Poem of the Week / How to Count to 5774

This Rosh Hashanah, Israeli poet Nurit Zarchi suggests a different way of looking at the passage of time.

Daniel Tchetchik

Calendar

Nurit Zarchi


Piling up its seconds, moments, months,

life hides our losses from us.

The miniature palm in the courtyard,

Lisa Katz
Tineke de Lange

without my help, reached the window,

victorious green flag.


But at the same time that a sick person folds

back into his fate, also the injured are sorry.

These have their own time, not made of moments or days

but of one clear stretch like a night in a town at the pole.


The method for counting changes, not measured by a clock or a calendar,

but the number of telephone conversations, invitations to coffee,

words from across the sea or that you forgot for a moment.


How did I arrive on this smooth and constant track

like that bearing luggage at the airport.

Simply by not being careful

I gave my life to the moments, to the days, to the years.

Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz. Published in Hebrew in "The Soul is Africa," page 34 (Hanefesh heAfrika, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2005).

***

These are the days of posting up new calendars for the Hebrew New Year. Here Nurit Zarchi, an Israeli poet born in Jerusalem in 1941, suggests another way of looking at the passage of time, rather than by days, weeks and months.

The protagonist of this poem is “life,” which not only “hides our losses from us” but also accomplishes things without our intervention. In the second stanza, the speaker contemplates the “sick” and the “injured” (not only in the physical sense), for whom time seems like a long continuum not broken up into discrete units. This notion is expanded in the third stanza: Here we do not have constant units like hours, days or months, but rather a growing number of non-identical events – “the number of telephone conversations, invitations to coffee, / words from across the sea or that you forgot for a moment.” It is a counting rather than a measuring.

In the final stanza, the speaker places herself firmly on this unbroken continuum, comparing it to a baggage conveyor belt, and wonders how she got there. Her answer: “Simply by not being careful / I gave my life to the moments, to the days, to the years.” In other words, by living in the present.

Zarchi has written novels, short stories, books of poetry, an essay collection, an autobiography and over 100 books for children. She is the recipient of many literary awards.

The translator of this poem, Lisa Katz, is an American-Israeli poet and translator who has lived in Jerusalem for 30 years. Her translations of Hannan Hever's "Suddenly the Sight of War: Hebrew Poetry and Nationalism in the 1940s" and "Late Beauty: Poems of Tuvia Ruebner" are forthcoming in the U.S. in 2014.

“It's always a bit of a gamble to translate Nurit Zarchi," Katz tells Haaretz. "She is incredibly prolific, an indefatigable re-writer and also a person who often tosses what's left into a trashcan."

See more of Zarchi’s poetry translated by Katz here.

Musings

*The “miniature palm in the courtyard” in “Calendar” seems to suggest that Zarchi’s poem is in conversation with “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Stevens. How so?