Shai Agnon

Yonatan Berg

Translated from the Hebrew by Joanna Chen


In the paltry world, the pale one where blood invades
snow with nonchalance, wounding it with flowers
that continue to bloom like a shriek,
it is better to invent dates of compression,
to glorify the present, lean toward it with a paintbrush,
touch stone with dream.
The legend turned into another continent for him,
denying the physical in exchange for colors
more intense. Perhaps this is why he added
God to his friends, one more legendary blaze,
crucial to our history.
Breath, food and garments, all stamped
with the seal of desolation, we keep switching clothes,
prattling over glass dishes and cutlery while
the other continent continues to move away.
But he waves a resolute hand from over there,
casts bodiless sparks heavenward, words
that touch each other with a voice
of softness and then shatter inside us in a blinding spectacle:
Here’s the shtetl, here’s the Hassid covering his face, body trembling,
silent prayer in the face of empty sacks.
Under closed eyes, with ancient woe
we visit crowded synagogues,
blood-stained snow and shrieking.
All this happens on another continent, that of literature,
where it is possible to leap into the air, ravished by more generous matter.


Click HERE to read the Hebrew version of this work in Granta Hebrew

Yonatan Berg is the youngest recipient of the Yehuda Amichai Prize and a number of other national prizes. He has published three books of poetry, one memoir, and two novels. His first novel, Five More Minutes, was awarded the Ministry of Culture Prize (2015) and received warm reviews in France (published by l’Antilope, 2018). A bibliotherapist by profession, he teaches creative writing in Jerusalem.

Joanna Chen‘s work has been published with Newsweek, Guernica and Narratively, among others. She writes a column for The Los Angeles Review of Books and teaches literary translation at The Helicon School of Poetry in Tel Aviv.  Chen’s translations from Hebrew and Arabic have appeared most recently in ConsequenceAsymptote and Mantis. Full-length books in Chen’s translation include Agi Mishol’s  Less Like a Dove (Shearsman Books, 2016), Yonatan Berg’s Frayed Light (Wesleyan University Press, 2019),  and Meir Shalev’s My Wild Garden (Shocken Books), forthcoming in 2020.


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