Apr 272014

I picked up Admiel’s latest, “קטעים אתךָ” (with that very conspicuous qamatz so you wouldn’t be tempted to think he was being heteronormative or anything) while on a recent trip to the homeland, ת”ו. Amusingly, if you look in the inside cover at the publishing information, where Hebrew books’ authors and titles are usually printed in English to help foreign libraries do their cataloging and such, the English title is “You’re Awesome!” I can’t claim to always understand Admiel Kosman’s puckish sense of humor, but along with his capacity for lyrical sensuality and sensitive postmodern spirituality, it’s part of what so endears him to me. Also somewhat amusing is that while the book was put out by his normal publisher, the major Hebrew publishing house Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Me’uḥad, it was funded in part by the national lottery, Mif`al ha-Payis (campaign motto: “You need fortune (payis) in culture.”). This is not entirely surprising given that many of Israel’s schools are funded by and named for the national lottery, but still: what an odd little country we’ve built. Is there something slightly perverse about using the few shekels of the desperate and downtrodden to fund navelgazing poetry? I’m not going to think about it.

I am going to think about, having read this poem, whether Mr. Kosman had seen a certain episode of Sayed Kashua’s hysterical sitcom “Arab Labor,” which made the most lengthily hilarious use of the word “gvuli” since the speakers of proto-West Semitic laid down their first border. I’m going to imagine that he has. In any case, Admiel’s still got it.

Admiel Kosman (1957 – )
I Will Live for Your Sake in a Borderline Place

I will live for your sake in a borderline place,
the most borderline place there can be.

I’ll be hung for your sake
on a note, or the Y
of a graph, on a serif
I’ll hang, on a strip.
An elongated line.

While still me, I’ll be squeezed, breathing hard, and my way
I make clear, for your sake, on the paths of the past. Because
time is so short, my true love, and I need to make haste, while still me,

like a smuggler, sacks,
for your sake, like a thief, like a tout,
to set down, by myself, for your sake,
on the fence made of dust,

of the bounds of my thoughts, when that very same Me, that same Me
that returned, a bright flash, for your sake, within me, like a treasure, a cache,

I again, while still me, elongate,
just for you, elongate,

just for you, elongate

and stretch out, for your sake,
narrow in, on the fringe,

narrow in, for your sake, ‘tween
the paths of the past. For that’s me.

For that’s me. He who goes,
for your sake,

He who goes, for your sake,
with no name, in that place,
the most borderline place there can be.

אדמיאל קוסמן
אחיה בשבילך במקום הגבולי

אֶחְיֶה בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ בַּמָקוֹם הַגְּבוּלִי
בְּיוֹתֵר בָּעוֹלָם שֶׁאֶפְשֶׁר.
אֶתָּלֶה בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ עֲלֵי
תָּו, אוֹ אֲנָךְ, עֲלֵי תָּג,
עֲלֵי פַּס. עֲלֵי קַו מָאֳרָךְ.
וּבְעוֹדִי, אֶדָּחֵס, מִתְנַשֵּׁם, מְפַלֵּס
אֶת דַּרְכִּי, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, בְּשְׁבִילֵי הֶעָבָר, הֵן
הַזְּמַן כֹּה קָצָר, אֲהוּבָה, וְעָלַי לְמַהֵר, בְּעוֹדִי,
כְּמוֹ מַבְרִיחַ, שַׂקִּים,
בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, כְּגַנָּב, כְּסַפְסָר,
לְהַנִּיחַ, עַצְמִי, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
עַל גֶּדֶר הֶעָפָר,
שֶׁל גְּבוּלוֹת דִּמְיוֹנִי, כְּשֶׁאוֹתוֹ הָאֲנִי, הָאֲנִי
שֶׁחָזַר, מִתְנוֹצֵץ, בְּתוֹכִי, כְּאוֹצָר,
וְשׁוּב, בְּעוֹדִי, מִתְאָרֵך,
עֲבוּרֵךְ, מִתְאָרֵך,
עֲבוּרֵךְ, מִתְאָרֵך
וְנִמְתָּח, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
מִתְגַּדֵּר, עַל הַסְּפָר,
מִתְגַּדֵּר, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, בֵּין
שְׁבִילֵי הֶעָבָר. זֶה אֲנִי.
זֶה אֲנִי. הַהוֹלֵךְ,
הַהוֹלֵךְ, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
אַלְמוֹנִי, בַּמָקוֹם הַגְּבוּלִי
בְּיוֹתֵר בָּעוֹלָם שֶׁאֶפְשֶׁר.


‘Eḥeyéh bishviléikh ba-maqóm ha-gvulí
be-yotéir ba-ʕolám she-‘efshár.

‘Etaléh bishviléikh ʕaléi
tav, ‘o ‘anákh, ʕaléi tag,
ʕaléi pas. ʕaléi qav mo’arákh.

Uv-ʕodí, ‘edaḥéis, mitnashéim, mefaléis
‘et darkí, bishviléikh, bishviléi he-ʕavár. Hein
ha-zmán koh qatzár, ‘ahuváh, ve-ʕalái lemahéir, be-ʕodí,

Kmó mavríaḥ, saqím,
bishviléikh, ke-ganáv, ke-safsár,
lehaníaḥ, ʕatzmí, bishviléikh,
ʕal gedér he-ʕafár,

shel gvulót dimyoní, kshe-‘otó ha-‘aní, ha-‘aní
she-ḥazár, mitnotzéitz, bishviléikh, be-tokhí, ke-‘otzár,

Ve-shúv, be-ʕodí, mit’aréikh,
ʕavuréikh, mit’aréikh,

ʕavuréikh, mit’aréikh

ve-nimtáḥ, bishviléikh,
mitgadéir, ʕal ha-sfár,

mitgadéir, bishviléikh, bein
shviléi he-ʕavár. Zeh ‘aní.

Zeh ‘aní. Ha-holéikh,

Ha-holéikh, bishviléikh,
‘almoní, ba-maqóm ha-gvulí
be-yotéir ba-ʕolám she-‘efshár.

Apr 272014

Though I’m a notoriously stingy footnoter, I’ve decided to footnote and explain some of the references and language Agnon assumes his readership will be familiar with. If I’ve learned anything from contemporary undergraduates, it’s that you shouldn’t assume anyone is familiar with anything.


I said hello to her and told her that I had come from outside the Land bearing tidings of blessing from her grandson. She extricated a hand from her blankets and pulled one up to her neck and asked how many houses he had, and whether the houses had servants, and whether he had fine rugs in every room. Finally she groaned and said, this cold will take me from this world. Seeing how hard the cold was on her, I said to myself that an oil heater would alleviate her sorrows. Summoning a bit of slyness, I told her that her grandson had sent with me a bit of money to buy her a heater, a portable heater you filled with oil and kindled the wick, and it lit up and gave off heat. I took out my wallet and said, here’s the money. She responded wrathfully, and how am I supposed to go and buy a heater, is it legs I have? Icicles I have. This cold, until it brings me to the Mount of Olives,1 will drive me out of my mind. And they say outside the Land that the Land of Israel is warm. Warm for the wicked in Gehinoym,2 it’s warm. I told her, tomorrow the sun will shine and drive away the cold. She said, before there’s a reprieve, the soul will take its leave. I said, give me an hour or two, and I’ll send you the heater. She shrunk back into her blankets and pillows, as if to show her supposed benefactor there was no trusting in his favors. Continue reading »

  1. The ancient Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem.
  2. Gehinnom, an actual valley outside the city walls of Jerusalem (called “the valley of the Sons of Hinnom” in the Bible) was associated with non-Israelite cultic worship in Biblical times, including perhaps child sacrifice, and eventually, as the idea of some form of afterlife began to develop in Judaism, the valley was conflated with a place of temporary punishment after death akin to the Catholic Purgatory.