I can’t get over this beautiful poem by the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, or many, many of his poems.
Amichai died in 2000 but his collected poems have just come out this year, edited by Robert Alter and translated by Alter and many others.
That’s part of what I like about Amichai’s poetry, how though something is lost in translation, of course, something is gained, too, a strangeness and a directness, a wonderful awkwardness almost, as in, too, the English translations of the Polish of Czeslaw Milosz.
I love the way Amichai writes about the shadows of flowers against a wall or the smell of sage or a lovely woman in the midst of all the great conflicts and violence and complicated politics of Israel, acknowledging the large but focusing on the human and small, where we can identify with him, and enter in, and learn to see our own details and facts.
I love the way his lines seem so straightforward, and are, and yet at the same time shift and open up and take us somewhere we didn’t expect and don’t quite understand.
And in this particular poem, I love the idea of it, the idea of what a miracle is.
Just lovely. And profound.
From a distance everything looks like a miracle
but up close even a miracle doesn’t look like that.
Even someone who crossed the Red Sea when it split
saw only the sweating back
of the man in front of him
and the swaying of his big thighs,
or at best, in a hasty glance to one side,
fish in a riot of colors inside the wall of water,
as in a marine observatory behind panels of glass.
The real miracles happen at the next table
of a restaurant in Albuquerque:
two women sat there, one with a diagonal
zipper, altogether lovely,
and the other said, “I kept it together
and didn’t cry.”
And after in the red corridors
of the foreign hotel I saw
boys and girls who held in their arms
tiny children born of them,
and they held
sweet little dolls.
translated by Robert Alter