A poem with a story of war—and after

Today, a poem from Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), which encapsulates transitions from childhood to war to the pain of after, ending on a note of possibility:

Autobiography, 1952

  • My father built over me a worry big as a shipyard
  • and I left it once, before I was finished,
  • and he remained there with his big, empty worry.
  • and my mother was like a tree on the shore
  • between her arms that stretched out toward me.
  • And in ’31 my hands were joyous and small
  • and in ’41 they learned to use a gun
  • and when I first fell in love
  • my thoughts were like a bunch of colored balloons
  • and the girl’s white hand held them all
  • by a thin string—then let them fly away.
  • And in ’51 the motion of my life
  • was like the motion of many slaves chained to a ship,
  • and my father’s face like the headlight on the front of a train
  • growing smaller and smaller in the distance,
  • and my mother closed all the many clouds inside her brown closet,
  • and as I walked up my street
  • the twentieth century was the blood in my veins,
  •  blood that wanted to get out in many wars
  • and through many openings,
  • that’s why it knocks against my head from the inside
  • and reaches my heart in angry waves.
  • But now, in the spring of ’52, I see
  • that more birds have returned than left last winter.
  • And I walk back down the hill to my house.
  • And in my room: the woman, whose body is heavy
  • and filled with time.

Yehuda Amichai

From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, ©1986, 1996

Translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell

What’s your story?

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Come work on your story in a supportive community of fellow vets.

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