Latrun, Margalit, and First Born
Why I saved him I don't know.
A funny looking fat kid with no friends.
Used to come to scout meetings with a stick
he said for the coyotes. We'd see coyotes
maybe once in five years.
But he always knew his way in the dark.
And he never showed fear.
Once we started running around like tin soldiers
they all liked the fat kid.
And I never minded what his parents
grew on their cabbage patch.
So in Latrun I dragged him back.
Yeah, I lugged him on my skinny ass.
Another guy, from our same hole
in the ground, came looked him in the eye,
took a long look at how much he bled,
the hole between his heart and thigh
and said, well, he never said,
he just turned and left.
Arik said he understood.
I've never noticed how he understood troops being late
on parade ground, I don't know how much he really understands.
But I just thought, "This man doesn't die.
I do not let this man lose what he has."
I saw something in him? After the fact, you know,
you can say you never minded if he didn't pay you back
the two pounds fifty or the half falafel, but it wasn't like that.
I thought he had a gift.
And gifts you don't leave for Arabs to cut in half.
What wasn't cut in half by the rain
of bullets. So I said I would be a man.
They ran past us, the others, stopped sometimes then ran
and we hobbled, crawled, shuffled
but I got him back to what we now call Israel.
I wonder sometimes what would've happened to us all
if I had fallen down and left him out there?
Just a piece of metal on some meat
no Sinai campaign, no Lebanon, no one to fear
but then I think, Thank God for him—
if he hadn't been lying there half dead
I would've had to drag myself
and myself, maybe, I wouldn't drag.
She saw her husband come back from the attack
wading through stretchers like seed beds—
the dead and the wounded laid out like rags
and him straddling the concrete in giant steps—
staggering, sauntering, tired
but singing, not even out of breath
and she knew there would never be
a farmer's wife looking at her
when she put on the bathroom light.
The roses when he came home
sometimes would age and would wither
would crumble on the wax table cloth
and blow away finally like a dry river—
then he'd be home again,
5 hours, telling tales like an old sea dog
and then the nights and the endless flights
of stairs at the hospital
with no-one at home to tell about the well.
One time she brought him round
to the patients, to look in on her round—
she said, "Just talk to them"
and he stared and stared
as if they were an alien
unconquerable bit of sand.
Long nights and no fights
and long heroic rambles
when he came home and fell asleep
in the middle of re-capturing someone,
in the middle of telling her how
a piece of sand could be white as her skin.
When Margalit died, Lilly moved in.
She never had much time for the man
as commanding officer ("You married him?
He doesn't know a word that isn't gun.
He has all the savoir faire of a ram at lambing time.")
But now there was a noble cause,
a boy who didn't know his mother left
("Where is she? Why isn't she coming?")
needed somebody to hold him.
So she came. They shared the household duties.
They talked. And she became the muse.
Opinionated, enervated, tolerant as a scorched cat,
Lilly was what her sister was with extra added crack.
They moved to a village, a house, the horses screamed
and whinnied, Arik came from base
to shuck his khakis, ride the range
with Gur who grew up gangly
solid as a wire and sprung
as a green branch and fetching
to the girls and boys, they’d ring him round
in games and grounds—Arik looked on and beamed.
A Turkish gun given in return
for Arik's services hung on the wall
of the living room. Gur's friend came by to play,
had time to say goodbye
to Lilly who was out the door
to buy something for Gur (he didn't know);
Lilly said she'd be back in half an hour;
the friend took down the Turkish flower
carved sling that hung under the barrel
and suggested they find steel
to stuff into the muzzle,
see if it could still be made to sing—
Lilly came back in half an hour
with a track suit ("Now we all have them
then Gur really would have had his dream
fulfilled, if he could wear this one.")
Arik was talking on the phone.
The boys stepped out into the garden.
Arik was winding up his New Year's wishes,
heard a noise, ran out into the bushes.
Lilly was pulling in the yard
and saw Arik running with Gur stretched in his arms,
had time enough to see Gur stretched out on the ground
had time enough to see Arik's face fall as he observed the wound
over the eye—and Arik ran
to the clinic, where they said "Mad man
go to the hospital!" and there he sped
in time for Gur to shut his eyes between his hands
and stretch out like a piece of cloth.
The nation came. There was word on the radio and thousands strayed
out of their day to share the general's pain.
Looking out of the window of the car
Arik saw a man he'd never met before, Menachem Begin:
A lantern jaw, glasses of coal framed eyes of cooling steel
like railway lines and in them plain for him to see
the pain of seeing someone, anybody, lose a son.
And standing over Margalit's grave again
to lay his son in earth Arik remembered what he'd said
when he put up her stone: "I'll watch for Gur."
Now in the ground, two pieces of his life barely begun
to visit with a hoe and watering can
kept in the car and every day
from now on in between the fray
and something in the empty glass
some hair of grey in the opening forehead's pass
there would be images of Gur
riding or standing between scores
of children waiting for his lead
and Arik would sit still and let them pass
like shadows on the plain, stars in the drying grass.