Yona’s Arm

Eli Hirsh

Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz


Sometimes Yona’s arm acted independently.
And she had some arm, Yona had.
Ask Shimon or Levi.
Ask those who were there.

An arm is a limb
and a limb is a wing
or a pinion. And Yona
spread her wings to fly.

When Yona’s arm was free
there was no one behind her:
she snatched children and their parents
but could do nothing with this.

Yet when her wings spread
Hebrew doubled its sex
and finally we could feel
like a family.

Because of Yona, Hebrew lost something
of its manliness,
lone flesh remaining hard and unripe
even when ripened.  

And something of a woman’s compactness
something of her flesh
something of a woman’s arm
suddenly appeared in Hebrew.

And we suckled on the milk of the stars.
Yona nurtured and supported us.
Yona conceived us, impregnated us.
Yona grew us new limbs.

Yona made us into men and women.
Male and female she created us.
Male is female and female male.
A faint silence arose in the piping.

Many will disagree with me, will say
I exaggerate, that I’m sentimental.
Perhaps they are right, perhaps Yona’s arm
took its freedom and put the words in my mouth.

The prophetess Yona judged Israel at that time
and she dwelt under


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

Note: The Yona referred to here is the groundbreaking Israeli poet Yona Wallach (1944-1985) and not the prophet Jonah. Several phrases in Hirsch’s poem echo lines from Wallach’s work. And see Judges 4:4

Eli Hirsh (b. 1962) is a poet, literary critic, essayist and literary editor. His publications include five volumes of poetry: Noise (1986), A Family Outing (1997), New Music (2008), Hanging Gardens of Tel-Aviv (2013), Fragments and Noise (2016). Hirsh published hundreds of book reviews and literary essays in the Israeli Press, many of them in his column “Reading Poetry” in Yedioth Aharonot Literary Supplement. Hirsh has been serving since 2003 as the literary editor of Xargol Plus – the Hebrew Prose Series of Xargol Press.

Lisa Katz was born in New York and has lived in Israel since 1983. She has a Ph. D from Hebrew University. Her translated books include Late Beauty by Tuvia Ruebner; Suddenly the Sight of War: Nationalism and Violence in Hebrew Poetry of the 1940s by Hannan Hever; Approaching You in English by Admiel Kosman; Look There by Agi Mishol. She is the Central English Editor for Poetry International Rotterdam.


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