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In memory of Aharon Amir

where have you been all these years? in memory of aharon amir in the early sixties, after i was discharged from my military service, i returned to thesheepfold and immersed myself in heavy labor with the stubborn stinking sheep. after a backbreaking night milking i would go to the upper floor of the renovatedculture hall, enter the empty reading room, turn on the lights, sit by the reading tableand become engrossed in the journal keshet. the periodical completely enchanted me. somehow my years of military service had passed without me having a chance to examine it. i didn't even know of its existence. and only when i returned to the communal farm did i discover it in the reading room. i was utterly paralyzed from the shock of exposure to its texts.boys my age, young men who had surely just shed their military uniforms, exactly like me, had published in it their first efforts, wonderful poems and stories. i sat before the pages and imagined these novice writers marching surefootedly on the literary path. a path of which i too had dreamed in the nights, and in the lull between acts of love.

i could see them marching surefootedly on the path laid out at their feet.i could sense that there was someone pushing them forcibly to the writing table. i could actually feel that there was someone pulling them powerfully into the circle of fame and literary glory. my love felt the melancholy that befell me afterwards, and the strange longings that consumed my spirit. "what? what?" she asked, "what is eating you?" i told her about the shock of discovering the periodical. about the armies of young men moving and being guided within it. about the bonds of paralysis that grasped me in the early hours of the morning in the reading room, in front of the journal keshet.they won't need to wait, like me, ten years and more. they owe nothing. not to the communal farm, not to the sheepfold, not to the young family that i had established.they won't have to hide, won't have to flee the call that prods them to sit down with a notebook and write. they are students, single, free, flitting between the centers of hebrew literature. they won't eat their hearts out, ten years and more, because unlike me, they didn't make a sorry choice, to deny their writing. they won't spend fifteen years of painful estrangement from what they were really meant to do. from what it is really their obligation to do. thoughts of them and of the longed-for writing sometimes bothered me so much that my love asked me once why my eyes were teary.and one day i couldn't hold things inside any longer. and i lost myself for a good few hours. hunched over a simple child's notebook, heavy-handedly etching the pages with a thick pencil. and i've already written in one of my books how for a unique and miraculous stretch of time the block was lifted from my writing hand. at least for a few hours, and at least for a first tentative story. i went up to the reading room and took another peek, just to be sure, at the latest issue of keshet, and i told myself that my fevered story was in no way inferior to those that had been printed.despite its being heavy-handedly etched on the pages of the notebook, and despite its being written with a thick pencil. if there is there an editor with an eye and with a heart, i told myself, he will not be able to ignore my sweaty pages, upon which i had spilled my heart's blood.i do not remember how many times i copied out the story. i only remember that each copy was made with the same thick pencil. i stole into the small kibbutz post office when it was empty, and with trembling hands i presented the envelope to the postal clerk. the envelope opened and in my agitation i only scattered the pages even more.

the postal clerk gazed at me and silently helped me to put the pages back into the envelope. she saw into my heart, i am convinced today, even though we did not speak of it. "are you sure this is the right address?" she asked me, "are you sure that there is such an address in tel aviv?" and i left sweating and chagrined. the whole thing embarrassed me greatly. suddenly i found myself in some kind of strange undertaking, unusual on the kibbutz. just wait, i told myself, until word gets around the whole kibbutz. i hurried to get away and to forget my discomfiture and agitation in the hard work with the smelly ewes in the sheepfold.every day i presented myself excitedly, at a time when there were no customers, at the post office boxes. every day i hoped for an envelope, a small letter, a slip of paper from the editor that would inform me of the fate of my first story. so passed three weeks and more. and one day the postal clerk met me in the sweltering dining hall, in the middle of lunch, in between milkings. a response from tel aviv has arrived for you, she told me. and because the envelope is large i am hereby invited to the post office, to take it myself. i followed her abashedly. what is the meaning of the large envelope? aren't responses from the editor supposed to come in regular or small envelopes? we entered the office and she weighed the envelope in front of me.and added a few words, some of which i've already written about in that erstwhile story.i ran down the hill to my tiny blazing shack. i carefully closed the door after me and opened the envelope. my notebook pages fell out of it. i immediately knew my hurried handwriting. i instantly recognized the etchings of my pencil. and when i shook the envelope, a typewritten page fell from it as well, printed with the name of the quarterly keshet, the address and phone number and all the rest.

and then my young and tender heart began to beat faster, and i squatted on the bench and read the enclosed letter."as the editor is a very busy man, and cannot find the time to read all of the submissions…," i realized right away that the letter had not been written by the editor, aharon amir, but rather by his assistant, heda boshes. the editorial secretary or whatever she was. a sharp pain split my heart, because i had already guessed at the rest. and she continued fluently, "this is evidently the first story that you have sent us. it contains many soulful locutions and important and impassioned expressions.but unfortunately, none of these are meritorious. it seems you have much to convey. but as yet you do not possess an identifiable lyrical voice. you are lacking a personal style that will make your stories worthy of publication…". i sweated heavily, my breathing was very shallow, and i was constantly afraid lest someone enter the shack.and heda boshes continued to spill my blood. "why don't we wait, we at the editor's office and you at your desk, let's say a year or two, until you have made a more worthy literary effort? what do you think?...".i sat discouraged on the floor. even the ever-cool floor tiles boiled under me from the insult. the letter too seared my hand. and heda boshes continued, "and finally i would like to remark that we did you a personal favor, the editor and i, in that we even bothered to read your messy manuscript. in pencil! that is something that we have not seen in our humble offices for years! in the future, if you would like someone to read your work, please would you be so kind as to type it on a typewriter. like everyone else does! and we herein return your manuscript with thanks, despite the fact that you did not include a stamped envelope as required! sincerely, heda boshes, editorial secretary…".the blow of the rejection letter was too strong for me. i could not bear it, and i simply made myself forget about writing stories for a number of years. never again, i told myself, never again will i make a mockery of myself like that. and with such a reprimand, not in pencil, and without a stamped envelope. painfully and regretfully i resigned myself to my failure. i won't let them there, in the editor's office of keshet, humiliate me a second time. i remember that for a certain period i even boycotted the quarterly, and i didn't go up to the reading room to lose myself in it as i so loved to do.

lyrical voice? what is that anyway? personal style? did she write and formulate the whole letter by herself, or did aharon amir stand behind her and dictate it to her? you will wait at your editorial desks, i told myself with pitiful vindictiveness, not a year and not two years. you will wait at your desks no less than ten years!the six day war broke out in the summer of 1967. our sheepfold became a calf shed. the flock was sold, and i was free of the heavy burden of the sheep. i was once again almost completely my own master. the sights of war sank into my being and when i returned home i sat down and wrote a few things that i couldn't hold inside. my wife found me an old typewriter and i typed the stories at night. without thinking much i sent them once again to aharon amir. whatever he does with them, whatever he thinks of them, i had already taken my revenge. the war and the years that had passed had hardened my heart, and sending the stories no longer ruffled me, and i did not wait with the anxiety of a novice for the editor's response.but it arrived quickly. and he asked for more! and i waved his letter in my wife's face with the pride of a new author. here, do you see, ten years of silence. maybe we'll wait another year or two, we at the editor's desk and you at your desk? he wants more stories! that copy, of an issue of the old keshet in which my story was printed, was a complete delight to me. i preserved it carefully for many years. but in the end it was lost with the rest of my papers. so, heda boshes, do i have an identifiable lyrical voice yet? do i have a personal style, one that the public will want to read?so, heda boshes, did i succeed in making a more worthy literary effort? and in my heart of hearts i thought, i am aiming at heda boshes, but also at the editor who stood over her shoulder while she wrote the letter, the same letter that had broken my heart for so many years.in the yom kippur war, while the actual fighting was still going on and also during the cease fire, i sent aharon amir some poems from the golan heights and from the syrian "enclave". poems that i finally collected at the end of 1975 in my first book of poetry, hushniya, the mosque. i knew that he had already decided that the days of his quarterly were numbered, and had even publicly announced its closing. i will never forget his excited response, just a few lines, on pale yellow writing paper. "where have you been all these years?" he asked, "the gates of the quarterly are open wide for your poems!" and i secretly added, and why did you waste your years on your immature stories? and why did you send such a tentative hesitant story, etched in pencil? heda boshes had long abandoned her position as editorial assistant, and her malignant response must finally be forgotten.

"your poems that are rooted in the heart and emerge from the burning basalt," he wrote me, "will endure long after the quarterly has folded." after all this do i need to emphasize any more clearly, any more explicitly, the debt that i owe him for my writing? whether or not he really stood over his secretary's shoulder, and whether or not he called to me in his own handwriting, "where have you been hiding all these years? where have you been all of these years?"in time we developed a good relationship. he invited me to participate in the jubilee issue of keshet , in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the quarterly, in 1998. and when he decided to launch new keshet he saw me as an obvious player. i never forgave him the rejection letter, but neither did i forget the excited acceptance letter. i even tried, once or twice, in a friendly phone call, to remind him of those long ago days, but he didn't cooperate. "what you remember, you remember," he told me in his spare conversational style, "i don't look back." i dedicated one of my later poems to him, one that appeared in my book of poems the dinosaurs of the language. and near the beginning of last winter, at the poets' festival in sdeh boker, was the last time i saw him. his illness had changed him very much. we exchanged a few words, and in a moment of inspiration i decided to dedicate a poem to him as i read it on stage. i was emotional as i read, i was a little hoarse and i mixed up the words. he sat right in front of me, in the first row. i don't know what he felt as i read the poem, but i know exactly what i felt. i had been granted the privilege of repaying my debt to him.

by elisha porat

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