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Father TonguesZac Gvirtzman


          because you do things

                      you don’t know why

                      you do them)

                      you look for words

to convey what you feel

                      you try to justify

                      your thoughts

                      you make up reasons

 (which become your story)

                as if you were spinning a twig

                                            in the rain

                      (you confabulate with

               what you already know and

               what you don’t


                                born out of stubbornness

                      you represent


             self to yourself

                               (catching a glimpse of

      the person you were)

                            staring back at the person

                      you’ve become

            because i wanted to meet


                        i stayed around

                  and i decided to be

         there for you) and

            because i had a theory that

             when you’re born

                      you’re a complete person)

                        i wanted to know

                 and i found out that it’s so

               that you were

                     you) are



in the dream

        they were all there

in his room as the boy lay dreaming them

        standing by the shelves his dad built

at first there was just dust and ash

        then bones, skin, hair

disordered, in piles on the different levels

then they were passing parts of him

        to each other

down long lines whose extremities

        were faded in the thickening haze

as the parts were brought together

        they became slowly more formed

until there appeared a limb, a hand

        an ear, an eye, a head, a heart

but not all at once,

        bit by bit

like the features of a landscape

the grandparents stood close by

        whispering amongst themselves

a moment passed and now

        they had decided.

so the boy was in pieces

        waiting to be assembled

it was up to his parents

        to put him together

with all their love, carefully

        they set their hands to work


would have liked to have been a watchmaker

i want to piss

his words came in a

        lightning stream of utterance

        pitched for none but the sharpest ears

his tongue loved to cut

        like Abrah’m’s knife

born in a city in present-day Lithuania

raised in Haifa in what was then Palestine

(there’s no such country as Palestine,

        never has been. The name itself means

        ‘land of refugees’.

No, my Grandfather grew up in Palestine

        I argued with the night nurse

        in the Toronto hospital

        as I sat beside my grandmother,

        who was fast asleep. I said

I’ve been there and I know what it’s called

        the nurse’s eyes lit up with rage

        she’d crossed over into this new world

        so she could say whatever she liked

        about the one she’d left behind

        she was letting me know

        people like her

        have no shame)

came to London in the late ’40s

worked for a whisky company,

        best employee they ever had

(as a child I remember his screaming voice

        which he used to extract money

        from clients who he sold to on credit)

moved to Luxembourg

why Luxembourg?

        same reason as everyone else,

        because it’s a tax haven

he carved a niche for himself

        in the hall of prosperity

he sliced his name in half

        for the sake of convenience

he severed his ties with the old life

but he went back to visit

        only now as a new man, on his own terms

        in the name of modernity

he said that

to complain is a privilege

had 3 sisters, 2 elder and 1 twin,

        a language teacher, a musician

        and a doctor’s wife

married an Englishwoman from the North,

        clever, hardworking and devoted

had several affairs with other women,

        always strangers to the family,

        some of whom may have received

        moderate sums of money

        for various reasons

i want to piss

later, he became softer

when that life was over

(it left him against his will.

        he’d made no preparations for retirement

        his papers were in such disarray

        they took months to sort through,

        which was mostly done by his wife,

        to her disgust, with a shredder.

nobody expected him to accept

another life, constrained to his chair

waves of lucidity passing over his mind

surrounded by strangers for the most part

but he did, somehow.

        we used to visit him, my Dad and I,

        sometimes other members of the family

        it seemed that over the years

        he lived it all again

        and perhaps he came to terms

        with some of the things that

        he hadn’t before)

he spoke in Hebrew, Arabic, even Russian

offered us positions at the bank

tasted once more the grapes of his youth

we’ve finished now

we don’t want to hear it anymore

we want to be by ourselves

survived by his wife,

                his twin sister,

                his daughter,

                his son,

                his grandson

        (like g ntle beasts

 umble i the dark

all a  once       touch

 cross great distans

as if

   versing soltude)


no, he wasn’t a religious man

        (unlike his father,

        who was as meek as a lamb)

he used to go maybe twice,

        three times a year

but when it came to me

he wanted the proper thing done – 

        didn’t matter to him if it was

        totally out of the blue,

        almost whimsical

my dad said no

        but he thought about it,

        how it wouldn’t be such a bad idea

        to take me to meet the family,

        how in a way that would make up for

                not doing the proper thing,

                would be more meaningful

so a compromise was struck.

we boarded an aeroplane,

        3000 and some kilometres later to arrive

        in the promised land

where desert sand is flanked by

        strips of lawn

you’re supposed to talk about your family now

but i don’t know what to say about them

talk about the food,

        long hours spent around tables

        it’s so good to see you,

        you’re only staying so little?

some didn’t speak such good English

        eat, you’re not hungry?

we stayed with Auntie Yula, the eldest sibling

        you don’t like it?

        i like it, Auntie Yula,

        it’s just there’s no space on my plate

they were curious, as we were

        some were even welcoming

        you must come back soon!

one morning brushing my teeth

        a bobcat stared at me from the garden,

        our four eyes mystified

traces of recent history lay dormant around us,

        unspeaking of the further brutality to come

        as we sojourned in search of a blessing

we stopped the car by the roadside one evening

        as the earth and the sky became one

        we passed a moment there

then we went home


he’s like the familiar figure

        in a dream whose features

        you can’t quite make out

behind him i could see

        yellow leaves swaying

        through angled glass strips

a vacant quietude tugged

        at my collar

in the dream it was my

        schoolmate who’d had the

        top of his head removed

he was O.K., in fact they

        made him more intelligent

        that way, like the boy

        in the cartoon who lives

        in a bubble in the space age

i didn’t think much of it then

        but for some reason it came to mind

        in that room with the yellow leaves,

        angled glass strips and him

i didn’t want to say it at the time

        when my schoolmates asked me

and i was surprised when he said it,

        the man without a face

as if he somehow knew

        what had happened

he asked me whether it was

        for religious reasons

i didn’t really know what to say

i stared into space until

        he vanished

“all the family agreed it was a good idea”


do you remember when the words

        used to slip away

dancing on the tip of your tongue

it’s a question of proxy

        who starts the conversation


silences hung heavy


or when the days used to collapse into one

        they’d flicker and fade before you knew they’d begun

when a swathe of summer air

        could bring you round all of a sudden

        bearing down on the playground

there are certain questions

        i’ve been waiting for you to ask

or the giddiness that overtakes your nerves

        intoxicated, the sense of momentum

        escaping in a spiral

love just being plain

        unable to hide itself

        in a glance or a gesture

from one body to another

that’s why it’s taken me some time

        to put the pieces together

what language will they use

        when all this passes on

        into another form

peace isn’t a question anymore

        certain doubts dissolve

when faith turns to knowledge

        what music will they hear

it’s for you to understand

        better where you come from

the children of yesterday

        shrouded in hope

remembering the future


who like gentle beasts

fumble in the dark

all at once touching

across great distances

as if for a moment

traversing solitude