Frayed Light

Yonatan Berg (auth.), Joan­na Chen (trans.)

January 1, 2013


We trav­el the silk road of evening,
tobac­co and desire flickering
between our hands. We are warm travelers,
our eyes unfurled, trav­el­ing in psalms,
in Rumi, in the say­ings of the man from the Galilee.
We break bread under the pis­ta­chio tree,
under the Banyan tree, under the dark
of the Samar­i­tan fig tree. Songs of offer­ing rise up
in our throats, wan­der­ing along the wall of night. We travel
in the open­ness of warm eter­ni­ty. Heav­en­ly voices
announce a cou­pling as the qui­et horse gallops
heav­en­ward. We trav­el with the rest of the world,
with its atroc­i­ties, its piles of ruins, scars of barbed wire,
trav­el­ing with ardor in our loins, with the cry of birth.
We sit crossed-legged with­in the rocking
of flesh, the qui­et of the Brah­min, the bells
of Mass, the tumult of Torah. We travel
through eagles of death, dilu­tion of earth in rivers,
in eulo­gies, through mar­ble, we trav­el through the silk
of evening, our hearts like bon­fires in the dark.

This poet­ic col­lec­tion is an hon­est and deeply reflec­tive look at life over­shad­owed by dis­put­ed set­tle­ments and polit­i­cal upheaval in the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict. Yonatan Berg is a poet from Israel and the youngest per­son ever award­ed the Yehu­da Amichai Poet­ry Prize. This col­lec­tion brings togeth­er the best poems from his three pub­lished col­lec­tions in Hebrew, deft­ly trans­lat­ed by Joan­na Chen. His poet­ry recounts his upbring­ing on an Israeli set­tle­ment in the West Bank, and ser­vice in a com­bat unit of the Israeli mil­i­tary, which left him with post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der. He grap­ples with ques­tions of reli­gion and tra­di­tion, nation­al­ism, war, and famil­ial rela­tion­ships. The book also explores his con­cep­tu­al rela­tion­ship with Bib­li­cal, his­tor­i­cal, and lit­er­ary char­ac­ters from the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion, set against a back­drop of the Mediter­ranean land­scape. Berg shares an insid­er’s per­spec­tive on life in Israel today.

Discussion Questions

In Frayed Light, Yonatan Berg stands wit­ness to the hor­rors of the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict from the per­spec­tive of a sol­dier. Trans­lat­ed from the Hebrew by Joan­na Chen, poems like Ramal­lah Through the Win­dow of a Bus” wres­tle with grow­ing up amidst a creep­ing fear, but it came from the out­side, nev­er from with­in, and it left us drumming/​with con­fused fin­gers on steamy bus win­dows.” Frayed Light doc­u­ments the shift of this fear from the exter­nal to the inter­nal as Berg hero­ical­ly grap­ples with a soldier’s doubt.