Take Care, Soldier

Translator’s Note: 5 Iyar, by the Hebrew calendar, is Israel’s Day of Independence, which Palestinians commemorate by the Gregorian calendar, on May 15, as the Nakba, the Catastrophe. As thousands of Palestinians streamed across Israel’s borders last week, meeting with armed resistance, meeting with injury and death, I remembered a poem by Yitzhak Laor. “Take Care, Soldier” was first published in 2004 in a collection called Ir Ha’Leviyatan (“Leviathan City”). —Joshua Cohen

Don’t die, soldier, hold the radiophone,
don your helmet, your flak jacket, surround
the village with a trench of crocodiles, starve
it out if need be, eat Mama’s treats, shoot
sharp, keep your rifle clean, take care of the armored
Jeep, the bulldozer, the land, one day it will be
yours, little David, sweetling, don’t die, please.

Keep watch for Goliath the peasant, he’s trying to sell his
pumpkin at a local market, he’s plotting to buy a gift for his grandkid, erase
the evil Haman whose bronchitis you denied treatment, eradicate
the blood of Eva Braun by checking on the veracity of her labor pains, silence her
shriek, that’s how every maternity ward sounds, it’s not easy
having such humane values, be strong, take care, forget
your deeds, forget the forgetting.

That thy days may be long, that the days of thy children may be long, that one day
they shall hear of thy deeds and shall stick fingers in their ears and scream
with fear and thy sons’ and thy daughters’ scream shall never fade.
Be strong, sweet David, live long unto seeing thy children’s eyes,
though their backs hasten to flee from thee, stay in touch with thy comrades-at-arms,
after thy sons deny thee, a covenant of the shunned.
Take care, soldier-boy.

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