Poem of the Week: Crates of Napalm, a Feast for the Soul

Dahlia Ravikovitch mimics machismo: Calm down, man, we’ve got chocolate wafers and won't give in to terror.

Vivian Eden

The Fruit of the Land
a farewell song to the good old days

Dahlia Ravikovitch

You asked if we’ve got enough cannons.
They laughed and said: More than enough
and we’ve got new improved antitank missiles
and bunker busters to penetrate
double-slab reinforced concrete
and we’ve got crates of napalm and crates of explosives,
unlimited quantities, cornucopias,
a feast for the soul, like some finely seasoned delicacy
and above all, that secret weapon,
the one we don’t talk about.
Calm down, man,
the intel officer and the CO
and the border police chief
who’s also a colonel in that hush-hush commando unit
are all primed for the order: Go!
and everything’s shined up like the skin of a snake
and we’ve got chocolate wafers on every base
and grape juice and Tempo soda
and that’s why we won’t give in to terror
we will not fold in the face of violence
we’ll never fold no matter what
‘cause our billy clubs are nice and hard.
God, who has chosen us from all the nations,
comforteth with apples
the fighting arm of the IDF
and the iron boxes and the crates of fresh explosives
and we’ve got cluster bombs too,
though of course that’s off the record.
Serve us bourekas and cake, O woman of the house,
for we were slaves in the land of Egypt
but never again,
and blot out the remembrance of Amalek
if you track him down,
and if you seek him without success
Blessed be the tiny match
that a soldier in some crack unit will suddenly strike
and set off the whole bloody mess.

Translated from Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld —from "Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch" (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2009). Reprinted by permission of the translators.

Dahlia Ravikovitch was born in Ramat Gan on November 27, 1936 and died in Tel Aviv on August 21, 2005. One of the leading poets of her generation, she published 11 books of poetry in her lifetime. Hakibbutz Hameuchad published her “Complete Poems” in 2010.

Moti Kimche

Here, with perfect pitch she, Bloch and Kronfeld capture the macho voice of the defense types we constantly hear in the media rhapsodizing about Israel’s superior firepower. But nowadays they wouldn’t acknowledge they have “more than enough” and would have answered the opening question – " You asked if we’ve got enough cannons" - with a demand for more funds for the military.

The translators point out that in the title, (Hebrew. zimrat ha-arets), “The Fruit of the Land” - zimra means singing; in biblical Hebrew it can also mean “produce, bounty”.

Indeed, bounty dominates the imagery – “unlimited quantities,” “crates” of this, “boxes” of that, “cornucopias,” “a feast” – and the plenty is of equally delectable weaponry and food. The food itself is popular snacks – “not finely seasoned” – and is the province of women, whose role is to cater to men: “Serve us bourekas and cake.” The snake and the “billy clubs,” “nice and hard,” contribute some phallic imagery.

“God” introduces a frantic barrage of intertextuality: “chosen us from all the nations” is familiar from the blessing before a reading from the Torah; “comforteth with apples” is from Song of Songs 2, “We were slaves in Egypt” first appears in Deuteronomy 21 and is familiar from the Passover seder; “never again” is an oft-repeated phrase negating the possibility of another Holocaust and was the motto of Rabbi Meir Kahane and in Deuteronomy 25: we are urged to remember and blot out the name of Amalek, whose tribe attacked the Israelites on their way out of Egypt in Exodus 17. Finally, the “tiny match” from the poem Ashrei Hagafrur by Hannah Szenes sets off “the whole bloody mess.”

* Musing: How do we know the poet does not feel sympathetic towards the speaker she has invented?