָׁם הֵרַמְנוּ כָּנָף

,כְּאִלּוּ הָיְתָה גְּלִימָה שֶׁל קוֹסֵם

,מְנַפְּחִים אֶת הֶחָזֶה

אֲבָל עוֹד לֹא הִשְׁמַעְנוּ אֶת הַפְּלֵילִיסְטִים

זֶה לָזֶה

,וְלֹא רָטַטְנוּ כְּמוֹ שָׁעוֹן מְעוֹרֵר וּמַבְהִיל

מְכַוְּצִים וּמַרְחִיבִים אִישׁוֹנִים

כְּדֶרֶךְ הַסֻּכִּיִּים

הַמִּזְדַּוְּגִים רַק לִשְׁנִיָּה שֶׁאַחֲרֶיהָ

.לֹא יִפָּגְשׁוּ שׁוּב לְעוֹלָם


בֵּינְתַיִם רַק נְשָׁמָה

,מִתְעַלֶּסֶת עִם נְשָׁמָה

,בֵּינְתַיִם רַק מְקוֹשְׁשִׁים זִרְדֵי כְּחֻלִּים

,נוֹצוֹת, שִׁבְרֵי זְכוּכִית, קוּרֵי עַכָּבִישׁ

- צִיצִיּוֹת שֶׁל זֵרְעוֹנִים

.סַנְוֵרִים

Mating Dance


We have yet to begin the mating dance
the psychotic one,
to spread our tails like cardplayers
hiding the aces
and feet-stomp the flamenco,
shaking our bodies.
Here and there we lift a wing
as if it were the cloak of a magician
puffing out our chests,
but we have yet to share playlists
with each other
or to tremble like an urgent alarm clock
contracting and dilating our pupils
the way of bowerbirds
who copulate for just a second and
never meet again.
Meanwhile a soul
simply makes love to a soul,
meanwhile we gather blue ✓✓ twigs,
feathers, glass shards, cobwebs,
wisps of hay – dazzling array.


                                                  מרחקים

יֵשׁ עֵץ שֶׁשְּׁמוֹ בּוֹהִינִיָּה

וְיֵשׁ מְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁשְּׁמָם קְרִיקְלְווּד

,אוֹ קוֹנֶטִיקֶט

,בָּהֶם מִישֶׁהוּ רָץ כָּעֵת

,מַהְבִּיל בְּצִנַּת הַבֹּקֶר

וּמִישֶׁהִי מִתְהַפֶּכֶת לַצַּד הַשֵּׁנִי

.שֶׁל חֲלוֹמָהּ

,אֲנִי נוֹטָה לַמִּזְרָח

,סוֹף מַעֲרָב רָחוֹק לִי

כְּנָפַי אֵינָן עוֹד כַּנְפֵי מָעוֹף

וְגַם אִם אֵצֵא, יִקְפֹּץ וַדַּאי

הַתַּמְרוּר הַזֶּה

"שׁוּל צַר"

שֶׁבִּגְלָלוֹ מוֹשְׁכִים תָּמִיד אֶת הַהֶגֶה חֲזָרָה

,לְאָמֶרִיקַן קוֹמְפוֹרְט

שֶׁשָּׁם הַלֵּב הוּא לֹא מַשֶּׁהוּ

.וְאֵין אִסְפְּלָנִית לַצַּעַר



Distances


There’s a tree by the name of Bauhinia
and there are places named Cricklewood
or Connecticut,
where someone is out running now,
steamy in the morning chill,
and someone else rolls over
to the other side of her dream.
I incline to the east,
the end of the west is far for me,
my wings are no longer wings of flight
and if I do venture out,
most certainly the sign
“Road Narrows” will pop up,
the one that makes you swing the steering wheel
back to where you came from
where the heart is nothing much
and there is no band-aid for sorrow.



Earth for Me is Sky

Reading Agi Mishol’s poetry is like going for a walk on a well-trodden path and finding something new and surprising under the surface. Her emotional being is fortified by the ground, the soil and the earth upon which she treads. “Instead of arguing with a tree”, she says, “it is better to be like her / and deepen roots”. At the same time, earth is sky for Agi Mishol, as if she is looking at the world through a prism, effortlessly rising above it all, both lingering within the moment and traveling with velocity to an inner world rich with fervor and desire. It’s the machinations of the mind that allow for this, but don’t be lulled into thinking that these are mere figments of the imagination: this inner world is as real as the pomegranates that grow in the orchards behind Agi Mishol’s home, as vibrant as the raven that struts across the road and as luminous as the lazuli blue of the skies traced with yellow that stretches above us.

Perhaps this is what continues to attract me to Agi Mishol’s poetry, her ability to whisk the reader away, to open the reader’s eyes with nuanced words and sweeping stanzas. Her poetry is both earthy and ethereal, paying precise attention to the miniscule shifts of nature, “the moment the fruit lets go of the branch,” as she writes in 'April', or the way a bird lifts a wing “as if it were the cloak of a magician” in 'Mating Dance'. The world she inhabits is not always an easy one, but it is rewarding and sustaining.

I first came across Agi Mishol’s poetry in a slim volume entitled Wax Flowers, about the death of her parents. One day, I came across it on a bookshelf in my house. I took the book down and began reading, wondering why I’d never noticed it before. At the time, my own mother was dying, and I clung to that book, carrying it around in my bag for weeks, reading the poems so often I could recite them by heart. I began translating them in my head, and eventually wrote her, out of the blue, to thank her for accompanying me through that difficult time in my life. We emailed for a while, and then she invited me to her home in central Israel. I asked her if she would mind reading to me a little from her books, and she agreed immediately. There’s no substitute, in my opinion, for hearing a poem in the original voice of the person who wrote it. It’s something about the breath, the pause between stanzas, the white space that fills the air and surrounds the poem.

Translating her poetry is a challenge. I’m continuously listening for the voice, the whispered phrases, the stanzas bursting with laughter, the hesitant, reticent tones uttered in Hebrew. “And I / what beauty in my flight / my feathers”, she exclaims in 'Perfect Day', a line that continues to resonate for me, weeks after reading it for the first time. There is a sense of belief here, and a sense of wonderment in life, delicate as a feather, yet able to lift skyward. When translating, I will always want to preserve an echo of this, the delicate throatiness, the gravel and the silk of the source language so that others may enjoy it.


Joanna Chen

Joanna Chen is a writer and literary translator whose work has been published in Guernica, Narratively, Mantis and Asymptote, among other journals. A former journalist, her reportage has appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Marie Claire and other publications. Her full-length literary translations include Less Like a Dove (Shearsman Books), Frayed Light (Wesleyan Poetry Series -finalist in the Jewish National Book Awards-), My Wild Garden: Notes from a Gardener’s Eden (Penguin Random House), and But first i call your name, which is forthcoming in 2021 (Shearsman Books). She teaches literary translation at the Helicon School of Poetry and writes for The Los Angeles Review of Books. To read more, please visit joannachen.com.

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