Though translations of the poems of Ronny Someck have appeared in a number of recent anthologies in the U.S., the range of his voice in The Fire Stays in Red, his first collection in English, will surprise by its metaphoric leaps that can contain the serious, the profane and the comic. Someck is well-known to audiences in Israel, not only in print and but in performances of his work with accompanying musicians.
His voice is Sephardic at its roots: born in Baghdad, Soomeck grew up in a transit camp for immigrants in Tel Aviv’s working class neighborhoods – his language evokes the bustle of southern Tel Aviv, with its small shops, garages, cheap restaurants, its gangs and Arab workers. As translators Moshe Dor and Barbara Goldberg write, “Someck’s poems can be hot, erotic, comic, tragic – they are agape at the wonders of a tear and a tattoo, a snapshot and a bra. In what other poet do we find Tarzan, Marilyn Monroe, and cowboys battling with Rabbi Yehuda Halevi for the hearts and souls of Israelis?”
Poem of Longing
I long for Grandpa’s acrobatics
as he leapt
from one sidewalk
to another. There, at Herbert Samuel Plaza
on freezing slabs of pavement
by the orange banister
near the sea.
Where Grandpa talked
and dreamed, dreamed and talked. Now
I don’t remember about what, but
words flew round his lips
like a record spinning
on an old gramophone at 78 rpm, and Grandpa
bowing his head to cut the wind.
And drops of brandy from the day’s celebration
shining on his lips where we were talking, each
in a different language
about the same girls, the same breasts
our rough fingers pinched and where
we snuffed out our last cigarette
in the same ashtray.