Not Even Moonglasses
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Sunglasses the size
Of the whole face
Sunglasses the size
Of the whole body
Moonglasses the size
Of this whole night
Still the pupil will be smitten
Still the lens will open wide
Still the blast of light will
The vulnerable body, still overexposed,
Will blink in panic
Unable to close
Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden. This poem was first published in Hebrew in the Culture and Literature section of Haaretz on April 6, 2012.
Raquel Chalfi was born in Tel Aviv into a family of writers and lives in the city today. Her first volume of poetry came out in 1975. Since then, she has published 14 volumes of poetry and one book of stories. She has also written plays and directed independent films that have won awards both in Israel and abroad. For more of Chalfi’s poetry click here.
This coming Sunday, June 23, 2013, there will be what is commonly known as a supermoon – scientifically known as a perigee moon: In the moon’s elliptical orbit around the earth, the point at which it passes closest to earth is called the perigee, and at that point the full moon looks extraordinarily large to observers on earth.
In European culture, folklore has it that madness is closely associated with the full moon – as the word “lunacy” implies – though the science is still out on whether this is fact or folklore. It is probably to the perigee moon that Shakespeare refers in “Othello,” Act V, scene 2, when Othello says to Emilia:
It is the very error of the moon;
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont,
And makes men mad.
The crescent moon is of paramount importance in the Hebrew (and Islamic) lunar calendar, because each new month begins on the night of a new moon. There is a fair amount of drama, uncertainty and tension – as well as learned calculation – surrounding its appearance.
There is a tradition that Rosh Chodesh – the day of the new moon – is a monthly holiday for women on which they are not required to work; this is a reward for having refused to surrender their trinkets to men in exchange for the golden calf. This, in case you have been wondering, is why the Women of the Wall gather for prayer and dancing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem at the beginning of every Hebrew month. It’s not only Reform and Conservative women who have adopted Rosh Chodesh as particularly their own – so have women in Chabad and other communities.
Anxiety about not being able to read in the dim light of a crescent moon gave birth to the invention of especially large Hebrew type for the blessings read upon its appearance – Otiyot kiddush levana.
The full moon, however, is devoid of anxiety-producing associations in Hebrew culture and shines for both men and women over most of the happier Jewish holidays – Sukkot, Tu B’shvat, Purim, Passover, Tu B'Av. This perhaps is yet another small way in which Jewish tradition is deeply at odds with European tradition and the locus of yet another cultural conflict within the Israeli soul.
In any case, the very bright moon – a metaphor for too much illumination of darkness – is definitely not friendly in Chalfi’s structurally sophisticated poem. In the first stanza the poet seems to be heading toward something amusing with the use of hyperbole and with the imaginative leap from something that exists in the world – sunglasses – to something that does not exist – moonglasses.
The break between the stanzas leaves the reader anticipating possible entertainment, and in many of her poems Chalfi is indeed very funny, as in “The Water Queen of Jerusalem.” However, in “Not Even Moonglasses,” the potential fun is swiftly shot down: Even imagination cannot shut out mental or physical pain and keep out the glare of too much clarity of tremendously powerful experience and the overexposure that blots out everything.
In another poem – which Chalfi reads in Hebrew here – there is also a reference to very large sunglasses:
I defect incognito
in sunglasses the size
of my body
under one coconut tree
so as not to reveal
my hidden self
*There’s an old poetry game in which one person suggests a line or a stanza and the next person suggests a second line or stanza. Imagine a second stanza that would take Chalfi’s poem in an entirely different direction.