One day I walked into a bookshop, asked for the poetry section and pulled out a book because I liked the colour of it or its title, Open Closed Open. I don’t remember. On the back cover was a sentence by Octavio Paz, one of my favourite poets, which said “Once one has read (Amichai’s) poems, one can never forget them – there can be so much life and truth in sixteen lines.”
That would have convinced me in itself. But then I opened the book and I read this, the first section of a longer poem called “I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What is My Life Span? Open Closed Open” :
My life is the gardener of my body. The brain – a hothouse closed tight
with its flowers and plants, alien and odd
in their sensitivity, their terror of becoming extinct.
The face – a formal French garden of symmetrical contours
and circular paths of marble with statues and places to rest,
places to touch and smell, to look out from, to lose yourself
in a green maze, and Keep Off and Don’t Pick the Flowers.
The upper body above the navel – an English park
pretending to be free, no angles, no paving stones, naturelike,
humanlike, in our image, after our likeness,
its arms linking up with the big night all around.
And my lower body, beneath the navel – sometimes a nature preserve,
wild, frightening, amazing, an unpreserved preserve,
and sometimes a Japanese garden, concentrated, full of
forethought. And the penis and testes are smooth
polished stones with dark vegetation between them,
precise paths fraught with meaning
and calm reflection. And the teachings of my father
and the commandments of my mother
are birds of chirp and song. And the woman I love
is seasons and changing weather, and the children at play
are my children. And the life my life.
If you are interested in learning more about Yehuda Amichai’s poetry, here is an excellent article.
(Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai, Harvest Books, translated from the Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld).