Israel Eliraz: How Much Time is Left is Not a Question but a Door

Israel Eliraz (1936-2016) was born in Jerusalem. From 1963 to 1980, he published three novels, a book of short stories and a number of plays and opera librettos. He started writing poetry in 1980. He was the recipient of numerous Israeli literary awards, as well as an Honorary Citation by the French government. His poetry was translated into eleven languages.

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The following poems are taken from How Much Time is Left is Not a Question but a Door, published in Hebrew in 2013 by Modan/Helicon. They have been translated by Liat Simon, together with this introduction, which was originally written for the back cover by the book’s editor, Dror Burstein.

“Is there one word that can contain all that is happening between us? Once there was”. What is this word? “Love”? This book puts into writing the love between a man and a woman as well as their love for the world around them. And this love […] is bigger than the lover and the beloved. When love was alive, “the dishes too had stopped raising dust upon themselves”.

“Nothing exists unless it is discovered by you”. The word “thing” could be replaced by the word “woman”. How does one discover a woman? It is possible to look at her and see how she finds “faint rain” in a glass she is raising. Or to watch her see “golden light dust scattered on the tips of (her) shoes”. This book observes the act of seeing another person, and the reader becomes yet another onlooker.

Israel Eliraz observes a man looking at a woman but also describes the crumbling of that loving gaze. This is what a couple looks like sometimes: “half a shutter hits half a window like a coil in a trap”. An eye slammed shut. Part of love is its loss. “Once you accumulated knowledge about your body next to hers. Now nothing”. This nothing gives birth to the great silence that rests upon the book. “What is left? A little. And we turn to it as if to a vessel”. This book is a vessel containing “what is left”.

“How much time is left”: it is possible to pose this question sadly as a day will come when we might only “show our back to the world”. That is, leave the world or remain condemned in it. Yet when the question becomes a “door” one might reenter. This door could open to anyone, always. Eliraz grants us a key.

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Israel Eliraz: Eight Poems
Translated from the Hebrew by Liat Simon

You promised me you would explain the
full-figured women’s
posture

in Fragonard’s paintings

now this is not going to happen

and I am already quite unsure
what to start with.

You suggest: start xw i t hx t h e xf a c t s

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You think it is easier to talk

about potatoes and onions than
about lost carnal love.

Once you accumulated knowledge about
your body next to hers.

Now nothing

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The main thing is
accountability, because

everything is mouth

and in the dream there are wild animals
with no one knowing

how to throw them a bone.

Everything happens too fast. Beauty
simply ends.

Such is the world

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If someone walks beside us, are
they also within us?

People give things to each
other, take them away.

Does part of us always belong
to someone else?

Soon there will be no one to

***

T h e xt h i n gx i t s e l fxisxinside
the objects, the tools

like a bark that is yet to be barked
it is there, in the guts,

without it there is no dog

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Put some Bach on.

Find Psalms 137.

Do not be terrified by the silence.

We both have time but not the xs a m ex time.

It is not enough to go in the house, one needs
to stay in it,

be amongst the things, do

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We forgot how to leaf through fire

how to split water

how to fold a kerchief till
it disappears. The great magic

has always taken place at the table.

Now a glass falls on
certainty’s floor shattered

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And if we have come to suffering (which is
a dull matter)

it was not a mistake
but a necessity

like a solid shout
that does not exist unless

it is discovered by you

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Liat Simon was born in Tel Aviv in 1976. She is a poet, a journalist and an editor, and is a seasoned content manager, specializing in arts and culture. Her poems were featured in various Israeli newspapers and literary magazines. Her first poetry book, Three Times Around the Sun, has received The Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts grant.

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Dror Burstein was born in 1970 in Netanya, Israel, and lives in Tel Aviv. A novelist, poet, and translator, he is the author of several books, including the novels Kin and Netanya.

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1 thought on “Israel Eliraz: How Much Time is Left is Not a Question but a Door

  1. These poems seem to live so naturally in their translations that it is hard to believe they have had to travel through a language barrier. Utterly compelling to read, and read again.

    Like

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