Michael (Dickel) Dekel, a poet and an artist
SILVIA PIO (edited by)
At the Cemetery
The distraught woman bends over
the disturbed ground, screaming
at the man just interred there—
cries of good-bye and how-could-you,
pulled from deep inside, sent down
deeper to reach through hard scrabble,
rock, sand—reaching to the deaf ears
to call them back with sound and tears.
Around her, other women punctuate
their consternation with cries and sobs,
while his widow’s lonely hand, lost and still,
quietly drops a stone along the grave’s edge—
marking the uncrossable perimeter
separating her from the man she married
at sixteen. Their children call out while
grandchildren stand stunned.
And the sun, rudely golden and beautiful,
touches trees on the western side
of the valley. Jerusalem continues,
not noticing when a thin silence falls.
Here does not live in me
Nameless lizards, rock rabbits, ibex—a desert landscape
sloping down to the Salt Sea, an occasional acacia—
I recognize these, but they don’t recognize me.
I lack the proper paperwork for them, crossing from
wet marshes, rivers, lakes into this aged, dry place.
My visa expired while I traveled, like my dreams
of poetry, inspiration, mysticism—torn from my hands
at the border, thrown out. You think this is your home?
The desert laughs at me. You don’t know how to swim
in the rock and sand; you don’t know how to set sail
on our heat waves. I live here—
—but here does not live in me.
Layers of war lay buried beneath the wet soil of where
I came from, but these are nothing to the dry layers piled
upon each tel, around every bubbling spring here.
The bitter, embattled, blood-thirsty desert demands
sacrifices, does not easily yield its fruits, edible or poisonous.
How could I imagine that this would be my home?
Night slopes down from the cliffs, shadowed specter
of an ancestor of death, a precursor that still haunts
hillsides. Where I came from, wet caves hid
this dark hunger. Here, the bones of this shade
burn my feet, so I trek barefoot into a trickle
of water, green slicked rocks—the hints
of what once flowed from heart to spirit to mind
before ink scarred paper with it and dried it out.
None of this makes much sense. It never did.
I came here to draw another line in shifting
dust, to demarcate there from here. And yet
neither here nor there are anywhere outside
my somnolent and thoughtless pursuit of place,
a dreamless world looking for its own future
reflected in my disembodiment.
Michael Dickel, a writer and photographer, holds degrees in psychology, creative writing, and literature. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). Dickel’s poetry, prose, and photographs have appeared in small-press literary journals, anthologies, art books, and online. He received top awards in the 2008 and 2009 Reuben Rose Poetry Competitions. He teaches English language, literature and writing in Israel and is Chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. His latest book of poems is Midwest / Mid-East (available from Amazon). Two new collections will be coming out in 2015: War Surrounds Us, a poetry chapbook of poems written in the summer of 2014, during the most recent Gaza-Israeli war, and The Taod’s Garden, a collection of Flash Fiction. A bi-lingual edition of Midwest / Mid-East in English and Hebrew will come out, as well. Dickel was born outside of Chicago, Illinois, and has lived in Connecticut and Minnesota in the U.S. He currently lives in Jerusalem.
When and how did you approach poetry?
People sometimes find this hard to believe, but I can recall two poems that I wrote when I was a boy, in grade school. I won’t do you and your readers the disservice of giving you them now, but I count those as the beginning of my poetry writing. By Junior High School I was writing regularly, fascinated with the way I could spill letters across a page. I even won a school-wide poetry contest back then. My active writing continued in high school, where I first had poems in a student literary magazine and then became one of a “triumvirate” of editors before graduating. I have always been interested in sound and expression, even back in grade school sound (not just rhyme) and music prevailed. I’ve also played guitar since age 13, and I think the two arts intertwine in my work. However, the play of language and meaning also fascinated me from the beginning, the way words, especially in poetry, became strange and multiplied their meanings while I read or wrote them.
Tell us about your poetry activities, collaborations and publications.
I’m not sure that I could recall all of these…I have published over 100 poems, an e-book and a print book, and have three more books coming out. A bi-lingual edition of my print book, Midwest / Mid-East was an interesting collaboration, working with a Hebrew translator, Gili Haimovich. She is also a poet who writes in Hebrew and in English, which is why I asked her to work on the translations. We would occasionally get into a long discussion about a word or two, a phrase I chose, and how it would be understood in English and how to get that understanding into Hebrew. Well, she did the second part, as I don’t know Hebrew very well.
I am involved in a couple of projects—my best friends for decades and fellow poet gary lundy (lower case is intended) and I have started a small press, is a rose press. We’re beginning small—a book of gary’s is out and War Surrounds Us will be coming out, and our first book by a third-party will be out before that. I am working closely with Rachel Heimowitz (no relation to the translator), a poet here, as officers of the Israel Association of Writers in English.
An exciting project that I am also involved with is The Woven Tale Press. Sandra Tyler, the editor, gathers interesting arts and literature posts from around the net and compiles them (with permission) into a regular journal, with links back to the sites for those who want to go deeper into any artist or writer. It’s a nice way to share some of the best of the web. The web site has bloggers, artists, and writers who re-blog to the site, too, a kind of syndication. It works as an arts-creative writing hub, or nexus—a woven crossroads for those of us to meet, greet, follow strands of interest.
The past couple of years I’ve also helped to organize 100Thousand Poets for Change readings in Israel—promoting the activist role of writing to promote positive change in our communities. We have had great readers here in Jerusalem—holding the event in an art gallery across from the walls of the Old City.
Mostly, I write, revise, send stuff out from time to time to various print and online publications that I like to read and hope they accept something.
What is poetry to you?
Always, for me, there should be a sense of the strange, something beyond what we can quite say, more than we can understand fully ourselves either as poet or reader—something that takes us beyond the language, with the language acting as vehicle and not destination. Poetry is language, sound, music, mystery—taking us into and beyond ourselves further than we thought we could go or knew there was, but also making the familiar strange, bringing us to beginner’s mind, seeing something as though for the first time and being amazed. I would be very happy to feel that my writing did that, ever. Yet, as with most ideals, it gives something to strive for if not to achieve.