Yehuda Amichai

:

from ‘The Visit of the Queen of Sheba’

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Translated by Abraham Birman
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II. The Ship at Anchor

A ship lying at anchor.
A ship white with languor.
A ship laden with longings,
some pent-up, some thronging.

A ship slippery and narrow,
no libido in its marrow.

Among the masts there perches
one of the Queen’s own kerchiefs,

woven from the gossamer
of birds whom this awesome earth

killed before nightfall –
yet it was rightful

for a white ship to dance
cheek-to-cheek with the quay, and prance

between the prenotions of wave and sand
till morning overtook the land.

IV. The Voyage Through the Red Sea

Fish exhaled through the water,
through the long wait. Skippers
navigated by her yearnings’ map, by
her belly’s rings. Her nipples
accosted her like undercover men.
Her hairs exchanged whispers like conspirators.
In dark corners between sea and dolphin
the counting was quietly begun.
A solitary bird chirped amidst
the constant warbling of her blood. Rules
dropped out of textbooks. Clouds were
ripped to shreds like treaties. At noon
she dreamt about intercourse in the white snow,
about yolk and the pleasures of yellow wax.
The air rushed to enter her lungs. The mariners
babbled in piscatory gobbledygook.

But under the world, under the sea
cantillation reigned supreme:
everyone chanted everyone.

V. King Solomon is Waiting

Never any rain,
never a drop of rain.
Always a nebulous fixture,
always a husky love.

The wild-goose-chasers
were back from the pasture.
In the courts of the world
stone-flowers blossomed,
dedicated to alien gods.
Trembling ladders dreamt
about those who were
dreaming about them.

Yet he saw
the world’s lining
torn slightly open.
Yet he was wakeful
like so many stables
in Meggido.

Never a drop of rain,
never a drop of rain.
Always a husky love.
Always a quarry.

VI. The Queen Enters the Hall

The rose of her blind pudenda
doubled by the mirror-floor. Redundant

was his caution while he rocked
on the throne and judged his flock.

Then he lay back on the couch
and rolled up his life’s map to vouch

that he, a deposed and haunted vagrant,
sensed in the mirror a carnal fragrance

from above and below, as in a card-game.
And his blood began to play a hard game.

And his face changed seasons like a vista
till he reached the end of his twisted

mind. Then he grew just a little
wiser, and knew that her soul fitted

the supple body he was to embrace.
Like violin, like violin-case.

VII. The Duel of Riddles

In the ping-pong of questions and answers
no sound was heard
save PING-PONG,
the counsellors’ cough,
sharp tearing of paper.
He made black billows in his beard
to drown her speech.
She turned her hair into a jungle
that he should stray in it.

Words were set down with a clang
like chessmen.
Tall-masted thoughts
overreached one another.
Empty jigsaws filled out
like stellar vacuities.
Secret hoards were exhumed,
buckles and vows undone.
Ruthless religions
were tickled
and laughed horribly.

Her tongue fell over his
in the final game.
Maps were pinpointed on the table.
Everything was open, poignant,
pitiless.

VIII. The Empty Hall

No word-games
were returned to their boxes.
No box was shut
when the game was over.

Sawdust of quizzes,
nutshells of parables,
woolly stuffing for
delicate riddles.

Coarse burlap for
love and contrivance.
Cast-off conundrums
rustling in the litter.

Long-winded problems
wound on a spool,
miracles thrust into cages,
chess-knights forced back into stalls.

Empty crates
(‘Handle with care‘) –
empty crates
sang hymns and anthems.

The the King’s Guards marched upon her
and she fled, dejected,
like a swarthy snake
in the withered grass.

An indulgent moon circled the towers
as it did on the Eve of Atonement.
Caravans set out unmanned, uncamelled
went voicelessly on and on and on.

 

Reproduced by permission of Hana Amichai.