Open University

Ends In Themselves


by Richard Stern
Much to do, little time. And desire is greater than strength, will power, patience.

Much of what one wanted for years is way out of bounds: flying a plane; becoming a skier; running a state.

Today an editor-friend proposed writing a small book about some thing which would cast a different light on the U.S. (One book in the series is about the hamburger, another about inventing a state, a third about Cage's 4'33", a fourth about Gypsy Rose Lee.) Would this be within my powers? Perhaps, but my priority remains prose fiction, and I think of ability as I never used to, limited, and thus rationed. It used to be that I could tackle such a book and still write stories. The two would often strengthen and stimulate each other.

There's so much one sees, hears, reads, and imagines which suggests other things. So there's an essay in the new Antioch Review (periodicals flood our house) about contemporary Israeli poetry. I've never heard of the four poets described by the excellent essayist, John Taylor, but they sound terrific. It's too late for me to learn Hebrew. (All I know now is the Sch'ma Yisroel, and I'm not sure that I know that.) I could get their books, some from an Israeli press co-founded by the daughter of friends of mine, Adina Hoffman, but at least I can draw a little attention their way. So here are a few lines from two of the poets, first, Anton Pincas (b. 1935), translated by Taylor out of Emmanuel Mose's French:

In our ancient sea
Nothing's new.
Only the wind varies.
I don't think
I've missed anything.

The next lines are those of Aharon Shabtai (b. 1939) translated by Peter Cole.

I take an oath of loyalty to the table
Coated with white Formica, a cup full of pens, the ashtray.
I dreamed that the state had passed out of existence
And with our children we'd settled down in the three volumes of the dictionary.
My house will stand beside the word mix, on the way to morals.
I'll risk my life for the sake of a single rectangle alone-
The bed that belongs to Tanya and me--two meters by a meter-and-a-half...

May readers of the blog make whatever can be deduced or extrapolated from these lines. My pleasure is in their energy, humor, challenge, form of assertion; my sense is that there's much going on in Israel beside soldiering, debating, science, advanced agriculture, wall-building, and other community work.

I've thought much recently about ways of living as an old person. One of my contemporaries, a brilliant economist, keeps up amazingly with what goes on in his field and in fields--distant from economics--where he sees problems that can be described and handled with economic tools. I've noticed that for the past few years, much of what he's published is collaborative. I mean to ask him if collaboration is a way of handling whatever years have done to or with his still very keen but perhaps altered way of thinking. Blogging is something I began nine months ago right here. I've gotten used to doing the short pieces I turn out. I think of them as etudes. Some have been in the form of playlets, a couple are poems. Usually "studies" are studies for something larger. Mine are--how I wish--Chopinesque etudes, that is, ends in themselves. (Would my editor-friend's invitation be a geriatric crutch or another thing one daren't try?)

I'll end--as this form allows me to end--with the last few lines of the Shabtai poem quoted above.

I saw the pictures of the prime minister and minister of defense
in the morning paper, smeared with a reddish lacquer, like a prostitute's nails.
I drive my thoughts far away from them now-
to a can of baked beans, to two sausages and Chinese parsley.

It is time for lunch.

For more stories, like the New Republic on Facebook:

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools

Show all 7 comments

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.