Poem of the Week / Stargazing Leads a Father Astray

Eran Viezel finds that our children are not ourselves.

Night walk

Eran Viezel

My son rides on my shoulders. The line of our bodies is one.
His eyes probe the dark with a child’s wonder.
I point thither and yon,
Explain a whole world and the fullness thereof,
All the host of heaven sculling above,
Breaking up into the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia,
Orion’s Belt, its base touching
The hills that close in around us,
Branching left and right in dark spills
Their ends absorbed into fields of fragrant stubble.
His body grows heavier from step to step.
His cheek spreads on my head.
My explanations please him and I hasten back.
I place him gently in his bed.
The moonlight peels darkness from his face,
Revealing a small, frozen smile.
I run a hand through his yellow hair and his body stiffens.
He has known all along:
Star by star to itself,
Hill by hill and its strange silhouette.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Sometimes our children seem to know things we have forgotten, and these are among the moments when they are most captivating and humbling.

The title sets the scene, indicating what and when. Two short sentences in the first line name the players and tell us how they look from the outside: The father and the son appear to be a single unit –“one line.” The second line gives the father’s view of the child’s approach to the night – probing wonder, and the next lines show the father’s own approach – explanations.

From line 3 to the middle of line 7 he gives an astronomy lesson, seemingly organizing the child’s perception of the starry night by breaking it down into the constellations.

The language of these lines reveals some of Viezel’s biography: A lifelong kibbutznik familiar with fields and stubble, he holds a Hebrew University doctorate in Bible studies, about which he lectures at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and has published scholarly works; his matter-of-fact use of phrases like “a whole world and the fullness thereof” from Psalm 52:12 and “heavenly hosts” in the context of the prohibition on worshipping celestial bodies in Deuteronomy 4:19 (and elsewhere) seems completely comfortable.

The child lays his cheek on the father’s head; the latter interprets this both as contentment with the explanations and as drowsiness and returns home to put his son to bed. But the child surprises him – he stiffens under the father’s tender caress, giving away that he is awake and that the learned explanations may have lulled him but he is fully aware of everything – and knows that every piece of the universe has its own singular identity, just like the child himself.

The father and the child may appear as one line as one as they walk in the night – but in reality they are two individuals, body by body, mind by mind. Sometimes the most intimate moments are when two people are most apart.

This poem appeared in Viezel’s debut book Halakhnu harhek ‘ad heyna (“We Have Come Thus Far,” Kvar Series, Mossad Bialik 2012) and was reprinted in the recently issued series anthology Zeh Mikvar (“Kvar, So Far”), a compilation of poems from the 20 books (full disclosure – including one by the author of this column) published by the series since its inception in 2005.

*Musing: Have you experienced such a moment?

*Bonus: Listen to Viezel read the poem.