'You have taken leave of your world'
Personal recollections of poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, who died five years ago this month.
Seven years ago - on an isolated hill in the Galilee, without an access road and without electricity, but with a view of the sea and spectacular spring flowers - our world collapsed. My partner fell ill; The physical work he did outside in nature stopped. It occurred to me that perhaps life in the city, with the lights at night and people during the day, was not such a bad idea. We rented an apartment in Tel Aviv. In order to be close to nature, nevertheless, I made sure it would be near the sea. Thus I became the neighbor of poet Dahlia Ravikovitch. We had been acquainted previously, but now an extraordinary friendship developed between us, which lasted a year.
I don't know what past years had been like for her, but this was a difficult one, a year during which she wanted to die the whole time, while I - and several other friends who were there before me, like poet Israel Pincas and his wife Ahuva - tried to prevent that.
My first visit to her home was on her birthday. The celebration was organized by a friend of hers, attorney Benny Don-Yihye, and it was no easy feat: Dahlia, of course, did not want a celebration. Once she was convinced that only a few friends would be coming, she claimed she wouldn't look good, because she hadn't been to the hairdresser and was also unable to make herself up. Benny arranged for her to have her hair and makeup done, and that evening we were greeted by a smiling and beautiful Dahlia. We brought small gifts, we read poems. Yael Dayan popped in for a minute. The Filipina caregiver served refreshments; Dahlia also made sure we took some of this and some of that. When everyone left I persuaded her to join me on a nighttime stroll along the beach promenade.
"It's so good to go out," she said. We wandered until very late: At 2 A.M., we were still sitting by the memorial at the site of the terror attack near the Dolphinarium, and talking to the Russian man who looked after the place. Then we went to sit on a bench closer to home and gazed out at the sea. When a plane roared through the sky on its way to Ben-Gurion airport, Dahlia said: "Someone, poor thing, is coming back to Israel."
The nocturnal walks along the promenade became a tradition. Sometimes I had to persuade her that even if she didn't feel like walking, "It's good to stretch the legs a bit." Her legs hurt her, but we still went out.
Much of that leg-stretching happened on days when she called and asked me to come over because she couldn't stand the loneliness any more. "People are avoiding me like AIDS!" she would say, referring mainly to poet Natan Zach and artist Yigal Tumarkin, whose society she sought, but who didn't come.
Other times, I invited her to our place. She liked the company of my partner, Aharon. They had a common topic of conversation: depression and suicide attempts. She also liked his paintings. I would leave them to their own devices on the balcony and go inside to prepare a meal.
Once, on a walk after dinner, she said to me: "You're lucky in your marriage - he is both gentle and interesting. You should do everything together."
I told her Aharon was afraid of dependence.
She said: "That isn't dependence, it's closeness."
This was a rare moment of beauty and generosity. Maybe because Dahlia loved love. She always said there is no importance in being an important poet; what is important is a man's love - and she didn't have that. Above everything, she craved love and adored motherhood. Someone once asked her if she was worried because, for example, another woman poet was beginning to become prominent in the world of Hebrew poetry. Dahlia replied she wasn't worried at all: "If they were to say of her that she's a better mother than I am, I would be worried."
I have a diary entry describing one of those evenings together. Here it is, just as it was written:
September 17, 2003: Dahlia came over yesterday for dinner and to read poems. She wanted Yona Wallach's "Avraham," but didn't find it, so she brought Natan Zach's "Farewell Poem: He Is a soldier." I read it out loud, at her request, and she said Zach is a genius but doesn't believe in love, that it makes him sad. She didn't want any more poems after that. I read her some of Richard Hague's poems and she wasn't enthusiastic. But she was enthusiastic about pictures of Aharon's paintings that he showed her in photographs from files. She especially liked the figurative [works] from the beginning. She doesn't like a lot of poets: Esther Raab, "Maybe because it's about landscapes"; Yocheved Bat-Miriam, no; Rachel [Bluwstein], very much yes. She said she likes simple poetry ... She doesn't like Romantic poets, not Wordsworth and not Coleridge, but prefers Classicists: Blake and the Metaphysicals.
Yesterday she hesitated greatly about coming to an evening about Yona Wallach. Because there's a point in honoring a living poet, but a dead poet? I persuaded her to come. She said she has nothing to wear. I said what she was wearing is pretty and she indeed came to the evening in the clothes she wore to our place yesterday. She doesn't go into the water at the beach because she doesn't want to wear a bathing suit, and so that the hairdo she has done once a week at the beauty parlor will not get ruined ...
She says love is to want someone else's good more than your own. I asked her if it is like that with her son Ido and she said, "I hope so." She lets every poem rest for two years. It is rare that she releases a new poem for publication. Now she has given Haaretz a new poem, "It Has Almost Lapsed."
Every time we spoke about poetry, she said that its wavelength is dangerous, and that is why she was writing stories; they are different. And when suddenly a poem came to her in the middle of writing stories, she was not happy, but rather the opposite. She was sad that "material like that" had come to her, that the poem "forced her to say such things." When I persisted: "What things?" She said: "That I want to die."
She wasn't afraid the critics would compare the quality of her stories to that of her poems, but just hoped they would bring in some money. On the subject of money, she had very amusing things to say. One day she complained that not only did the Filipina not invest enough in cleaning the house, she also wrote poems while on the job and then asked Dahlia for her opinion of them. As though it was necessary to pay for housework and a literary opinion could be had for free.
I once directed the conversation to her well-known poem and a favorite of mine, "Delight." What she told me about the circumstances of its writing made me very happy, as though confirming my perception that the source of joy and inspiration was nature - even for a great poet like Dahlia Ravikovitch, who did not love nature.
When I would tell her about swimming in Lake Kinneret and so on, she would say: "The problem with you is you love nature." Nevertheless, one evening as we were sitting together again, as was our custom, on the bench on the promenade, and when again she said as a plane came in, "Someone, poor thing, is coming back to this country," she added that she was glad Tel Aviv was more lit up than New York and said this was pleasant: "Look how much light there is in the restaurants on the beach!" When she caught herself, she laughed and said: "In the end you will make me love this country."
"Delight" is a poem of orgiastic, sensual joy. Most readers believe it is a love song. It is indeed a love song, though not to a man but rather to a certain spot on the banks of the Yarkon, Seven Mills. It was written in memory of an unforgettable hike with her father to the place she always wanted to go back and see. I told her I also had a similar experience: a hike with my father to Seven Mills. I promised to make inquiries and organize a trip for us there one Saturday.
We never made it to Seven Mills. I left Tel Aviv and Dahlia left this world. I couldn't even make it to her funeral, but I could not help but be with her in my mind all that day. And thus, as I sat under a eucalyptus tree, not on the bank of the Yarkon, but on the shore of Lake Kinneret, looking at the fiery bloom of a nearby poinciana, I wrote this for her:
Each time the heart is pinched
by fingers of truly "maddening" blooms
I go to your poem about your dying
unhesitatingly laying her finger on the main thing
"Enough! Tomorrow the wonderful Galilee flowers
will be flowering without me!"
This is how she took leave of her daughter
and left her world and not to a "better" one
and thus you have taken leave
of your world, your auditorium and Ido's small room
where your years passed
with no one
in an eternal youth bed
faded to the color of a desert,
you who said you didn't like flowers
only wooden flowers that have no wilting
like a word in a poem in your red book
as distinct from or confronting Rachel's white book - you
with the ship about to sink,
she with her already
drooping palm tree.
You loved her
and this swaddled a baby in me, a girl
they didn't want
who is becoming beautiful now.
You loved her
with the same delight
you hiked with your father
to Seven Mills ... and the Yarkon overflowed its bank!