The Palestine-Israel Journal is a quarterly of MIDDLE EAST PUBLICATIONS, a registered non-profit organization (No. 58-023862-4).
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Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday

Vol.6 No.2 1999 / Towards Statehood


Toil-A poem

     by Avraham Shlonsky

We have a small hand with five fingers,
Wax fingers thin to breaking.
The pulse beats at their beginning and at their end — fingernails.
Oh, what shall we do to the fingers on the day we labor with them?
Pound mightily, human pulse! Grow wild, fingernails!
We are going to toil!
Oh, good for you, fingers, grasping a sickle on harvest day,
Embracing the clod covered with thorn!
You tell:
What shall we do to the tender fingers?

* * *

Oh, Sweat!
Oh, drops of blessing falling from my high forehead
Like dew from pure skies.

Here is my flesh, pure and hairy,
And the hair, black grass.
Oh sweat! Salty sweat!
Bedew my flesh like a bristling field at dawn.

The dawn skies sway — the tangle of a great terebinth —
And the head of Absalom, golden curled,
Is caught in the tree top —
       Sun! Sun!

And I bend down to the sand:
From the weight of cement the dunes sigh:
— Oh, why have you come, man, to the desert
To put a bit into our mouth?
And suddenly the east wind whipped
And like flocks of camels, that knew no bit.
Stormed upon the city being built —

On roads, foundations their stampede hailed
And with little hoofs
Hoofs of grains of sand
They kicked at my face:
And suddenly they turned about and with whistlings:
Back to the deserts! Back to the deserts!

And I turned my hand
(In my hand a spade gray with concrete)
And the twisting roads began chasing them: After them!
They flung forth their lengthened hands:
       Smash them! Smash them!

Harness the deserts!
Stretch the roads like reins!
I ride on the driver’s seat!
I am — toil! —

Like huge fists lie on the sands
Houses — Houses — Houses —

And I feel:
It is I who am caught in the morning tree top
And in my hand like a sparkling ray, the spade.
Opposite me laughs the city newly made:
       Sun! Sun!

* * *

Dress me, good mother, in a splenderous coat of many colors
And with dawn lead me to toil.
My land wraps in light like a prayer shawl,
Houses stand like phylacteries,
And like bands of phylacteries glide hand-laid asphalt roads.

Thus a beautiful city offers her morning prayer to her creator.
And among the creators, your son Abraham,
Poet-roadbuilder in Israel.

And toward evening, at dusk, father returns from his labors
And like prayer whispers with pleasure:
A dear son of mine is Abraham:
Skin, sinew, and bones.

Dress me, good mother, in a splenderous coat of many colors
And at dawn lead me

To toil.*

From Modern Hebrew Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. Edited and translated by Ruth Finer Mitz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

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