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Lotem Abdel Shafi

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The heart dies without space for love, without a moral horizon:
think of it then as a bird trapped in a box.
My heart goes out with love to those beyond the fence;
only toward them can one really advance, that is, make progress.
Without them I feel I’m half a person.
Romeo was born a Montague, and Juliet came from the Capulet line,
and I’m a disciple of Shakespeare, not Ben Gurion—
therefore I’ll be delighted if my daughter marries the grandson of Haidar Abdel Shafi.
I mean this, of course, as a parable only—but the parable is my measure,
and since it has more to do with my body than teeth or hair,
this isn’t just some idle fancy that, out of poetic license,
I place our fate in my daughter’s sex.
That I grant myself this imaginary gift, testifies to the extent
to which we’re living, still, in the underworld,
where we’re granted the hope and potential of an amoeba.
But all mythology begins with creatures that creep and crawl,
spring out of the ground and devour each other,
until a sacred union occurs, healing the breach in the world.
The Arab groom from Gaza, too, will extend to my daughter a dress
on which is embroidered the Land redeemed from Apartheid’s curse—
our Land as a whole, belonging equally to all of its offspring,
and then he’ll lift the veil from her face, and say to her:
“And now I take you to be my wife, Lotem Abdel Shafi.”

Aharon Shabtai, “Lotem Abdel Shafi,” translated by Peter Cole, from J’Accuse. Copyright © 2002 by Aharon Shabtai. Translation copyright © 2003 by Peter Cole. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: J’Accuse (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2003)
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Lotem Abdel Shafi

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  • Born in Tel Aviv, poet and translator Aharon Shabtai grew up on a kibbutz. After completing his Israeli military service, Shabtai studied philosophy and Greek at Hebrew University, the Sorbonne, and the University of Cambridge, where he wrote a PhD dissertation titled Home and Family in the Tragedies of Aeschylus.
    One of Israel’s leading poets, Shabtai is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, including War & Love, Love & War: New and Selected Poems (2010), the PEN Translation Award–winning J’Accuse (2003), and Love and Other Poems (1997). Shabtai writes with passion and candor on themes of justice, domesticity, and love, frequently locating his unflinching work in the war zone and the body. His is a “voice mostly elided from American mappings of the Israel/Palestine question: acute, unblinking, unafraid to question, and aware of the stakes,” according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
    Shabtai has translated numerous volumes...

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