Yosef Gotlieb, IL



Free Verse


The Tides of Time


The half-shell bowl of Caesarea,
Curvaceous walls of encrusted stone,
Still stand…
                             (but are fated to sand by the sea-blown whisper)

Once, perhaps, it had been
The cupped hand of some heathen Titan,
          who had fallen from the sea,
          and rotted,
          eels protruding from his terrible head,
          his mouth choked, his throat clotted,
          with the seaweed of conceit and lust, and
          the trifles of ill-living,
          its wages: Ancient Greece deposed
          its wisdom contrite, consigned to books,
          still read.

On that beach, after the corpse had been drawn into deep waters,
Came the fleet
Dispatched by Rome
To claim Phoenicia,
Then Judea,
And March to All Corners.

Upon this spot,
          augustly draped, inimitable, in the hues of the setting sun
The Commander swaggered down the plank,
His sword thrust high, he proclaimed
               “Hail Caesar, Hail Caesar,
               “Glory, Glory.
               “Here we erect
               “A monument [for follies],
               “Hail Caesar, Hail Caesar,
To which his legions, following in tow, roared
               Saluto, Saluto,
               Victoria, Victoria!

They pounded their lances upon the ground
Eager for the spoils, they had been promised.

The emperor had decreed
A port was to be built here, and
               masons came,
               then traders,
               and horse breeders,
               for the races.
               Coins fell onto the sand
               from money bags that dangled
               and left a trail to
               games played here.

               The games were played, delights were known,
               Though Rome forgot, or had not been told,

               The timeless whisper:
                            The Tides of Time,
                            The Sea is strong.

Three hundred paces by the legions’ boots,
Across the grasses where the Titan's hand had rested
There was to be raised a place for sporting dances
Stone cutters of Rome toiled,
Slaves built the walls, and the
Arēna, a place of sand, atop the sand, was erected.

Step-lipped benches upon which sat,
Nobles awaiting a show
In the dripping air and the candescent heat
The whispering sea upon their faces,
How they craved
The show, the show!

The viewers' gaze locked on the archways
Through which would prance,
Better, storm,
The spectators' pleasure,
Their nipples pressed, firm buttocks creased
Against their gowns,
Dancing, twirling, feet hither, feet thro,
And then,
The saplings,
The phallus of Rome
Stalwart as sentinels beneath their skirts,
They with their darlings provided mirth
To those who howled gaily,
The show, the show!

No one heard.
               the timeless whisper:
               The Tides of Time,
               The Sea is strong.

               The heart of Caesarea was empty,
               The pillars and alters would be toppled,
               Broken statues would fall, the gods of Rome broken,
               Buried, in the sand
               Along with the coins that had been gambled
               Nothing, now, could they buy.

And now an echo, only an echo,
Conquistadors, pay heed, those of mine, aye, pay heed:
               the timeless whisper
               The Tides of Time,
               The Sea is strong.





so many pastels,
so trim and fit.
Where is the passion
of your old stones?

Clapping hooves on your pavements,
horses march, pulling wagons,
a sigh of spirit? ‘tis a tenuous claim,
The carts ply tourists
so they might see
what has been lost.

So many shades of pale
grays to beige
the tolling of bells

A small rumble on your cobblestoned ways
                                                                   chimes clang distant
the cold, brooding canopy above,
submits you to
order pursues order,
on and on.

Where is your soul?

Your buildings huddle
shoulder to shoulder
pressing together
                       to hide
a spirit? a specter?

I spy your statuary
Trident’s fork and Ulysses’ sword,
They poke for naught from the deepest depths of forest moss
The Elysian fields that feed your soul
are now beneath it,
all thistle and stone, and
the clapping of hooves as life passes, above, beyond
Your horses’ sweet dung
seems the most alive of you…

The fabled heroes
are no more.

And so, now, Wien,
What is your meaning?

I erred.
You spring alive,
Suddenly I see you
a luminescence
a whiteness unsealed
I, wanting to see, peer at you,
You are a
Horns entangled,
In a forest,
in a thicket,
snorting, you phew
“Release me, Release me
            so that I might
                                     propelling across the vast whiteness
                                     my hooves cleave to it
                                     I sweep ahead
                                     forward I race
                                     the fire in me burns,
                                     run, alive, alive
                                     I am a creature, sinew and fury
                                     Across the woodscape I do spring
                                     I would
                                                               to the moon
                                                                         the white orb,
                                                                                               I, I,
                                     In the thunderous dark night
                                     I would seize the moon
                                     In a bite, my jaws tight on it,
                                     I would pull to clench it clean of the
                                     filament, its shroud,
                                     until it would bleed,
                                     the Moon,
                                     a track of injury
                                     upon the snows,
                                     so I, the Stag
                                     might flee again
                                     its touch, desire, to
                                     “be me, be me”
                                     My passions.”

You forest Stag,
You slumber, beneath a mantle of
forest moss, thick and deep,
It is the comfort it offers that
makes you free
             To write your great works, and
             Hear the music,
             Others could have never known.

Note, Dec. 9, 2011:

Vienna’s passions are sublimated into great music, art and theory. Klimt, Schiele, Freud, Mozart, Beethoven, Herzl.

Freud’s theory seems correct as social representation of petit-bourgeois Vienna of the time. The question is: Are these patters universally projectable.

I found myself quite affected after only a few hours of walking in central Vienna on the weekend of Dec. 9-11, 2011. The sentiments I felt find expression in this poem, which I began while standing between the old Jewish section of the city and the Scottish quarter. After arriving after dusk on the avenue near the Stephenplatz, I composed the second part of the piece.



Bialik Hall, Writers House


The egg-crate ceiling of Bialik Hall
Has stucco dripping
Like tears stuck in time.
To the side of the podium a granite bust presides,
A literary seer of Zion, unknown to my eyes
His gargantuan face thrusts severely
With the gaze of a ship captain in lost waters
Who peers hard through the nocturnal fog
His eyes scouring the shoreline.
Though trapped in forgotten stone
The sage in low murmur
Recounts deeds and loves and heartaches
And where safe harbor might be found.

In my imaginings he has told a tale
Of gentle, graceful arbors
With moss-laden branches
From which emerge
Gray-bearded men and women with furrowed faces
They walk, eyes open, groping forward in the darkness
Clutching lanterns bearing a small light.
As the journeyers trod forward
They utter words to be captured,
Inscribed, then recited to all who will listen.

In Bialik Hall
The Gibraltar presence
A fierce head atop a granite bust,
His countenance heaved forward,
His gaze upon the sojourners,
He commands with quiet thunder,
“You, poets, scribes, find the way!”



Ode to Michal, Death Be Not Proud


Death assumed her acquiescence
As it dallied but loomed near
In the dimming light of her confinement
It wagered on silent surrender
An outrage, she would not concede.

As the waters of her being
Seeped into the timeless sand
She clutched the final drops
And forestalled the parting
With the iron of her soul.

Between the blows against the anvil
Amidst the bellowing gales of darkness
She sang out through the vicissitudes
“My body you may vanquish,
But you will never take my spirit.”



The Conjugality of Hydrogen and Oxygen


In the galactic vastness
Wherein we reside
On planet GJ1214b,
(newly discovered and 2.7 times the size of Earth)
There is much more water than stone.

The aqueousness of that random rock
Sets me to ponder
The immensely improbable conjugality
Of two common elements
H, and
Ionic O,
Which, apparently,
Wherever they meet
And enable
All that lives.

That these two spouses,
When conjoined
Produce an offspring,
So vitally potent,
So ubiquitous to all that
Breathes and gasps and sighs,
Requires of me,
A respiring mortal,
To inquire
Is this happenstance or design?

If on Earth and Venus and GJ1214b,
Perhaps also on orbs across the sky,
This richly unlikely communion is found, then
A cosmic presence so
Unimaginably unique,
Its union so wholly incalculable,
Seems to utter sublimely,
A subtle but unmistakable call,
I am, endowing,
And here
With you.



The Frothing Wave of Raindance


The frothing wave of your tresses
piled atop your pearl-drop face,
All porcelain and amber,
eyes of glistening raindance.
Light, ‘o light, you warm me so.

A conch shell bellows,
when we are apart,
The ground roars open,
and I peer at my trembling feet,
I fear I might fall into the blackness,
a life devoid of us.

Light, ‘o light,
I yearn to hold forever
The frothing wave, the raindance in your eyes,
Your luminescence
in my palms
Set upon my breast,
you warm me so.


Read an Interview with Yosef Gotlieb and Helen Bar-Lev, IL









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