Ruth Netzer :Four Poems



Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562


Picture to yourselves how the famous painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder

painted The Triumph of Death in the 16th century: human beings

– in the marketplace, at the table – tottering and limply collapsing

as if bewitched, drunk or drugged,

dying as if in clubs, from the terrible plague.


Where did he find the strength to go on

for long weeks painting the horrors,

a painting for which no one paid him, a painting that roars with color,

with a beauty that is aesthetically pleasing, meticulous and cruel.

Perhaps like Scheherezade he believed that as long as he went on

documenting, he'd stay alive.





Things are happening now, things will happen today tomorrow

Things pass

as they will always

pass in the world –

Things will drift like clouds, fly like birds,

run away like a river, blow away like dust,

drain away like water, die away like voices,

things will pass like seasons, melt away like colors,

slide off like waves –

Things will pass as if they never were,

above and beneath us, right and left,

like angels.


Moments of nothing special, of daily life, of evening-morning,

moments of lingering, of wondering, of astonishment,

moments that embrace, that clasp, that crush, that open, that write us –


Please stay with me, temporary moments, moonstruck breadcrumbs,

micro-instants, stay with me, in just a minute I'll send you forth

to spy if the waters have abated.






But assuming that God

is Essential Being

Who holds all higher spiritual force

from Whom all things descend –


Assuming that God is in everything, in all that is,


in earth, water, fire, air,

in every fruit, leaf, bird, animal,

in all joy and in all weeping

and in the infant


Is He also in all that is phony,

all that is misleading –


is He also in apathy,

in ignorance, in sickness –


in things that crumble, split, crack and creak –


Is He also in the vile,

in spittle, in rot,

in stinginess, in malice,

in wickedness –

Is He even in plastic, nylon and concrete,

in advertising, in computers, is He there

O God --






Look, the crow appears

in a gray-and-black dress coat.

He comes and stands beside me, on the seashore, and nods to me --

I read about him just now in the poem you wrote.

I heard his voice first. It sounded to me

as if it were coming from the poem.

Thank you, Robert, your soul passed through me

when it took wing toward the marshes.


Robert, your stormy flowered tie

though you've passed your eightieth year

--That is what I'll learn from you –

that it is possible to thrive in old age

if one writes poetry.



Now I know that poetry changes the state

of consciousness, ignites it, and even the rocking of the waves

that summon the winds, the pulse of the sea, the murmur of seashells,

the pock of the tennis racket, the dance of the hand scattering crumbs to the sparrows,

the rhythmic jerking of the pigeon's neck as he hops before me,

the people who walk into their tracks,

my heart beating in time with their steps,

and the dark beak of the crow as he perches regally on top of a pole,

looking around him, conducting the choir


Even as a write this, your book opens to the place where

you write to me:

"Every morning we have a new chance…."

and I learned from you this new way of leaving the poem alone.



Birds grow from my hair, fly around you and come back to me.

Your poems are coded letters to me.

Your generosity picks poem-apples for me,

plants treasures in them at random.


A baby crawls among the shells on the sand, the pigeons confer together,

the raven hops on the sand, a turquoise catches fire in the water,

the waves fling the poems addressed to us on the shore.



An ancient wind passed through us.

Now the sea quivers all over with glittering sparks of silver.

The waves are not afraid of being swallowed in each other,

they are not afraid of their constant shattering on the shore,

which disperses them and impresses them on the sand

to return to us from the beginning

to melt the umbilical cord

It is life which confirms us

our foothold when we dive into the depths

and photograph our dreams

tell ourselves stories

in order to remember forgetfulness



You say: "See, I have come after so many years"

You continue my thoughts:

"Imagination is the door to the house of the raven

and it follows that the blessing rests on us already!"



I never saw you;

you live on a distant continent.

I was not the one you wrote to.


These are the poems we write.

Beyond time you continue to speak to me

"You waited for me so long, where was I?"


                                                  translated from the Hebrew by Esther Cameron


[1]In this poem Ruth Netzer is corresponding with the poetry of the American poet Robert Bly.  The lines "you write to me:/ "Every morning we have a new chance…" are in answer to Bly's poem "Ruth," which she reacts to as though it was written for her.