Chana Bloch

Poet and translator Chana Bloch is best-known for her brilliant translations of the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, including his Selected Poetry, and Open Closed Open: Poems (with Stephen Mitchell). She has also translated the Biblical Song of Songs and Dahlia Ravikovitch’s The Window and Dress of Fire. Bloch has taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, U.C. Berkeley, and served as the Chair of the English Department at Mills College, where she currently directs the Creative Writing Program. Winner of the Writers Exchange Award of Poets & Writers, a Pushcart Prize, and the Discovery Award of the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, as well as fellowships from both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, she has also enjoyed residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and the Djerassi Foundation.

In addition to her distinguished translation work, Bloch has published three original collections of poems, the most recent of which, Mrs. Dumpty, won the 1998 Felix Pollak Prize. Jean Valentine hailed this riveting verse-memoir of the dissolution of a long marriage, as “a clear-eyed and heartbreaking series of poems.” In the words of Amichai, “The more powerful the words, the more piercing the images, the deeper the healing. That is what Mrs. Dumpty succeeds in doing: healing with words, making this life livable.”

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 1999

Please Hold

You used to imitate a camel
eating—nostrils flared, your dogged
hilarious jaw
sawing left and right.  It was easy
to love you then.

I’d start coq au vin
on the pokey two-burner,
James Beard propped open with a pot.

The time we dialed Pan Am and danced
to their “Please Hold” fox trot, Mulligan’s
honey-slow horn, remember?
the telephone pressed between us…

We’d drowse off at midnight, a muddle
of arms and legs
till your cock-crow under the covers
awakened us both.

And then there was morning. I’d steal
one last-minute dream
and open my eyes to a blur
of Burma Shave
in the bathroom doorway, a fizz of sunrise

you wiped away, then
two-stepped toward me.

From MRS. DUMPTY (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)

Psalm

by Yehuda Amichai

A psalm on the day
a building contractor cheated me. A psalm of praise.
Plaster falls from the ceiling, the wall is sick, paint
cracking like lips.

The vines I’ve sat under, the fig tree-
it’s all just words. The rustling of the trees
creates an illusion of God and Justice.

I dip my dry glance like bread
into the death that softens it,
always on the table in front of me.
Years ago, my life
turned my life into a revolving door.
I think about those who, in joy and success,
have gotten far ahead of me,
carried between two men for all to see
like that bunch of shiny pampered grapes
from the Promised Land,
and those who are carried off, also
between two men: wounded or dead. A psalm.

When I was a child I sang in the synagogue choir,
I sang till my voice broke. I sang
first voice and second voice. And I’ll go on singing
till my heart breaks, first heart and second heart.
A psalm.

translated by Chana Bloch

From THE SELECTED POETRY OF YEHUDA AMICHAI (The University of California Press, 1986)

The Kiss

There was a ghost at our wedding.
the caterer’s son,
who drowned that day.

Like every bride I was dressed
in hope so sharp
it tore open
my tight-sewn fear.

You kissed me under the wedding canopy,
a kiss that lasted a few beats longer
than the usual,
and we all laughed.

We were promising: the future
would be like the present,
even better, maybe.
Then your heel came down
on the glass.

We poured champagne
and opened the doors to the garden
and danced
a little drunk, all of us,

as the caterer made the first cut,
one firm stroke, then
dipped his knifeblade
in the water.

From MRS. DUMPTY (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)