Poem of the Week / There's Just One Problem With Tel Aviv

Ariel Resnikoff describes 'a city built on stilts burrowed beneath the ruins of dunes.'

Song for TLV

for Charles Reznikoff

By Ariel Resnikoff

What luck it is
to lodge here --
not as Stein suggests
in the "no there
there,” but here!
deep beneath
a city
built on stilts.
Burrowed
beneath the ruins
of dunes
to sing
a supplication
to the new:
"O thunderous
buses
passing, numerous
as the stars
(I pray)
let me cross your motorway.”

From the Chapbook “Between Shades,” forthcoming this spring from The Materialist Press.

***

Ariel Resnikoff is an American poet-translator. His work has appeared most recently in Jacket2, Eleven/Eleven, The Oxonian Review, Matrix Magazine and Scrivener Creative Review. One of his major interests is the translation and study of the work of Yiddish-American Modernist poet Mikhl Licht. He currently lives in Tel Aviv and is the recipient of the 2013/14 Dorot Fellowship in Israel for “outstanding young lay leaders who will create new forms, and reinvigorate existing forms, of Jewish expression.”

The writer Charles Reznikoff, to whom the poem is dedicated, was, writes the poet, “my grandfather's cousin and is an important influence, along with (Louis) Zukofsky and (George) Oppen in my work.”

In “Song for TLV” the “here” versus “there” contrast is marked and quite cheerful, in favor of “here.” The poet, who grew up in Berkeley, California, cites Gertrude Stein’s disparaging remark about her nearby childhood hometown of Oakland, California: “There is no there there.” The speaker crows: “What luck it is to lodge here!” The alliteration of “luck” and “lodge” is just one of the many sound games in “Song to TLV.”

The description of the lodging sounds like the kind of apartment called “parterre” – a word that in Hebrew real estate jargon means few steps down or up from the entry level of a building. The “stilts” are the pillars or columns typical of Tel Aviv architecture since about the 1930s which support the first floor above the entry level and provide shade.

“Built on stilts” is the first in a series of playful rhymes. Haaretz asked Resnikoff if he pronounces “ruins” as one syllable or two – he pronounces it as two, so “ruins” and “dunes” don’t rhyme, but “thunderous” and “numerous” and “pray” and “motorway” do.

Toward the end of the poem, the pointer that something serious is ahead is the word “supplication,” and sure enough there is a reference to the divine promise to Abraham – that his descendants will be "as numerous as the stars in the sky," mentioned three times in the Book of Genesis. In Deuteronomy 28:62, God tells Moses that this promise will be revoked if the Children of Israel misbehave.

Musings:
*In the title, why "TLV" and not "Tel Aviv"? 

David Bachar
Aaren Alpert
Aaren Alpert