4 Poems by Yakir Ben Moshe, Translated by Dan Alter

Introductory Note:

Following are my  translations from the Hebrew of four poems by Yakir Ben Moshe. I’ve been working on translating his second book, Tinshom Amok Ata Nirgash, “Take a Breath, You’re Getting Excited.” I’ve been drawn to this book by its mixture of playfulness, honesty, and the way Ben Moshe uses bold metaphor to move from the mundane to the mysterious. I am fluent in Hebrew, and I work directly from the originals, checking difficult spots with native speakers. I do a first draft to get the literal sense and then revise toward a strong line and poem in English.


If not for this Innocence
                        for Okiko

You come to me as autumn comes to a tree
removing my leaves.
Not that that I’m naked. Here the silence sinks.
Listen to the stars rustle in the sky,
the moon’s medallion knocking at your heart–
we turn over, one
after the other,
like leaf-cover rocking in wind.

The Poet Does Not Leave His House

Like two slow hands of the world’s clock
the poet and his house march their voice
in measured gaps:
the poet begets his language to a joyful refrain,
his house casts its notes behind.
How sleeveless is the word house,
how naked a voice
grazing on letters at the throat’s doorstep.
The poet does not go out,
poetry goes out instead.
like silence sprayed from lying—
poetry goes out of the house,
from the body rejoicing in its bodiliness.

That’s how it is

On the old home toilet
listening to Brahm’s Piano Quintet in F Minor.
Body wrinkled because of missiles
that are not falling on Tel Aviv.
Nasraalah on TV, a hat on, hair combed.
I’m afraid. Yesterday at the memorial for Bialik
I leaned on Sarah Gruzhinsky, youngest in the section,
only twenty-four years in the grave. It’s like that when you try to synchronize
clocks with death, while consciousness goes wild
without a diaper between the thighs.


Coffee trembling in hand

Chopin’s Mazurka crawls into Saturday
when I’m with myself in the room. Rubenstein on the internet
plays from the computer a work recorded in the thirties
of the previous century, a hundred years after it was composed
by a young man in love while I, only I,
try to write a poem about something almost touching.
Barely panting with myself, barely managing
to settle my gaze on the sofa, coffee trembling in hand.
A mazurka flows into Saturday like a luxury liner
into my life. Sailors bustle between piano keys
& the captain can barely be seen, his hat askew in shock
as he discerns the flash of a wave yawning on the horizon.
O captain, how much life must we cross
before we bring our ship back to shore, before we say to Saturday
take the mazurka with your chubby hand & look upon us
because our lives call for mercy. If only for one single voyage. 


Translator’s Bio:

Dan Alter has published poems and translations widely in journals including Field, Fourteen Hills, Pank, and Zyzzyva. His collection My Little Book of Exiles, Eyewear Press, won the poetry prize for the 2022 Cowan Writer’s Awards. Hills Full of Holes, his second book of poems, will be published by Fernwood Press in 2025. He lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter where he makes his living as an IBEW electrician.

Photo by Johnny Brown on Unsplash

Yakir Ben-Moshe

Yakir Ben-Moshe, an Israeli poet of Iraqi descent won the Prime Minister's Prize for Literature in 2012. He has published six books of poetry and one of children's literature. His poems have been translated into English, Russian, Greek, Chinese, and Turkish. He lives with his wife and children in Tel Aviv, where he is the Literary Editor of the Bialik House, as well as a teacher of creative writing.