June 22, 2023

The Midpoint of My Life

By Almog Behar

Translated by Shoshana Olidort

Translator’s Introduction

“The Midpoint of My Life” appears almost midway through Almog Behar’s most recent collection, כדי שהמלח יתפזר על האהבה (Rub Salt into Love), a slim volume that includes several very long poems, as well as shorter poems, and mid-length poems like this one. The poem resonated with me in part because I recently turned forty, a midpoint of sorts that has me thinking more about my own “bill, balance, and debt.” The opening lines of the poem remind me of the sense one has as a child and young adult, that what one is seeking—meaning? happiness?—will one day be found, that the quest will be fulfilled, the thirst finally quenched. But, of course, there is no arriving in life; there is only the search “for the edge of a thread, an idea that was in me and was forgotten.” The speaker recalls an early love and can’t avoid the ache of regret, which may dull over time but never disappears entirely, and can sometimes feel even more acute years later. And, too, there’s the unavoidable deterioration of the body, the physical toll that time exacts: “the heart is tired, the body aches,” while the eyes seek “a bit of mist in which to wrap themselves.” Things don’t change as much as they crystalize with time—“the way is long and the day is short” is as true for small children, as it is for those “in the middle of life’s journey,” and all we can hope for is a fleeting glimpse of the sublime, to see “a moon slipping away from the aperture,” to catch the “light of a broken world.” For Behar, there is also the God of Abraham and of Ruth—although God can be a heart, the heart of the speaker who waits “to hear God tell me go forth . . . to hear my heart tell me: wherefore you go I shall go.” — Shoshana Olidort

The Midpoint of My Life

On that day, in the middle of life’s journey
in a mighty thicket I was led astray . . .
hating hatred, loving mercy . . .
it’s of my chamber, along with Rachel . . .

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, translated into Hebrew by Ze’ev Jabotinsky

1.
At the midpoint of my life, preparing a cup of tea with ginger in the kitchen,
searching for the edge of a thread, an idea that was in me and was forgotten,
I recall the plague, it treads along the road,
not in the house, and I have bill, balance, and debt.
If there’s no flesh, I recalled, there’s no spirit,
if there’s no shade, I said, there’s no life,
if not a thing is locked, then not a thing is open,
nothing’s pure if there’s no contamination.

2. 
At the midpoint of my life, in queue at the doctor’s 
the heart is tired, the body aches
and the eyes are searching
a bit of mist in which to wrap themselves.
And I won’t recall now the sun that rises 
above me in my sleeping bag, not far from me
a young woman, and I won’t recall how we kissed
in the cave and I won’t recall if I gave up
on my life.

3.
At the midpoint of my life the day turned, twilight had arrived,
my heart knows travail and tranquility, serenity and struggle,
and if I go on my way I will not bend a knee,
I’ll only seek a friend or God, thereabout.
I’ll write a great many happy poems before the dark poem,
always ten walk together and one falls down.

4.
At the midpoint of my life, what power has poetry?
Will it be for me like prophecy?
Level with the rock, facing the abyss,
the way is long and the day is short.
I’ll recall: in a cracked wall in the jailhouse
I saw a moon slipping away from the aperture,
and night upon night; and yesterday on back of the day before,
until the very last night, I dreamt a dream
dark writing engraved onto the doorpost,
its substance more sublime than a fleeting brain.

5.
At the midpoint of my life, her fear penetrated my heart,
I asked my heart if I’ll see tomorrow,
will I descend, dip my feet in the river of amnesia,
as it’s said, was it that it was or was it not.
My jailer asked: Have you not a tongue and a palate?
Will your heart flex, or will it stay stubborn?
I asked: If I do not cry now,
will I still know how to cry? And I did not hear his words.
A cold vapor goes from mouth to mouth
and the light of a broken world testifies to beauty.
Didn’t you understand, what my heart prophesied—
silences, screams, and a body in agony.

6.
At the midpoint of my life, if my path has veered from the straight and narrow,
if I did not believe in poems until death,
perhaps my heart was guilty of sinking into slumber,
lacking sleep by night it sought sleep by day.
Lacking sleep of body, it sought sleep of spirit,
lacking one who will venture forth, there is no one to rebuke.
The path to nowhere prides itself on exalted mountains,
a sweeping landscape. The darkness—terrifying for the proud.

7.
At the midpoint of my life, waiting to hear God tell me go
forth, waiting to hear my heart tell me: wherefore you go I shall go.
I have two hearts, the one in my chest, the other in your chest.
And already God tells me, go, and already I’m going.


מַחֲצִית חַיַּי

אלמוג בהר

,״בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אֶמְצַע שְׁבִיל יָמֵינוּ
. . . בְּחֹרֶשׁ עַז נִתְעֵיתִי
. . . שׂוֹנֵאת שִׂנְאָה, אוֹהֶבֶת כָּל מוֹחֵל
הוּא מְדוֹרִי בְּיַחַד עִם רָחֵל״

“דנטה אליגיירי, “הקומדיה האלוהית
מאיטלקית: זאב ז’בוטינסקי

א

,בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, מֵכִין כּוֹס תֵּה בְּגִ’ינְגֶ’ר בַּמִּטְבָּח
,מְחַפֵּשׂ קְצֵה חוּט, רַעֲיוֹן שֶׁהָיָה בִּי וְנִשְׁכַּח
,נִזְכָּר בַּמַּגֵּפָה, הִיא פּוֹסַעַת בָּרְחוֹב
.עֲדַיִן לֹא בַּבַּיִת, וְלִי חֶשְׁבּוֹן יִתְרָה וְחוֹב

,אִם אֵין בָּשָׂר, נִזְכַּרְתִּי, אֵין גַּם רוּחַ
,אִם אֵין צֵל, אָמַרְתִּי, אֵין חַיִּים
,אִם דָּבָר לֹא נָעוּל, דָּבָר גַּם לֹא פָּתוּחַ
.אֵין טָהוֹר אִם לֹא נִטְמָאִים

ב

בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, בַּתּוֹר לָרוֹפֵא
הַלֵּב עָיֵף, הַגּוּף כּוֹאֵב
וְהָעֵינַיִם מְחַפְּשׂוֹת
.מְעַט עֲרָפֶל לְהִתְעַטֵּף

וְלֹא אֶזְכֹּר כָּעֵת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ הָעוֹלָה
עָלַי בְּשַׂק שֵׁנָה, לֹא הַרְחֵק מִמֶּנִּי
נַעֲרָה, וְלֹא אֶזְכֹּר אֵיךְ הִתְנַשַּׁקְנוּ
בַּמְּעָרָה וְלֹא אֶזְכֹּר אִם וִתַּרְתִּי
.עַל חַיַּי

ג

,בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי פָּנָה הַיּוֹם, שְׁעַת דִּמְדּוּמִים הִגִּיעָה
,לִבִּי יוֹדֵעַ טֹרַח וּמָנוֹחַ, שַׁלְוָה וִיגִיעָה
,וְאִם אֵצֵא לַדֶּרֶךְ לֹא אֶכְרַע בֶּרֶךְ
.רַק אֲבַקֵּשׁ חָבֵר אוֹ אֱלֹהִים, בְּעֵרֶךְ
,שִׁירִים שְׂמֵחִים רַבִּים אֶכְתֹּב לִפְנֵי הַשִּׁיר הָאָפֵל
.תָּמִיד עֲשָׂרָה הוֹלְכִים יַחַד וְאֶחָד נוֹפֵל

ד

?בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, מַה כֹּחַ הַשִּׁירָה
?הַאִם תִּהְיֶה לִי לִנְבוּאָה
,בְּרוּם הַסֶּלַע מוּל הַתְּהוֹם
.הַדֶּרֶךְ רַב וְקָצָר הַיּוֹם

אֶזְכֹּר: בְּקִיר סָדוּק שֶׁל בֵּית הַסֹּהַר
,רָאִיתִי לְבָנָה חוֹמֶקֶת מִן הַצֹּהַר
,וְלֵיל עַל לֵיל וּתְמוֹל עַל גַּב שִׁלְשׁוֹם
עַד לֵיל אַחֲרִית חָלַמְתִּי שָׁם חֲלוֹם
,כְּתָב כֵּהֶה חָרוּת עַל הַמַּשְׁקוֹף
.נִשְׂגָּב תָּכְנוֹ מִשֵּׂכֶל בֶּן חֲלוֹף

ה

,בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, פַּחֲדָהּ אֶל דַּם לִבִּי חָדַר
,שָׁאַלְתִּי אֶת לִבִּי אִם אֶרְאֶה מָחָר
,הַאִם אֵרֵד לִטְבֹּל רַגְלַי בִּנְהַר הַנְּשִׁיָּה
.שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, הַאִם הָיָה אוֹ לֹא הָיָה
?סוֹהֲרִי שָׁאַל: הַאֵין לְךָ לָשׁוֹן וְחֵךְ
?הֲיִתְגַּמֵּשׁ לִבְּךָ אוֹ יִוָּתֵר עִקֵּש
,שָׁאַלְתִּי: אִם לֹא אֶבְכֶּה עַכְשָׁו
.הַאֵדַע עוֹד בְּכִי? וְלֹא שָׁמַעְתִּי מִלּוֹתָיו

קֹר הָאֵד יוֹצֵא מִפֶּה לְפֶה
.וּמְאוֹר תֵּבֵל שָׁבוּר מֵעִיד עַל הַיָּפֶה
– הֲלֹא הֵבַנְתְּ, מַה נִּבֵּא לִי לֵב
.שְׁתִיקוֹת וּצְעָקוֹת וְגוּף דּוֹאֵב

ו

,בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, אִם סָרָה דַּרְכִּי מֵאֹרַח מֵישָׁרִים
,אִם לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי עַד מָוֶת בַּשִּׁירִים
,אוּלַי אָשֵׁם הָיָה לִבִּי אֲשֶׁר שָׁקַע בְּתַרְדֵּמָה
.בְּאֵין שֵׁנָה בַּלַּיְלָה בִּקֵּשׁ שֵׁנָה בַּיּוֹם

,בְּאֵין שְׁנַת גּוּף בִּקֵּשׁ שְׁנַת רוּחַ
.בְּאֵין מִי שֶׁיֵּצֵא לַמַּסָּע אֵין מִי שֶׁיּוֹכִיחַ
,אַךְ דֶּרֶךְ שָׁוְא תִּתְפָּאֵר בְּהָרִים שַׂגִּיאִים
.בְּנוֹף נִרְחָב. הַחֲשֵׁכָה – מוֹרָא גַּם לַגֵּאִים

ז

בְּמַחֲצִית חַיַּי, מַמְתִּין לִשְׁמֹעַ אֱלֹהִים אוֹמֵר לִי לֵךְ
.לְךָ, מַמְתִּין לִשְׁמֹעַ אֶת לִבִּי אוֹמֵר לִי: אֶל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ אֵלֵךְ
.לִי שְׁנֵי לְבָבוֹת, הָאֶחָד בְּחָזִי, הַשֵּׁנִי בְּחָזֵךְ
.וּכְבָר אֱלֹהִים אוֹמֵר לִי לֵךְ וּכְבָר אֲנִי הוֹלֵךְ


Almog Behar is a poet, novelist, translator, editor and critic. He teaches in the Literature Department at Tel Aviv University. He has published six books, the latest being Kdey She-Hamelach Yitpazer al Ha-Ahava (Rub Salt into Love, 2021). His novel Chahla ve-Hezkel (Rachel and Ezekiel, 2010) was translated into Arabic by Nael el-Toukhy and published in Cairo in 2016. He lives in Jerusalem.

Shoshana Olidort is a writer, translator, and critic. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Asymptote, The Cortland Review, the Columbia Journal, the Laurel Review, Lit Hub, Poetry Northwest, Public Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and World Literature Today, among other outlets. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University and is web editor for the Poetry Foundation.