From Wax Flower

Agi Mishol

Translated from the Hebrew by Joanna Chen




I do not know you

to tell the truth

you do not know me either.


I see the rusting wire in your eyes

and your ailing soul in the evening

with a small tuna salad in your lap

together with toast

in front of the TV.


But your mother tongue is not mine,

so we prefer to stroll:

walking is better than sitting,

sitting better than lying down,

lying down better than sleeping.


And we stroll,

your arm strung through mine,

and we play once upon a time I

was your mother,

and now you are mine.




Through the door frame

she too is trapped in the neon time –

an old lady with no panties

talking to God.


Actually she’s addressing a dove

squashed in a concrete crevice

of a hospital window.


White dove.

Perhaps take pity on your neighbor


fluttering now

beyond the curtain

between the cymbals of electricity

conducted by a doctor on duty.



It was a modest ceremony:

The Interior Ministry clerk handed me

your graduation certificate. You

who never had any certificate,

never won anything,

suddenly won a beautiful certificate of

death, with a state emblem.

As if you had excelled at something

and passed all the tests.


She asked if I want to update

(so she said) my father’s death certificate.

Afterwards she laid them side by side

like matching gravestones

and pressed an electric buzzer.


I went down the street and kept walking

like a child,

a small one

holding hands with paper parents

who rustle in the wind


רוֹת נֵץ-הֶחָלָב, פרידה מההורים.

מאת: אגי משעול


אינני מכירה אותך

אם לומר את האמת

גם את לא מכירה אותי.

אני רואה את הַתַּיִל המחליד בעיניך

ואת נפשך המַּחֲלִילָה בערבים

כשסלט טונה קטן בחיקך

ביחד עם הצנימים

מול ארגז הַטֶּלֶוִיזְיָה

אך שפת אמך איננה שפת אמי,

לכן אנחנו מעדיפות לְטַיֵּל:

ללכת טוב מלשבת,

לשבת טוב מלשכב,

לשכב טוב מִלִּיּשון

ואנחנו מְטַיְּלוֹת,

זרועך מֻשְׁחלת בזרועי,

אנחנו משחקות את פעם הייתי

אִמָּא שלך,

עכשיו את אִמָּא שלי.


מבעד למשקוף,

כלואה אף היא בזמן הניאון –

ישישה בלי תחתונים

מדברת עם אֱלֹהִים.

למעשה היא פונה ליונה

המטופפת בְּגֻמְחַת הבטון של חלון

בית החולים.

יונה לבנה,

אולי תרחם על שכנתה

אֲפוּסִת הִכֹּחִ

המפרפרת כעת

מעבר לַוִּילוֹן

בין מְצִלְתָּיִם של חשמל

בְּנִצּוּחוֹ של רופא תורן.


הטקס היה צנוע:

פקידת משרד הפנים הושיטה לי

את תעודת הסיום שלך, את

שמעולם לא הָיְתָה לך שום תעודה

זכית פִּתְאֹם בתעודת פטירה

יפה, עם סמל המדינה

כאלו הִצְטַיַּנְתְּ מאד במשהו

ועמדת בכל הדרישות.

היא שאלה אם אני רוצה גם לעדכן

(כך אמרה) את תעודת הפטירה של אבי.

אחר כך הניחה אותן זו לצד זו

כשתי מצבות תואמות

ולחצה על פעמון חשמלי.

ירדתי לרחוב והמשכתי לִפְסֹעַ

כמו ילדה


שמחזיקה יָדַיִם להורי נְיָר

מרשרשים ברוח.


Joanna Chen was born in the U.K. and is a second-year student in the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar-Ilan University.  She worked at Newsweek‘s Middle East Bureau, covering news from Israel, and has also published world reports on the subject of women’s issues in Marie Claire. Joanna has contributed to the BBC World Service’s Women’s Hour, The Food Programme, World Have Your Say and Outlook.

Agi Mishol is an established Israeli poet who has won an array of prizes, including the Yehuda Amichai Prize, the Prime Minister’s Prize and the coveted Dolitzky Prize.  The daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, Mishol was born in Transylvania, Romania in 1946, emigrating to Israel at an early age. Her work has been translated into a number of languages and she has published more than a dozen books of poetry in Hebrew. This year saw the publication of her latest book, Working Order.

Translator’s Note: The poetry of Agi Mishol is evocative, accessible, grounded in the present yet steeped both in Mishol’s personal past and in the public past of Israel.  The lyricism of her poems nestles within a language that is colloquial and familiar.  The Wax Flower collection from which I translated is an exploration of the death of Mishol’s parents, in particular the death of her mother. Despite the simple diction,  the challenge for me was to translate the words without removing them from their larger cultural context and also to preserve  the gentle lyrical quality that Mishol’s poetry possesses in the original Hebrew. Cynthia Ozick wrote that “a translation can serve as a lens into the underground life of another culture,”  and my wish while translating was to create this lens for readers of English.




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