See: the places that become readable with practice
from having been nodes of chaotic lines,
illegible nowheres,
the infinite number of somewheres mostly not notable
that make up places and people there
who make sense of their lives

with shops and last names, events and scandals
central squares of some sort
whether ancient or tangled within the rubble
of post-everything nothingness
whether postcarded piazzas
or that stretch between malls

where teenagers whose names so far have gone asunder
practice skateboard still now, at dusk among flies
and dust - forgotten past and non-places tangled by time -
united in fury at how places melt in the overheated now,
lose face before the places known,
the public squares the filmed avenues
where trees are groomed and clothes will never become rags

where am I now? in what quarter of the map
of the known world that remains unknown, mostly,
to most of us?
we trace longitudes and dream of latitude
at motion within ourselves - and, always the same,
transport our inner places wherever we go
ready to recognise and leap at what we know
for the sake of some warmth when the world
feels cold

and those communities we create that are supposed to stave off crime
and delinquency wrought by the lost ones
those without a place, or whose place is inside out

I know - I recognise the faces in the crowd
I built my four walls around the hearth I want

there are hearths everywhere
sinks and faucets, refrigerators, if lucky
with latitude and longitude

ceramic suites to wash the skin that wraps each one of us into place

the skin we share
smooth over with creams that protect
and nourish

and while I stare at the self whose place is here
I learn to read into the chaotic tangles

that make only secret sense

[Sambuca, Sicily, 26 July 2019]

© Noga Arikha


Unwind the wound up mind
as it sits within its flesh, unsure
of dance or sound or life born
one day and then bourne,
left behind and returned 
to its starting place

in time, of time made and kneaded
like bread soft and then golden 
in heat and sun, by love and being held

- warmth within can escape 
and disperse like crumbs on the floor -

hold on and let it breathe, the dough we are
at first is shaped by hands that hold

and the breath of life gives shape
to flesh unwound and mindful

of song and dance
that start again each day 
from where once we stopped

but time caught us by the arm and led the way

[Sambuca-Palermo, Sicily, 6 August 2019]

© Noga Arikha


Heavy-limbed, weak, exhausted
by life, world, things falling:
the virus arises and this state, they say
is a set of symptoms that will go away.
Yet the state pulsates while it lasts,
nasty thoughts brew while guts are wracked
head aches from front to back
and languor sets in during a sunny day.
Sleep, they say, just sleep and water.
Imagine being set down on a bed of leaves
some dead some alive, soft and cool
near a brook, no one in sight just this languid self
and the children too, playing hide and seek
and carrying jugs of water from brook to mother
splashing happily as I close my eyes and await
what comes next.

[Paris, 1 September 2019]

© Noga Arikha


somebody painted it blue
of course it isn’t so
no one painted except our crystalline cells
in their saline solution at home in the sea

we see blue because of sky and sun and phenomena
that have nothing to do with us
though we have everything to do with them

we have fallen from the sky into the sea
and it wasn’t blue then
when we fell out of the watery womb

we paint what we will and the sky is indifferent
to its apparent colour, set off as firmament
in line with pigments strewn by rocks far older than fleeting life

cells begotten in water before it was blue

yet here we are watching the sun set on sea
the sky painted over in hues of orange and pink,
real colours exploding as if beauty were there for all to see

and we talk in falling light and tomorrow the blue will reflect
again the time we spend counting the constant rising and setting

(and the horizon is a line that no one has touched
it has only been painted)

each day a spectrum where all colours will fit,
as into the crystal prism my father gave me long ago
to show me how light was made of colours
as clear as the pigments he painted with

and sometimes he painted the sky blue

though it was white the day he went into dark underground
leaving to us painted skies, our time too allotted and counted
from dawn to dusk each time anew, and nights allowing

even colours to rest
while cells divide and lives are made inside the dark
saline sea of each being asleep and hoping

for the morning sky to be blue                                                

[Sambuca-Lido Fiori, Sicily, 26 July 2019]

© Noga Arikha


to access that place between front and back
tongue and cheek
eyelid shut
that place where it unfurls -
‘it’ as time and thinking back
to when that birdsong first rang
to where it happened, where the I that was
first heard that sound
in childhood, remote,
locked away and yet in the undertow
of all the present that unfolds
abstruse to the grown beholder and yet
the senses fly round and round that place
between front and back -
time askew and curved like the spine
from start to finish, that present still
perpetual as the song of the bird that awoke me at dawn
this morning

[Lido Fiori, Sicily, 23 July 2019, 6:00am]

for how long will time feel so stretched
like arms against weights, body borne out at sea
while the golden light alights, then fades
slowly into the yellow fields and the greens thicken
against the blue that has no bounds
except long ago, beyond the current
spell that we taste smell drink touch,
swimming into the present full as calm seas
at last
and it can last
as long as I let time stretch like muscle
alive for its long swim

[road Lido Fiori-Sciacca, Sicily, 23 July 2019, 6:00pm]

© Noga Arikha


Little fingers tickling skin
voices high with youth - sons on lap
they are small still
and taller every day

- large persons that fit within small bodies
within small cabins on a large boat that has it all.

When I was small I saw how small were my hands
how much future they had before they would become impressive grown-up hands.
My body was dainty and its anatomy quirky
my sister was taller and her arms were long
I felt enclosed in my littleness, awaited breasts to form
- I wanted to see their shape shadowed on the sidewalk -

I grew without my seeing it happen
because it takes a while to see one’s life happen.

So small for so long and so it was so brief a chunk of life
- I told my friend it hurts to be a self -
growth was a stretch beyond the long present
but endless childhood suddenly stopped.

Childhood centralises
all sensation and all that matters
before everything becomes peripheral.

When did that taste no longer feel so strong
and when did that music cease to delight,
when was that threshold crossed, beyond which
wonder was less?
How does it happen that the heart hardens -
as one says, although it just ceases to beat so strong
because it was all expected, predicted,
already known?

Our cells multiply and complexity sets in like an illness
until we remember what smallness once was.

The ferry is large but soon we know its secrets.
It has arrived and soon it will leave again.

[ferry Palermo-Naples, 6-7 August 2019]

© Noga Arikha


Moon moon! Do you remember being red for a while,
A proud bride for the sun?

Moon, o mine! not ever done away with, never far off
insistent friend or fiend whose mystery protects her

against the prying eyes that look like stars
but fool the cosmos into existence

we see you, Moon, blush for a while, while you tried to hide
in full light

you wore your revel garb, exposed to us
so close and yet so far,

the full extent of your geology, and yet you blushed
while we stared, in awe, and agony

at your longevity while we gasped and then fell
back into our primordial sea

We stood on that beach and read ourselves
into your roundedness,

projected color into blank space
and hoped for it within the black of night

We lived and loved and danced on the sand
and when you sighed, we heaved

and when you hid, we wept
and when you were up in the nightsky,

following us as the children say,
we never slept

and tried to love into the night
and clung to the seconds we have

while you laughed in our face
no, our Moon doesn’t blush

that was the red of anger
it was an atmospheric trick, stupid

how can you anthropomorphize a celestial body
can’t you leave the sky out of it?

whoever has left the sky out of it?
and who has seen without sighing the sight

of the Red Moon,
ticking her way back into darkness

unaware of time,

just us aware, just us
standing there

on the beach
while the waves did their thing

in tune with the Moon
that made us do her thing

until it was over
over and over again, over, for each one in turn

while we sigh on the beach and exclaim
look at us puny things

look – but the Moon doesn’t look
we do

that is all we can do

[Lido Fiori, Sicily, 27 July - Paris 28 August 2018]

© Noga Arikha


No matter what you do
nothing is left in the end
The work produced beyond the self
despite minute minutes lost to time
beyond and between the everyday helpings
of dishes to wash, nods and frowns, smiles and laughs;
the breathing, the smells, the way you dressed that day –
the work stolen from life, bequeathed from a life,
is not that life, it is there whether we live or die
and we always die anyway.
It has all and nothing to do with you.
The you that lived goes. The work does not make you immortal.
The work itself may live on and on, and nourish the everyday
of others, feed into their dinner conversation, imprint their social habitat.
But that is all.
Our little conversations vanish as soon as they end.
You might retrieve diamonds from the river,
but you will never stop the river.
Diamonds are what we are stuck with,
at best.

[Paris, 27 September 2015]

© Noga Arikha


And I, loosed into birth, mortality upon me
as new breath blows itself into space,
overwhelming its begetters
with the fragrance of heaven

treading day to day
as the little body fattens itself with soul
and air, and water, and light,
the milk of my blood

fearful, fretting, loving
finding space within new time
new self, new cares

anxiety abounds
with sleepless nights
with a father gone
whose face is etched into that of his grandson

[New York, 30 June 2010]

© Noga Arikha


The human animal –
two legs only, yet unable to fly
flat-faced, yet unable to grip with the jaw
conscious, yet condemned to die,
like everything else

except sand, gravel, stone, air,
molecules abruptly finding each other.

Not very pretty, we are -
hairless, but not entirely,
smart, but not enough,
needful of love, but brutal and bloody.

We are not what we look like:
our thoughts are more lofty than our frame,
stolidly built, imperfect, mucus-filled,
composed of water, air, earth, fire
like everything else.

And yet we know ourselves.
We build mirrors, paint portraits,
write and believe what we read

enough that a poem may make a difference
to the gaze that emanates
from a beautiful face.

[New York, subway, 1 April 2009]

© Noga Arikha


Only the living can write of death
I read that somewhere, a line by one living
perhaps no longer alive

the skin is so thin, so soft and warm
your chest so fragrant, the night so deep,
alive we sleep, embraced, a night after day,

while time, we know, eats its way
into our skin, as if the simple fact of living
were soon the slow act of dying.

A gash above the eye, an accident happened -
a friend whose leg is hurt, a grave incident
our fragile selves, our brittle bones

each one of our bodies so easily crushed,
quickly forgotten, by ourselves and by others
embraced and then gone, the skin soft and then cold -

this is my breath, my kin, my home,
the circle in which my life is one
and these the lines that mean what others,

alone, in love, anxious or glad,
one day or one night,
may recall

[New York, 1-2 May 2005]

© Noga Arikha


Make sure peace is in as well as out,
within sight of reason; tender,
collected within the embers of foresight,
at rest within the gut, embraced at will,
sweet when listless people fight,
strong at dawn for the waking yawn.

The night’s passage upon the eyes
leads straight to sunrise; the steps
traced by sleep upon each brow resound,
magnified visions of seas unseen
and townfulls of departed friends, rooms
enclosed within tall blocks, the sleeper lost.

Asleep, the soul’s awakening proceeds.
Tip-toe, aghast or at ease, amused
by tongues unspelled by error,
wandering in house-boats, burning on deck,
unable to catch the fleeting chill, the captured friend.
Blue-black paper on the wall; a voice laughing from abroad.

A waking start - the day again
begins, added on, prefigured by the night.
Peace eludes the dreaming sleeper; it must fight
the cruel reaper of fear, desire, anger, lust; appear
in the blue-black room, appease the rocking boat, the captured friend
locked in the tower of confused tongues.

[Ischia, Italy 23 July 2002]

© Noga Arikha


It struck, it hurt, a blow to harvests and pride: a war zone established
on the site where tears sprang from shots in the dark after our crops were burned.

But do not mistake the shrapnel for the bullet, the wound for the striking hand.
The heart of the shell-shocked is a weapon of flesh warm like the sun-drenched land.

‘Put me on a stronghold then’, I thought, ‘let me prepare and meditate, in time
for the cold fight. Hark to the danger of ignoring the signs of unrequited hate’.

No: a shrapnel writhing at the gut is not a message from the heart. But an oversight,
an accident, a tangent to the line between the hand-held gun and the shot-down star.

Now remember the flash of light before dusk sets in, at the onset of first fire:
beware of post-shock amnesia and of jumbled story-lines after joyous battle.

Then caress the shrapnel that tears at your skin, embrace the sadness of death
which restores faith to the wounded, or deepens the lines in their face.

[London, 25-26 April 1999]

© Noga Arikha


It was chance again,
its recognisable features
mapped onto the window pane
while night-time outside bred reflections
that dimmed in and out like the spell of lights
on a retina or living-room wall, when the curtains
around the day stop shutting out the sun’s effects;
a curvaceous dance for the spell-bound gaze of one who wonders
how necessity is hatched out of chance, embodied as it is now in these eyes
whose glitter matched, each time I looked, the fragrant, first, then odoriferous
burned-out fire, match or dusk, once the dark allows the smells nearby to flower.

Necessity takes the rub away from chance’s slippery ways,
and it comes in a box shut tight with a ribbon, red to signal
the perilous cleft on either side of the bend taken
for the sake of an omen or the absence of it.
What do you say we tell the hours that pass away from us, flow
into our skin as into the cave where at the end we must bow our necks, obedient;
once the maps reflected and mused upon disintegrate, the roads we crossed
return to dust, and memory, proud of its solitary prowess, takes over to counterfeit
the power it shares with enclosing arms and beholds, within the shape of a head,
a face’s beauty - its mobility a register of chance’s conquest?
And would you know the way to tell if you saw it?

[London, 12 March 1998]

© Noga Arikha