With his small poem ‘High Heels’ Amichai hooked my attention. On first reading, it felt at once very contemporary (a statement about our treatment of the environment; our preoccupation with identity) and very dated (the female archetyped by her heels). The poem’s telegraphic quality, and the use of you, invite the readers to search themselves for its meaning. But what happens when the reader turns out to be a woman, years and years later? The poem made me self-conscious about reading myself and my own time – not Amichai, not 1965. I wondered if the internet might tell me what he meant: it didn’t, but it did provide his biography. I made a bridge out of his German Jewish ancestry and my own (my grandmother’s). I discovered an alternative translation of the poem, by Assia Wevill. I thought about who and what was absent from the poem, and what I was at liberty to add. The poem made me reflect on what is lost or added in translation – through language, through time, from writer to reader’s mind. I knew my response-poem would need to highlight the personal context of my own encounter with Amichai’s four lines, as one reading among infinite.
The earth didn’t reply
when you jogged across it
in your ballgown and trainers.
It didn’t hear you coming.
It was all about you:
joint support; style; ability to stride.
You’ve forgotten where you started.
You leave your footprint behind.
(ii) High Heels
When his poem was written, women wore high heels.
They made a tapping sound. I’m old enough
to remember them, but not to remember why.
Here’s my grandmother soaking her throbbing feet
in a washing-up bowl at the end of each long day.
(iii) Yehuda Amichai
All poetry is political. To be in the world
is political. The most translated Hebrew poet
after King David (Hebrew is not his native language).
Jews are a tribe without a costume. From Bavaria
he fled to Palestine. In translation is better
than nothing. Whenever the phone rang
it was some kid asking him What does it mean?
(iv) /‘haɪ/ /‘hi:lz/
I’m teaching him about the silent g
in a corner of the municipal library, out of sight.
Last week he mastered its tight curve, its tail
and now I tell him: we don’t say it. He asks me: Why?
(When I fill out his forms, I strike through Next of Kin;
any day they might refuse him Leave to Remain)
Because English is annoying like that I say. High time
we moved on to the blessing of ee.
(v) עקבים גבוהים
כדור הארץ ענה מספר פעמים: בואו!
כאשר הלכת על זה עם עקבים גבוהים,
חוצה את הכביש עם ברז. היכנס!
זה אומר. אבל לא יכולת לשמוע.
(vi) Vera X
It’s about unrequited love.
It’s about the environment.
It’s about paying attention (or not).
It uses: personification; direct speech.
It’s about refugees. It’s about your grandmother’s feet.
She has crossed through his poem, tapping.
(vii) High Heeled Shoes – translated by Assia Gutmann
(viii) altaj kalkanumoj
She is born in London. Her first language
is English, her second Esperanto, her third –
when she hears German, she crosses the road,
answers on the inside. She dances. She never writes a thing.
(ix) High Heels – translated by Arieh Sachs
The earth answered se vera l times: come in!
When you walked upon it with high heels,
Crossing the road with a tap. Come in!
It said. But you couldn’t hear.