Desertion — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

     illustration by Avi Katz

     illustration by Avi Katz

The picture I see each morning when I turn on my computer is of my younger son, Niot, in a graveyard. His hands are on his hips, his head is cocked, his eyes look straight at me, and his lips are pressed into a half-smile that says, “What, you again?” He’s wearing a gray coat, striped on the shoulders with the straps of a red backpack. Under the coat is a blue Adidas sweatshirt and on his head is an indescribable hat, which perhaps has something to do with a defunct Polish yeshiva. The cemetery is in Poland, and the photograph was taken during his high school class trip to the concentration camps. Now he’s in another cemetery.

I didn’t miss him then. It was a time when I never missed any of my children. That is, I missed them in the sense that I enjoyed when they were home and wondered how they were doing when they were not, but I never felt that they were out of reach, that I desperately needed to talk to or touch them; I never feared that they would not come back. No longer, because Niot went away and didn’t.

When a child dies, he becomes incessantly present. Niot is always in my thoughts, all the time, and not in the back as he was when he was off at school or in the army. He’s always looking at me and asking, “What, you again?”

He’s close up in my mind, and right there on my computer screen, but so distant. As of the Shabbat in the middle of Pesach it’s three years now, and he grips my heart but recedes; I hold him tight but he is ever more distant.

Niot connected with friends and basketballs, not with poetry, but I often think of poetry when I think of him. Right now it’s a poem by one of my favorite living American poets, Sharon Dolin, and it’s called “The Problem of Desertion.” That’s the title, but it’s also the first line, because after it the poem goes like this:

occurs when time feels like space
and the dead are stuck
on shore

As if time were something you have to push your way through. But am I not the one on shore, the one who stayed behind when Niot went off to Poland, when he went off to Golani, when he went off to Eilat and down into the Red Sea and never came back?

Read moreDesertion — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Sharon Dolin and the Music of Nature

Haim Watzman

One of my favorite poets, Sharon Dolin, has four poems up at Nextbook. The first, “Let Me Thrum (6 a.m.)” is a wonderful fresh and new version of “Nishmat Kol Hai,” the poem of nature extolling God that we read every Shabbat morning.

What makes Dolin’s work stand out for me is her exquisite ear, her ability to create a poem that would sound like music even if you did not know English, and whose sounds are intimately woven into her meaning. It’s on full display in this poem, where the early morning poet both hears and observes:

antennae’d and furred
all sing all shirr all rub and buzz
and fling their call to You
in song-light as the mist still clings

Read moreSharon Dolin and the Music of Nature