Looking at Henry Moore’s Elephant Skull Etchings in Jerusalem During the War
It wants to be somewhere else
remembering anything somewhere
private where it can lie down
floating in the warm belly
of the Dead Sea
so that the skull keeps
growing in the room
and the loose skin
until the whole head sees
from a great distance.
Heavy as earth is heavy
under its own weight
it's the same skin
wrinkled on the back of hills
grey in the early morning
on the Jericho Road.
The brain scooped out of it
lets in the light
we knew at the beginning
when our eyes were dazzled
without wanting to be pushed
out of the dark.
The mind of the elephant
has nothing to lose
I was begging you
not to go
when you closed the door
and left me
watching the skull's
the eyelids gone.
There are caverns
under our feet
with rivers running deep in them.
in the sides of the cliffs
and Rosh Hanikra
where the sea breaks in.
There is a way to enter
if you remember
where you came from
how to breathe under water
make love in a trap.
Step over the small bones
lightly when you feel them
tripping your feet.
Fear hangs over your shoulder
like a gun it digs in my arm
but the live head knows
that the eyes get used to darkness
fingers learn how to read
the signs they touch.
Ditches where bones stand up
and shake their fists at us
sons in the shadows
and the shadows flattened
like grass rolled over
slit of a concrete bunker
we prowl through
looking for flowers.
We are going down a long slide
into the secret chamber
we bought our tickets for the ride
the passage is narrow
and we can't find ourselves
in the trick mirrors
we lie down in the fetal position
back to back
each of us in his own eye socket
the mind looked out of
filling with dust.
My lips on the small
rise of forehead above your eyes
mouths of the women in Ramallah
who spit when soldiers go by
huge head of an infant
shoved out of the birth canal
faces stretched over us like tents
we bandages over burns
and the white skull balder
than rock under the smile.
If the smooth joining of the bone
makes arches from here to there
of the intricate structure yields
arms resting desert landscapes mother and child
if the thin membranes and the thick
weep in the naked bone
then the whole elephant can rise up
out of its flesh
as in the torso of Apollo
something is pulsing
in the vacant skull
making us change.
I don't want to stand
on our balcony with the lights out
and headlights turned off
against the sky
the stars get closer
but it's not the same
as what you plug in.
There's an elephant inside me
crowding me out he sees Jerusalem
through my eyes my skin
is stretched tight
over the elephant's skin his wrinkles
begin to break through
I taste the coarse hairs
crowding the back of my mouth
I fall down gagging over my four feet
my nose turns into a tongue with nostrils
it starts to grow.
I see bodies in the morning kneel
over graves and bodies under them
the skin burned off
their bones laid out in all the cold
tunnels under the world.
There is a photograph in the next room
of a dead child
withered against its mother
between the dry beans of her breasts
there is no blood
under the shrunk skin
their skulls are already visible.
The elephants come after us
in herds now
they will roll over us
we are too sad to move
much smaller than theirs
begin to shine.
A Braid of Voices
Ariel Hirschfeld, a lecturer in the History of Literature at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is an essayist, art critic and
With regard to the noise of the muezzin's calls, that may be
defined as a noise that does not exceed 10 minutes. The
magistrate's court has ordained that the permitted noise level
[during] night hours is 50 decibels. All involved [parties] have
agreed to install a central wireless system that will connect all
mosques in Jaffa to a unified and monitored call.
(Public appeal regarding the noise from mosques. Knesset:
Background paper for discussion.)
There is an hour in the night in Jerusalem when, if sleep escapes
you, you will hear a choir of voices in the wind. That hour is the
absolute zenith of the night - 4 a.m. The voices are real: the
voices of the muezzins rising from the mosques of East Jerusalem.
But the simple addition of the two facts reveals nothing about the
voice itself, or about the particular kind of attention growing
inside whosoever is lying awake in the dark of that hour.
To begin with, knowing the individual voice of a standard muezzin
does not prepare one at all for what Jerusalem is capable of doing
to those sounds congregating in the great basin between Mount
Scopus and the southern hills of Talpiot, the basin wherein dwells
the Old City. Standing on the rim of the basin at the hour of the
muezzins' call, one hardly believes one's ears; those voices,
electronically amplified as we know, rise and reach out from every
mosque - clearly visible thanks to the green lights signaling their
presence - then congregate in the high air to create a braid of
voices that sounds nothing like the packed sum of its parts. It is
a magnificent braid of sounds in which the separate features of the
muezzin's words and tremulations are lost, growing into a new
accord from the harmony of the various calls. It is one great sound
braided of separate voices breaking up from it and returning like
bees to their hive, creating a unity in diversity that makes the
air vibrate. Muslim music does not traditionally resort to the
polyphony that characterizes western religious music, but the
Jerusalem air proves its special penchant for polyphonic-chaotic
composition. The movement surrounding each muezzin's maqam and the
common lines of the basic call invite these voices to enter one
another, so that they actually become mutually braided.
Whoever walks in Abu Tor or on the slopes of the hill of the High
Commissioner's Palace at twilight, especially on those heavy hot
days when the air stands still and slender columns of smoke rise
from the rural houses, drawing slow and upright lines on the
horizon, will clearly hear this great voice, sounding like a
powerful lament bursting out of the entire city, as if supplicating
to the sky, forcefully springing forth out of the great city spread
across the hills.
But at nights it is a different voice altogether. Those waking up
at four o'clock in the morning have a special kind of awakening,
extremely arduous and open-eyed. All the worries and anxieties
confront them at once - the vulnerability of children and their
fears, the illnesses of loved ones, unfulfilled commitments and
weighty dues; lying down with eyes very open, very lonely even if
the breaths of loved ones sound from adjacent rooms. At that hour
everything lies bare and unadorned, uncomforted. One cannot expect
to fall asleep dwelling in that kind of waken state. Sleep will
only come uninvited when wakefulness has calmed down. One can only
succumb to it and let diseases and worries parade before them until
loneliness distinctly materializes. Then, if you are in Jerusalem,
you will hear from the midst of that hard and wide-open clarity the
splendid voice of a choir. The sound arrives from a great distance
- slow ripples of sound waves borne by the wind, and it is
wondrously mellow. Not soothing or numbing. It belongs neither to
your own life nor any more even to the muezzins who make it. It
emerges rising through the silent night air of the city like the
northern lights in the dark of icy plains. It approaches you
through the night. In the far distance the lament that hovers
nearby has disappeared. From afar it is a marvelously beautiful
sound, a sound reminiscent of nothing. A horizon embodied in sound.
Those awake at that hour have no one to sing a lullaby for them,
and no song could overcome their wakefulness, to put it to sleep.
But those awake in Jerusalem by night have a song. It does not make
them less lonely or comfort them at all. Like them, it hovers
through the air. And like them it is altogether beyond. Whosoever
has a cracked heart - the cracks will deepen.
This essay originally appeared in Hebrew in Haaretz, and was
translated by Galit Hasan-Rokem.