Distant Strains

A selection of English translations of work by the poet Sarai Shavit.

Sarai Shavit’s poems take us through a poetic journey into the past. This is an unchronological, psychic and poetic expedition into realms of childhood, loss, falling in love, mourning, friendship and family life, both present and long gone.

The poems, published recently in her book titled Distant Strains (Mosad Bialik), offer an uncompromising, dense inquiry into the self, written in free form, skillfully flowing language. In them, the poet reveals the abyss of family life and growing up without any attempt of offering false comforts. On the one hand, the poems are characterized by an evident sense of urgency and exposure, nakedness even; on the other, one seems to be left with the feeling that these same poems contain something mysterious, to be (maybe) understood only on second and third readings.

Sarai Shavit is a poet, writer, literary editor and television host. She has published four books to date: Bruria Productions (Kinneret Zmora-Bitan), India Express (Achuzat Bayit), and two poetry collections, What Else is There (Achuzat Bayit) and Distant Strains (Mosad Bialik). Sari is the recipient of the Tel Aviv Municipality Poetry Prize, the Goldberg Prize for Literature, and the Mifal Hapayis Poetry Prize. She currently curates literary festivals and is the editor and presenter of Breaking Lines, a literary TV program.

The Gun Lay There

I never knew my father. Years
after he died I found his gun
in my late aunt’s attic.
The wooden steps led,
one after the other,
to an old carton. I’m not talking about
buried treasure. Cold and dusty, the gun
lay there in silence. None of us used it, no one
pulled on the trigger of the gun
during the shiva. Afterwards,
it lay there.

I turned the gun in at the police station.
I don’t know if my father hid it
or went out into the street, the gun
slung on his belt. If he shot with it.

At night I stretch out one hand.
Through the gloom, it looks strong.

Under thin sheets of mourning
I flex my fingers and calibrate.

האקדח היה מונח

לֹא הִכַּרְתִּי אֶת אַבָּא. שָׁנִים

אַחֲרֵי שֶׁמֵּת מָצָאתִי אֶת הָאֶקְדָּח שֶׁלּוֹ

בַּעֲלִיַּת הַגָּג שֶׁל דּוֹדָתִי הַמְּנוֹחָה.

מַדְרֵגוֹת הָעֵץ הוֹבִילוּ

אַחַת אַחֲרֵי הַשְּׁנִיָּה,

אֶל קֻפְסַת קַרְטוֹן יְשָׁנָה. לֹא מְדֻבָּר

בְּאוֹצָר גָּנוּז. הָאֶקְדָּח, קָרִיר, מְצֻפֶּה אָבָק,

חִכָּה בִּדְמָמָה. אִישׁ מֵאִתָּנוּ לא הִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בּוֹ,

לֹא לָחַץ עַל הַהֶדֶק תּוֹךְ כְּדֵי שִׁבְעָה. וְגַם אַחַר כָּךְ

הָאֶקְדָּח הָיָה מֻנָּח.

הֶחְזַרְתִּי אוֹתוֹ לַמִּשְׁטָרָה.

אֵינִי יוֹדַעַת אִם אַבָּא שָׁמַר אוֹתוֹ חָסוּי

אוֹ הָלַךְ אִתּוֹ בָּרְחוֹב חָשׂוּף

עַל חֲגוֹרָה. אִם יָרָה.

בַּלֵּילוֹת אֲנִי פּוֹשֶׁטֶת אֶת יָדִי.

בַּחשֶׁךְ הִיא נִרְאֵית חֲזָקָה.

תַּחַת צִפּוֹת הָאֵבֶל הַדַּקִּיקוֹת

אֲנִי מוֹתַחַת אֶצְבָּעוֹת וּמוֹדֶדֶת.


Don’t take a lover
don’t eat yogurt past its expiration date.
Don’t cry the entire night. Always stop
at midnight. Don’t slam doors. Don’t skimp
on flowers. Keep within the budget. Forget
your childhood. Forgive the teacher who called you cross-eyed, the neighbor
who sent her husband over to replace the faucet when you were home alone
in a nightie, the rain that caught you on the sidewalk. Leave a small light on in the bathroom.
Recognize your body recoiling in bed. Take care of yourself. Don’t get
sick. Try not to wander around with a lump in your throat, you don’t have to
carry your mourning everywhere. In a second
you can snap out of it –

And when you’re the only woman in the room
wear a white sweater
and find your own chair. Don’t wait
for your name to be called. Be Aware.


צו ירושה

אַל תִּקְחִי מְאַהֵב

אַל תֹּאכְלִי יוֹגוּרְט שֶׁפַּג תָּקְפּוֹ.

אַל תִּבְכִּי לַיְלָה שָׁלֵם. עִצְרִי תָּמִיד

בַּחֲצוֹת. אַל תִּטְרְקִי דְּלָתוֹת. אַל תְּקַמְּצִי

בִּפְרָחִים. הַקְפִּידִי עַל כַּלְכָּלָה נְבוֹנָה. שִׁכְחִי

אֶת הַיַּלְדוּת שֶׁלָּךְ. סִלְחִי לַמּוֹרָה שֶׁקָּרְאָה לְךָ פּוֹזֶלֶת, לַשְּׁכֵנָה

שֶׁשָּׁלְחָה אֶת בַּעְלָהּ לְהַחֲלִיף אֶת סִיפוֹן הַכִּיּוֹר כְּשֶׁהָיִית לְבַד בַּבַּיִת

בְּכֻתֹּנֶת. לַגֶּשֶׁם שֶׁתָּפַס אוֹתָךְ עַל מִדְרָכָה, הַשְׁאִירִי אוֹר קָטָן בָּאַמְבַּטְיָה.

זַהִי אֶת גּוּפֵךְ מִתְכַּוֵּץ בַּמִּטָּה. שִׁמְרִי עַל עַצְמֵךְ. אַל תִּהְיִי

חוֹלָה. נַסִּי לֹא לְהִסְתּוֹבֵב עִם הַגּוּשׁ בֶּחָזֶה אַתְּ לֹא חַיֶּבֶת

לָשֵׂאת אֶת הָאֵבֶל הַזֶּה. בְּרֶגַע אֶחָד

אַתְּ יְכוֹלָה לָקוּם –

כְּשֶׁאַתְּ הָאִשָּׁה הַיְחִידָה בַּחֶדֶר

לִבְשִׁי סְוֵדֶר לָבָן

וּמִצְאִי לָךְ כִּסֵּא. אַל תְּחַכִּי

שֶׁיִּנְקְבוּ בִּשְׁמֵךְ. פִּתְחִי אֶת הַפֶּה.


What will we do about the meals that weren’t
the stairwell that wasn’t
the trampled sorrel
the ashtrays that overflowed
the suffocating tiles on the floor
the boxes of plates
repeated banging on the door
the light bulbs
the napkins
how will we recycle the papers, the magazines
dismantle the sockets and the sinks, sort the knives
and forks
the tableware, the bottles, the corks
close the piano
cover the dead
will we take the clock, its hands so certain
sorrow hanging in the rolled-up curtains

an entire home that once was.



מַה נַּעֲשֶׂה עִם הָאֲרוּחוֹת שֶׁלֹּא

עִם חַדְרֵי הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת שֶׁלֹּא

עִם הַחַמְצִיצִים שֶׁנִּטְרְפוּ

הַמַּאֲפֵרוֹת שֶׁהִתְמַלְאוּ

מַחֲנַק הַמִּרְצָפוֹת

קֻפְסְאוֹת סַכּוּ”ם וְצַלָּחוֹת

דְּפִיקוֹת הַדֶּלֶת שֶׁחוֹזְרוֹת



אֵיךְ נְמַחְזֵר מִתּוֹךְ הַסַּל, מָגָזִינִים, עִתּוֹנִים

נְפָרֵק אֶת הַשְּׁקָעִים, פְּקָקֵי הַשַּׁעַם, כִּיּוֹרִים

נִסְגֹּר אֶת הַפְּסַנְתֵּר

נְכַסֶּה אֶת הַמֵּתִים


נִקַּח אֶת הַשָּׁעוֹן אֶת הִתְעַקְּשׁוּת הַמְּחוֹגִים

אֶת הַצַּעַר שֶׁנִּשְׁאַר בַּוִּילוֹנוֹת הַמֻּפְשָׁלִים

אֶת כָּל הַבַּיִת שֶׁעָמַד פֹּה.


Translated from the Hebrew by Joanna Chen. 

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