RUTH BLUMERT: A RETROSPECT
Ruth Blumert z"l, who was a steady contributor to The Deronda Review throughout most of the magazine's history, lived in Jerusalem. She published eleven books of poetry, prose and translations (including a verse translation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and served as editor of the theater magazine Bamah; she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize and the Levy Eshkol prize. Through several decades she suffered from an incapacitating illness, but continued to the last to write poems distinguished by wry humor, striking imagery and a determination to face reality. She was released on the sixth day of Chanukah 5775. Below are the poems that appeared in translation in our magazine. She is greatly missed.--EC
Suddenly the world will become illumined. It must,
In spite of the sun and moon so busy keeping watch,
and I will laugh at its dismay
and my smile
will blare out the forgotten song.
Verily I say unto you
the light is in me
and truth and love
it’s hard to believe
this is an almost
but the light that will break forth from behind the blockade
of sun and stars
and that perhaps will vanish at the first
shadow of doubt
is as real as the sun
and more brightly blazing
the ash of my body will testify to something
or will disappear
I will understand.
In the genes of the universe I am the soul
plagued by mutations and obstacles
a problem for itself
but the soul is used to reality.
Only the soul’s love is of the hidden source
in a sphere beyond understanding
perhaps from beyond the kingdom
which no ancient city and no orient surmised
and abides in the shadow of its noble reflection.
I’ll be diagnosed as a megalomaniac
as one who has lost touch with reality
because of the truth and love that is in me.
I am sick with illuminations
I don’t know to what extent it is harmful
How shall I stand it
When will the world become illumined
as it must.
FOR THE CHOIRMASTER, ON THE DEATH OF A FATHER
Perhaps it is possible to walk on water and rocks and coarse squeaking sand grains
among remains of fishes, broken shards and trash
in the sun shining on a multitude of intents and directions
Miriam’s well is stopped up, hidden,
and the Wells of Salvation is the name of a hospital.
My father died as I was singing to him “And with my soul my body too” in the Gates of Righteousness
which had opened for him avidly.
Winter clouds moved windlessly aside.
Lamentation and bitter weeping silenced by shots and shells.
The sun illuminates intents and directions. On the shores of the world they bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven,
pondering about the spirit of sacrifice that has passed from the others and the ideas that crashed.
How shall we sing. While the Spirit is scratched and is fainting.
On the willows within it we hung our harps.
So dreaming about nirvana like the lowest of the untouchables, on sands
white like suntanned crabs sipping something cold, expensive.
One more melody remained. A pity.
You who seek to walk on water, straight or round about, acquire thick-soled sandals,
Lake Ginossar has surprises. Stones also grow between the hulks of ancient ships and fish skeletons.
Drink the Waters of Eden against the heat. Mutter something about the world that was ruined
and be sure the art students document that.
An original subject rooted in the sources is exposed, sad, and catchy.
Go with the film to a festival
The prize will get you a spot on the edge of some Olympus so you can devote yourself to your own existence.
Rather than to working miracles.
Of course you’ll still be concerned about the fate of the Earth and the country and the Sea of Galilee and the well of Miriam as well as
about the extermination of lice and mutants of positive Ebola.
Hear O Israel. My heart exults over the perfection of the death of my father in the Gates of Justice
His feet wore paths without calculation
With what gentleness he taught me to wash my hands stretched out over the high sink
in cold water with a vessel made from a tin can that had not yet rusted.
Hand in hand we walked through the dim and crowded alleyway on a hot summer day, he sipping tamarind juice with evident pleasure,
I skipped beside him and my new sandals got into some donkey’s dung.
We got to the steep wall growing bushes in the chinks between the stones
Then I did not know what he was doing in the soft silence and why we did not return.
And there was the tune “Abraham rejoices Isaac sings Jacob and his sons shall rest upon it” and after that the stars burst in the sky
And there was Havdalah.
And how did he identify the red lines before they were exposed with trepidation.
Amen I say to you. Spring up, O well!
Sing about it.
The printer is slowly printing out the poem I wrote,
The paper high quality, bright white,
Clear the letters.
Was my meaning clear
Or was it some craziness bound up with bother –
Hookup of appliances that are dark to me
Obedient to writing that is dark to them.
There's beauty in that. Even a mysterious pleasure.
Something responds to my dwindling caprices
If I just send it energy.
The plastic flowers my granddaughter brought from
The red rose and the yellow rose –
I stuck them mischievously in the cracked flowerpot
Where they still bloom in the shadow of a stubborn plant.
Upon both drop the dews
Of the same providence
Sprinkling the petals of both
Which fade at different rates,
Inanimate and vegetable.
The glasses on my nose –
I’ve changed how many frames and prescriptions? –
Are part of my face.
And the scratched lenses, that steam up
Like my eyes, tired from the struggle
With their heavy lids.
Getting up too early to live
too late for daydreams
I’d cry Help!
But the rescue workers are busy
with earthquakes and leaking reactors,
I restrain myself.
Again his face is turned to the wall
refusing to recognize
the last doctor who has arrived.
The house like a crypt in midday
and he howled when they revived him suddenly
from his recurring dream, in the garden
in the shadow of another tree.
In the windowless room, by the flickering candle
they placed a feather to spy on his breathing
which he stopped,
precipitately ignoring them.
The family hopes for a miracle worthy of notice
in some evangelium.
This time the roses in the can were red and beautiful
A man with silver teeth bent toward the seller
who was calmly smoking other fragrances:
A woman set down her plastic bag beside her feet
though each time she is surprised afresh.
So there is nothing except
the beating of the heart in space
The space of the chest makes noise
and there is no ear, no one.
The legs as they were there once
kick aside a pebble to smooth the path –
for an eye-blink
a bird ascending, a beautiful tree
the flutter of an eyelid, a wing, a branch
The pulses play a tune
The ear curls on itself like a shell on the seashore
in enthralling delight
THOSE PUT TO DEATH
We practice on the deaths of others –
kin, distant kin, and so forth –
to know what will be done to us
and what is half the kingdom
and whose hand will clench
upon our soul
struggling to free itself
dying to remain
in the light –
the hidden is a temptation
one who longs and for whom we long
thus it is decreed in My thought
SEASON OF TRANSITION
I put on white clothes
innocent of grease spots
pure as the polar snow.
Now I am wrapped and enveloped
by my two green leaves:
the cradle and the wedding canopy.
One day a butterfly
will break forth from its shrouds
and fly away.
I am exhausted from following the movements of the branches in the wind:
they move with a desperate alacrity,
dust whirling round them.
In the glass of hot tea, green mint gyrates
at the touch of a silver spoon.
It will grow cold and drift to the bottom, weary and ragged.
I cover myself with clothing,
turn on all the space heaters –
the cold inside me is still wins.
THE READER OF COFFEE GROUNDS
The reader of coffee grounds turned the cup over.
There were no grounds at all.
Transparent, occluded secrets laughed silently.
But the cup twitched in the disappointed hand
like a body
like a dimmed crystal ball
whose core hints:
The future is hidden
The waters of purification sink into the dust.
The events of the month of Av took place
in the blazing clarity
And there was no comforter –
aside from words
which sound hollow even in the dark
and there is no comforter –
We need a month of Em.
[Note: “Av,” the name of the month, also means “father." Av, the month when the temple was destroyed, is often referred to euphemistically as "Av the comforter." “Em” is “mother."]
The first day of the week.
I thought there was no chance
but I phoned my daughter.
and she answered:
Moshe is waiting in the car.
That was apparently the last phone call to Atsmonah –
short and to the point.
Perhaps she was crying.
Let it rain. Bring down the rain. Get everything wet.
Including the washing on the line. That is,
Turn all that is clean and dry
Into a spongy miserable cold dark mass
THE LIVES OF POEMS
I don’t show them to my children –
Why should I make them depressed?
The poems that I don’t tear up,
abandon, throw away,
are more numerous than the sand on the seashore,
and like the sand are crystalline,
rough to the touch,
pouring into each other.
Some of them stick together
And when the sun strikes them at just the right angle,
they glitter like diamonds.
In the dark they slumber, as I do,
crowded together like dreams,
coalescing to a real epic
of which the daylight illumines only fragments
that are difficult to piece together,
to restore the exciting reality that they had when they streamed through my brain
As if through an hourglass about
to need turning over,
which perhaps will plead for a chance to start over
with the same grains of sand in other combinations;
and if a steamroller or a bulldozer should go over them
and turn the material to gleaming powder –
the essence of the poem –
someone else will be able to begin
his own epic.
We were exiled from land to land, from one continent to another,
and when we gathered in a place that was wretched compared to its past
it was already inhabited and hostile.
Although the wind blew on it from far off,
we set up housekeeping there.
Now we are exiles in the guise of tourists:
Two weeks in Patagonia, a few hours in the Louvre,
stuck in travel agencies,
spending the night in airports,
equipped with backpacks and suitcases packed to bursting
like a promise that there is somewhere to go back to.
where are we going to, ascending and descending –
near-experts at reading foreign signs –
and again, where is the gate to our desired destination?
In the meantime,
like chameleons we suit ourselves to the background
so as not to be caught in some definition that would commit us
and cancel the exclusive group individuality we almost acquired
On our most recent journeyings.
I didn’t think
a brain open to all winds and wild spirits
seized with fears
in a cell –
a tattered skeleton –
cudgeling itself with subjects beyond the clouds
Sometimes with a kind of satisfying arrogance –
sometimes with an understanding
that barely managed
an outsize egg
that would roll out of the nest
I contract into my 4 cubits
and expand with each day.
From the aperture in my ark the world appears
more tranquil than before.
I’ve gotten used to moving less,
This is my life for the time being,
aureoled with a film of resignation.
One can see a lot with closed eyes:
it would take innumerable nights to describe the abundance.
Human voices from other nights still echo here –
they grow fainter, as do I.
LIES THAT I TOLD MYSELF
Like a television character I declaim:
You deserve to be happy.
Don’t let happiness pass you buy.
Leaning on the windowsill I see
he’s there, on another sidewalk,
Others hurry down the street,
each to their home
where their happiness dwells
and patiently waits.
Soon it will pour them a cup of tea and ask how it was.
This evening I will lie down, facing the sky,
I will look up at the stars and the cosmic dust,
I will wait for a star to drop to my side
with a slip of paper
containing a detailed answer.
Till then I shall give myself up to the humming of the wheels.
I wrote a poem about death and destroyed it in the draft,
but it comes back, tunnelling among cracks and crevices,
under the threshold,
climbing up the windows.
A troublemaking, incorruptible robot,
mute and focused,
deaf to cries and plots these many ages,
indifferent to flattery and bribes
from those weary of their lives’ din.
On its wings
and in its hands and knapsack
compared to which hurricanes are a smile.
It gazes round with a thousand eyes
like a postman from a vanished kingdom,
a kingdom plagued with thirst,
a library of negatives.
THEY TOLD ME TO WRITE
about poetry, yet,
and the shock caused the words
to rush around inside me.
I remained by myself
and you – the land’s pillars of salt
– are desirous of watching
the internal overthrow
in the gaping, gulping pits
whose existence you never guessed.
And my poem wallows amid its burnt-out brothers
in my internal Moab and Ammon.
Without any Qumran cave
the words climb upward, scroll by scroll,
darker than our eyes.
THE CONDEMNED CITY
Said the elders of the condemned city:
Not our hands shed this blood!
In truth, with all our hearts,
We looked into it thoroughly.
What remains to be revealed
is the whereabouts of that red cow
that never bore a yoke
and whose ashes
will purify everything.
translated by Esther Cameron