Waking the Enzymes, Paths of light, 2011
From the cyclical to the perpendicular
Prof. Hillel Barzel
1. The reversed flame
“The Carmel: Chariots of fire and a nation’s spirit will arise,” the first poem in the collection Waking the enzymes
, leaps forth like a burning flame. This is a distinctly expressionistic poem, with long, flowing, uninterrupted lines, with free rhythm and exaggerated imagery. The mountain is destroyed by burning skies, a red-hot screen, non-ending flames. The basic form of the poet’s book, Cycle of light, poem and woman
was basically circular. The poem that opens the new collection assumes a ladder-like form, like the fire that inexorably rises towards heaven. The ladder that links mountain and sky is constructed rung by rung, stage by stage, like an axis linking heaven and earth. It consists of mirror images, the eyes viewing the flame, like those of the cherubim guarding the gates to Paradise, blocking access to the Tree of Life. The scenes rise up and burn the eyes of the individual screaming heavenwards, but there is no reply.
This great bursting forth also gains rhetorical power from limited opposites contained in lines or stanzas and extended opposites throughout the poem that change its direction. Thus towards the end of the poem, when the flames give way to that blackened desolation that remains after the terrible conflagration, Elijah appears in his fiery chariot, burning with an inner flame, a scorched heart. The external fire becomes the fire of the soul, the fire of suffering which leads the poet to ponder on man’s place in the universe.
The poem’s power derives from such reverses in direction. In addition to striking visual and auditory imagery, it conveys profound meaning. The paradox of life is encapsulated in “…the boys” who came to the rescue and went up in smoke like Hanukkah candles, a theological inversion of “Rock of ages”. The fire within the fire alludes to the Creator. Fire consumes fire, and all of Creation, tree and man, are consumed in smoke, ashes and firebrands, and all that remains, like a grotesque drawing in a burial cave, is a singed fowl bringing no redemption. The poet ponders on the ultimate question: How can a tree that was created to grow become a torch igniting other trees, a disaster leading to a greater disaster, a flame causing death and powerlessness.
The poem’s expressive power bursts forth with glowing intensity like the lava flowing from a volcano, while resting on a consistent formal foundation. The adherence of the present collection to form is reminiscent of the writer’s earlier poems, which followed a cyclical pattern. The inspirational biblical allusions seem totally in keeping with the subject matter, such as the reference to Elijah the Prophet who rose in a storm to Heaven following the appearance of clouds after the drought. One may identify the apocalyptic visions of the prophet Zechariah characterized by a loss of stability, color and form in earth and sky. There are also references to the Kabala, crystal clouds embracing the souls released from the burning bodies, losing shape and rising from matter. As befitting a poet adhering to the Kabalistic tradition – in the manner of Rabbi Shalom Shabazi – every word carries a whole world of meaning. Elijah ascending the Carmel Mountains alludes to Moses ascending Mt. Sinai. The tradition of biblical allusion in Sephardic poetry and liturgy - where every phrase is grounded in Scripture - appears here, but at the same time these are modern poems in every sense of the word, free-flowing in a unique, individual and personal way. Old and new blend together; current affairs and ancient traditions run parallel to create something vibrantly new.
2. The upward path
The ladder-like form of the opening poem, built step by step, is characteristic of the entire collection. In “Man, earth and tree in the emerging city,” the height imagery emanates from the poem’s title and indicates the whole, from the image of children’s toy cars running along the ground to buildings rising to great heights in the “city of the future”. Airplanes snake through the darkness and consume everything around them. White dust rises everywhere in the emerging city. The children of tomorrow will be the drivers of a new, rising dawn. The city of the future will break the barriers of time and glorify the spirit of man. Conversely, the poet refers to the great pain caused by touching the deepest wound in man’s soul. The tearful pain arises from the depths, from the fear of fear itself, to emerge as a thin, fading voice seeking the courage to emerge crying and choking from “pale” poems to that heights of artistic creation that aspire to immortality.
The great sense of fear encapsulated in Ecclesiastes as “Vanity of vanities” seeks rehabilitation by being written about, by releasing in pictorial imagery the poet’s upsurge of emotion and imagination. Reality is made up of one doubt after another, commemorated in words that rise upwards by their very nature. In the poem, “The spirit’s accumulative state,” accumulation is opposed to mood, an expressionist poem is opposed to a descriptive one, presenting the part that encompasses the whole. This is a beautiful poem in ladder-like form, where every line acts as a rung preparing us for the next, connected with it but rising ever higher. An example of this is the poem “A Sabra cactus and a nation in isolation”:
Its insolent thorns
Stand ready to defend soft fruit
And a princedom of flowers.
The bee’s soft mouth
Bustles with a procreation song
The mighty Sabra
Lifting its proud neck
Like a people it suddenly
And on the land a generation
Thorn and flower pistil
And Eli the priest at Shiloh
Among the ancient rocks
Grows and sets down roots
The circle as a basic pattern emerges in fruit, mouth, flower, all relating to the erotic, the mouth and the procreating song, the soft mouth. The circle as a basic pattern emerges in fruit, mouth, flower, all relating to the erotic, the mouth and the procreating song, the soft mouth. This soft circle, a quiet princedom, is contrasted with the bold, vigorous pedicle, with its thorns, reminiscent of the Sages: "A metaphysical position towards the Lord in Heaven can bring advantage." The thorny cactus is lordly, stretching its neck proudly boldness even towards the Lord in Heaven, can bring advantage. The thorny cactus is lordly, stretching its neck proudly skywards. Obviously, the land’s redemption will stem from both the soft feminine and the hard masculine. The poem flows without punctuation, apart from one full stop. The circularity does not disappear from sight; the eye’s orb observes both masculine and the feminine, both circular and perpendicular, which will dwell - thorn, flower and plant – together to eternity.
The next poem, “Daucus carota
and a generation developing” also adheres to the cyclical pattern. The form and the lexical constellation in both songs is perpendicular, rising metaphysically upwards: “Ye stand all of you today before your Lord” (Deuteronomy 29:10). The national redemption in the poem alludes to Amir Gilboa’s famous lines: “Suddenly a man rises one morning, feels that he is a nation and starts walking” (from “A poem in the morning”).
The bold, confident brushstrokes do not hesitate to reach the top of the ladder, fearing no boundaries, after having had enough of the refinement of feeling evident in “Spring longing writes me”. The longing here is endless, a desire for a touch of happiness, starting out on a voyage without reaching a safe harbor. The pencil, the poem states, races like a Dybbuk spilling the paint of consciousness at the moment of naked truth. Emerging from the Pyramids to modern slavery, the world is viewed on an axis that begins in ancient times and ends in the present, recalling the humiliation at being denied the freedom to live in the image of God as possessors of free choice.
The perpendicular poetry is formulated in visual imagery with a touch of humor. The poem gains independence, detaches itself from its maker with the joy of release, as if it has burst grinning from slavery to freedom: “This poem explodes with longings/ Like a cloud holding back heavy rain/ Choking” (ibid.), rain which finally appears, opening the heavens.
3. Old and new
The cyclical pattern from the former anthology rises upwards in the spirit of the “Song of the sea” (Exodus 15: 8) as a song of redemption, a song of hope for today and tomorrow in the poem, “Then he will sing like Moses at Mt. Sinai”:
What will he perceive of my scattered self
Among the letters “Cycle of light, poem and woman”
What will I perceive of his perception of my circularity
What will his mission convey to me?
Who is the envoy and who the recipient?
Who will fill whose hole in the heart?
At its end it moves from the circular to the lofty perpendicular: “And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together.”
The poetic reference emerges from the realm of exaltation as is characteristic of Hebrew poetry at its zenith, from the Divine revelation - a topic of Hebrew poetry throughout the generations - down to technological reality: “We created the idol of the computer/Worshipping it day and night and at dawn” Will we have the wisdom “to return to the world of the primordial bird?” (“A bird-man on a rock”). One can indulge in longing while sitting in front of the computer, on condition that the dream comes rocking on the waves, carried by high tides; remains true to the murmuring of love; reflects the light of tears sparkling like the dew shining on morning leaves at dawn; and that all the parts of the soul dance with words, moving upwards in space like stems in the wind, in an effort to know, to discover the secrets of nature and color, the azure sky and every cloud formation (“Building dams for the time being”).
4. Imagery in poem titles and book covers
The circular and the perpendicular, basic forms of nature, love and belief, are an imagery-enriching force. “White clouds make love on the sheet of the sky” (“A bear and honey”). Moving air revolves until it flows towards lift-off (“Before flight”). This may also be seen in the poems’ titles: “A cloud on the roof,” “Dwelling of light on the shelves of the highest,” “The Light will lick the threshold,” “Takeoff and landing,” ”Walls gallop in a circular motion” . This holds true for the author’s previous books, Blue eye ray
and Lift to the sea
, as well as for the present collection, Waking the enzymes
. “Enzymes” are effervescent components that stimulate chemical activity in other matter and may be found in plants and animals. “Waking” refers to the transition from sleep to action, raising the body from lying supine to standing erect with head held high.
Many of the titles in the previous collection Cycle of light, poem and woman
refer to circularity: “Depths of the sea,” “Snails,” “Wall and shield,” “Fertile crescent,” “Dance,” “The old house,” “The ancient synagogue,” “Grandmother silent in the wagon,” “A pot without a lid,” “Pine cones,” “Circular light,” “Prickly altanet,” “Gazelle,” “Chameleon,” “An opening in the mountain,” “Windows,” “In a seashell,” “In the garage,” “Trains of dreams,” “Under the green cover,” “Women in the time tunnel”.
In contrast, many of the titles in Waking the enzymes
refer to high places: “The Carmel: Chariots of fire and a nation’s spirit will arise,” “Bird-man on a rock,” “In the temples of song,” “On the shelves of the highest,” “Bottle-neck,” ”Vertigo”.
Circularity is reflected in Aviva Berger’s cover illustration of Cycle of light, poem and woman
, which depicts a woman as part of a dizzying, ever-stronger whirlpool. The present anthology bears a photograph by the scientist, Prof. Ronny Aloni. It is of an abstract, meta-realistic nature, hinting at mountains growing ever taller, a combination of the inanimate and the animate.
5. Finale: From one accomplishment to the next
The transition from the cyclical to the perpendicular appears in the poem “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, an allusion to the ninth Commandments referred to in the title and throughout the poem. A queen is liable to encounter false words, plots, lies: “This is not my beloved”. The words are based on the Song of Songs and the Psalms. The circle has advantages, but also dangers: “Dialing./ Filling up from meeting to meeting/ Breaking up to the sounds of the dance/ Leaving the academic circle/ Loosing coordination and himself/ In a circle of many women.” The poem states that words in parentheses have no solution. It is impossible to embroider the sun with words on the computer screen. One must change direction in order to reach the Almighty.
In the poem, “Prayer” (“Look! The circle of lights is rising over the hill/ Returning light/ Returning woman”), a new poem is crossing the threshold. The time has come for a Divine Spirit that will dwell in the poor quarter, the poverty of all flesh and blood. “Come!/Come!/ The Sukkah is made to your measure/ And the heart beats like a leaf trembling/ In the new wind.” The power of the enzymes awakes, a life flow expressing truth poetically from one accomplishment to the next.