The Arty Semite

Invitation to Protest: Poetic Summon From Anat Levin

By Jake Marmer

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Maya Behar

The recent protest movement in Israel is something of a mystery not only to us, across the ocean, but even to many Israelis. Today The Arty Semite is featuring a glimpse into the heart of this phenomenon through a poem-invitation, composed by a promising young Israeli poet, Anat Levin.

One can endlessly argue about the merits of art imbued with political purposes, and the danger of it edging into propaganda. But, with Anat’s “Reasons,” such reservations simply fall by the wayside. The work is, in a way, anti-political. Instead it is strictly social, heart-breaking, beseeching — as perhaps the movement is itself. What is most fascinating about piece is how it gradually moves and develops, its stark realism becoming increasingly — and intensely — more poetic with each line, culminating in a penultimate stanza which is not only lyrical, but also wonderfully personal, evoking the poet’s own presence.

In addition to the translation by Shoshana London-Sappir, we’re also including the original in Hebrew. And for contrast’s sake, we have one of Anat’s older poems, which she composed in English as an undergraduate at Hunter College in New York City.

Anat Levin has published poems in prominent literary magazines and daily newspapers in Israel. Her debut collection, “Revolving Anna,” was published in 2008, and won the 2008 Ministry of Culture award for poetry. Levin has also been awarded the 2002 Ministry of Culture award for emerging poets and the 2006 Poetry in the Streets Prize from the city of Tel Aviv. She is a graduate of the film and television department at Hunter College in New York and currently works as a commercial writer for a large law firm in Israel. Her second collection of poetry is forthcoming in 2012. She resides in Givataim, with her husband, the poet Adi Assis.

The Reasons or: Invitation to the demonstration

Because Lily, who cleans offices, had her rent raised this week from 2400 to 2800 shekels. She gets 1444 shekels from the National Insurance Institute. Now she has to look for a new flat and doesn’t have a computer. She can’t search online. And she is sixty one;

Because Sigal from the Middle Eastern restaurant is a single mom, lives in a small room at her relatives’ in the Hatikva neighborhood with no hope;

Because Maya has two little girls, a medium apartment, a full-time job, a big overdraft;

Because Lior has two master’s degrees and no job;

Because Alina from the cheese department’s feet hurt from standing up for ten-hour shifts at the supermarket;

Because Yudit takes a bus and a bus and a bus to work (she sits in the back with a book or, when exhausted, looks at the view);

Because Hagit has no air conditioning and it’s summer;

Because Dana has been working since she was sixteen (a waitress) and she is thirty eight (a secretary) and still pays rent;

Because Natasha is a gifted photographer but has no pension;

Because S. cannot afford to buy the journal that published her poems;

Because they canceled bus line 53;

Because Rami’s sister has a daughter and twins and cannot afford diapers;

Because Yoav is studying philosophy and everybody tells him he’s wasting his time;

Because Liran is not coming back from Japan because when you’re 40 you can’t find a job;

Because Jonathan lives in a tiny place with a resident cockroach and a tribe of ants. Some days he gets a special house visit from a swarm of mosquitoes or a little gray mouse;

Because you can’t live in a poem;

Because Israel is a rare poet but doesn’t even have a single wall to pass on to his children;

Because Gilad Shalit was abandoned just like your loved ones, your sons and your daughters, would most likely be abandoned too;

Because I do know all of these people. They are real people;

Because I got up early in the morning to write this down before the day rushes in. The light on the balcony is still dim, climbing up the houses’ legs because it must. Everybody is surely still sleeping in their walnut beds, tangled in the webs of their dreams, but in my mind they are awake and coming, approaching, gathering; as much as we can be, we are together; soon it will be morning;

Because of them. Thanks to them. For us. For you.

September 3rd, 2011 — The ‘One Million’ demonstration


בגלל שללילי שמנקה משרדים העלו השבוע את שכר הדירה בבת-ים מאלפיים ארבע מאות לאלפיים שמונה מאות, והיא מקבלת מביטוח לאומי אלף ארבע מאות ארבעים וארבע. היא צריכה לחפש דירה חדשה ואין לה מחשב. היא בת שישים ואחת. גם אין לה יד שתיים;

בגלל שסיגל מהמסעדה המזרחית היא אם חד-הורית, גרה בתקווה בלי תקווה בחדר קטן אצל בני משפחה;

בגלל שלמיה יש שתי בנות קטנות, דירה בינונית, משרה מלאה, מינוס גדול;

בגלל שלליאור יש שני תארים שניים ואין לה עבודה;

בגלל שלאלינה ממחלקת הגבינות הרגליים כואבות מעמידה רצופה של עשר שעות בשופרסל;

בגלל שיודית נוסעת לעבודה באוטובוס הלוך והלוך והלוך (היא יושבת מאחור עם ספר או עם נוף) וחזור;

כי לחגית אין מזגן וזה קיץ;

בגלל שדנה עובדת מגיל שש-עשרה (מלצרוּת) והיא בת שלושים ושמונה (מזכירוּת) ועדיין משלמת שכירות;

בגלל שנטשה צלמת מחוננת אבל אין לה פנסיה;

כי לס’ אין כסף לקנות את החוברת בה התפרסמו שיריה;

כי ביטלו את קו 53;

בגלל שלאחות של רמי יש ילדה ותאומים והיא מתקשה לקנות חיתולים;

בגלל ששוקי עדיין גר עם ההורים;

בגלל שיואב לומד פילוסופיה וכולם אומרים לו שהוא מבזבז ת’זמן;

בגלל שלירן לא יחזור מיפן כי בגיל ארבעים אי אפשר למצוא משרה;

בגלל שיונתן גר בדירה זעירה עם שבט נמלים ותיקן תורן. לפעמים מבקרת עדת יתושים או עכבר אפור קטן;

בגלל שישראל משורר נדיר אבל אין לו אפילו קיר להוריש לילדים;

כי אי אפשר לגור בבית של שיר;

כי בפנים של דפנה, של אסתי, של שני, של אחרות ואחרים, נטרקים השערים המוזהבים של השוק החופשי;

בגלל שגלעד שליט ננטש, כפי, שככל הנראה, וסביר להניח, גם אהוביכם, בניכם, בנותיכם היו ננטשים;

בגלל שאני מכירה את כל האנשים הללו. הם אנשים אמיתיים;

בגלל שקמתי לפנות בוקר להספיק לכתוב את זה לפני שמסתער היום. האור במרפסת עודו חלש, מטפס כי מוכרח על רגלי הבתים. כל האנשים וודאי ישנים עכשיו במיטות האגוז שלהם, סבוכים בקורי החלומות, אבל בראשי הם ערים ובאות, מתקרבות ומתקבצים; ככל שניתן להיות, אנחנו יחד; עוד מעט יעלה כאן בוקר;

בגללם. בזכותם. עבורנו. בשבילכם.

I Am Always Ready

everything I really need
will fit into the smallest bag:
tooth brush, hair brush, passport,
pair of underpants, pen;
one black and white photograph
(a small baby seated, tightly bundled,
all by itself, on the grass
in front of a house in Russia, nineteen fifty-five;
your cries faded away like the crumbled photo paper);
the letter I wrote you but never sent,

I just need your hand
and I’m ready to go.

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