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
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.
There is a moment when the fruit
lets go of the branch.
With it I eat
winter and spring
soil and rain
and the wisdom of birds
who have already begun
and then I wag
my little winter tail
which still follows me around
and gossip about you
with the scarecrow.
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 –
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.
There’s a tree by the name of Bauhinia
and there are places named Cricklewood
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.
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.