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Master Hirano came from Japan together with a priest from the Kegon sect and the two of them drank beer all night at the Avia Hotel next to Ben Gurion airport.
The following day, when we came to take them to the Galilee, they had trouble getting up and barely checked out of their rooms on time.
It was a wintry January morning, and near the village of Shefaram the priest from the Kegon sect asked us to stop and stood by the side of the road and urinated.
On Friday the two of them (Master Hirano and the priest from the Kegon sect) went to the Bratslav Hasids’ synagogue in Safed. The worshippers swayed like trees in the wind. Master Hirano and the priest from the Kegon sect stood there, bald and wrapped in robes, behind the congregation, and the beadle whispered into our ears: Are they Jews? Are they Jews?
When we left the synagogue Master Hirano said to the priest from the Kegon sect: There is no doubt that they understand what devotion (he said shujaku) is. The priest from the Kegon sect said: There is no doubt. They know what devotion is.
On Jerusalem Street, by the monument of the mortar, commemorating the ’48 war, Master Hirano said: Prayer is a good thing. The priest from the Kegon sect said: There is no doubt. Prayer is a good thing.
Master Hirano stood on one side of the mortar and the priest from the Kegon sect stood on the other and the moon rose, big and full, yellow like the fields painted by Van Gogh.
* * *
It’s possible to write only by means of non-writing. When things come from the opposite direction.
My aunt Edith rises out of the ground and returns to her bed in the nursing home. Ursula, my stepmother, is walking backward. All sorts of wilted flowers bring their petals toward themselves.
All we need is yogurt and a spoon. We’ll know what to do with the spoon. We’ll lead it toward the right place (which is to say, the yogurt) and from there toward the mouth. But the mouth can’t be fathomed. Likewise the word that stands for it (mouth) is strange in the extreme.
Or take, for example, the hand that’s holding the spoon with its five tragic fingers. There’s no logic whatsoever in there being five. Like five widows who’ve gathered because their husbands have died, and they allow themselves this movement through the air in order to keep from losing their minds.
There is no limit to the beauty of things that are sad. Like old clay vases or a wagon’s shaft in a junkyard. Every year the plum trees flower anew, and people whose names are Shtiasni or Dahaan open doors and close them.
All these things fill the heart with great joy. The beauty of death and the violet colors accompanying it. Announcements that make nothing dawn on one, and the dawn itself rising from nowhere like a birthday present 365 days a year.
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Yoel Hoffmann is an Israeli Jewish author, editor, scholar, and translator. His first volume of fiction was published when he was 51. His books include The Shunra and the Schmetterling (2004), The Heart is Katmandu (2006), Bernhard (2006), and Curriculum Vitae (2009). He teaches Japanese poetry, Buddhism, and philosophy at the University of Haifa in Israel and lives in Galilee.
Poems By Yoel Hoffmann
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