Poem of the Week |

Rubbish to Revelation: How a Rusty Bicycle Bell Changed a Boy’s Life

'Somewhere in childhood, In a scrapyard at the city’s edge': We can find treasures in the most humble of places.

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Rubbish to revelation: Looking for treasures in a scrapheap.
Rubbish to revelation: Looking for treasures in a scrapheap.Credit: Nir Kafri

Somewhere in childhood

Yssachar Tamuz

Somewhere in childhood
In a scrapyard at the city’s edge
I found a small rusty bicycle bell
I laid it in a cup of kerosene
With patience not my own
With my cobbler father’s
Tools not quite tools
I dismantled all the pieces
I cleaned and I brushed and I oiled a bit
In an act of lovethought I put it together
Part by part
Slowly slowly
I pressed a round handle
Sticking out of the bell
A pivot turned a spring released
As though new cartilage had grown
On an old joint
A tiny clapper on a peg
Struck an iron dome
A first sound was born
Warm pleasant sweet
To the ear of a boy
Who had heard many

From “Soreq: Shirim” (“Sorek: Poems”) Tirosh, 2016, Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Yssachar Tamuz .Credit: Atara Kotliar

Great attention can coax unpromising materials into beauty. In this first-person narration, a cobbler’s son, roaming  a scrapyard at the edges of the city (society), finds not a whole bicycle, which would immediately have given him speed and mobility (the literal sense implies the sociological sense) but only a small, rusty, non-functioning bicycle bell.

For him, the discarded object presents a challenge: how to make it work. He discovers many things along the way and in the end there is an epiphany, a revelation of possibilities opening.

In the first stage the boy brings his find home and utilizes what he already has there. Kerosene, a solvent for cleaning rust, was commonly used for household heating in the Israel of the poet’s childhood. What fuels warmth leads to beauty. The next requirement is not, however, immediately at hand – patience, another discovery for the boy, yet he not only perseveres but also also minutely observes the process he later reports.

The third requirement is improvisation: He used his family’s meager endowment, tools of his father’s trade – not exactly the appropriate implements – to dismantle his find, which he cleans and brushes and oils in just the right amount.

Then comes the turning point, captured in the portmanteau neologism “lovethought” – the experience of passion combined with intelligence that is creativity. Tamuz describes the slow stages of coaxing the salvaged bell to produce what is in essence music. The “new cartilage on an old bone” transforms the inanimate object into a living thing.

 The bell’s “iron dome” is an ironic reference to the present device that intercepts short-range missiles entering Israel. The “first sound” is like a first kiss, warm, pleasant, sweet – and life-changing, an initiation.

Yssachar Tamuz was born in 1946 in Herat, Afghanistan. The now extinct Jewish community there traced its origins back to the Assyrian conquest  in 720 BCE and  the Babylonian exile in 560 B.C.E., Silk Road traders and refugees from forced Islamization in Meshad in nearby Iran in 1839-1840. In 1951 the family immigrated to Israel to a transit camp near Nahariya and in 1956 moved to the economically depressed Shapira neighborhood in south Tel Aviv. In 1976, with his own hands he built a house in Ein Carem on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where he lives with his children and grandchildren in what has developed into an extended family complex.

*Musings: When did you first experience “lovethought?”

*Bonus: A celebration with Herati music

A celebration with Herati music Credit: YouTube