The Power to Free Birds

Ronny Someck

The Power to Free Birds

On: "In Place", Am Oved, 2004.

"In Place," Salman Masalha's book of poems, is written at the juncture where my Arabic language kisses my Hebrew language. "I am an Arab poet," and the next poem in the collection begins "I write in the Hebrew language, / Which is not my mother tongue …"

In any case, Salman Masalha's language of poetry is very precise in its ability to lay the paving stones on which he will dance his tango. "An Arab," he writes in one of the poems, "walks beside the wall. He carries / cans of preserves on his back / through Jerusalem's streets. // A Jew / walks past, /grips, in both hands, a Siamese cat / and wails." The distance between "cans of preserves" and "Siamese cat" shrinks considerably in Salman Masalha's poems. He succeeds in leaving in all the question marks and adding the colors that are in the twilight zone between black and white. Sometimes the statement is direct and sometimes it paves a very private path for itself, as for example in the poem "Cage:"

"On the palm of her hand the others drew / the lines of a cage, where they imprisoned / her life story. / And, son of Arabia that I am, / I hate an imprisoned bird. / Each time she / gave me her hand, I erased a line. // And released birds." In this wonderful poem, the esprit de corps (And, son of Arabia that I am") works overtime. It can also be read as an ars poetica poem and learn from the imprisoned birds about the imprisoned words the moment before they are released to become a poem. But above all this is a love poem. Usually love is perceived as a mutual agreement to enter a metaphorical cage together (see, for example, "Georges Moustaki's "Ma liberté"). In "Cage" the love is strengthened by the man erasing the remnants of the previous cages in which the "biography" of the beloved have been imprisoned.

Another wind that blows between the lines is the wind of humor. In "The Poem About Maya," he describes "the line that stretched through air / between her lips and my ear." This is the line between the enchanting naïveté of the young girl "who asked me to write a poem / about her" and the seriousness of the poet who has allowed the sorrow of the world to rest on his shoulder. Further on, once he is persuaded, he will say "That's the position / when a poet gets caught / with paper / in times of transition."

"Times of transition," which tickles the funny bone in "The Poem About Maya" is, in my opinion, in a different context the black box of the poems in this book. Masalha does not cease his examination of the transitions between village and city and between language and language. "On what will love spin in the lazy summer haze?" he asks in his poem "Dream," and answers: "On a poem and a flame and holes inside the shade.' This sharp transition between "flame" and "the shade" is the poetic muscle of his poetry. The ability to stand at the border station and paint with great power with the same pen. And what about the color of the ink? He has called one of his poems "Black, But Green."

Published in: Itton 77, No. 291, June 2004