KARL WOLFSKEHL (1869-1948)



משורר גולה

The first olive tree in Auckland
was hidden like a seed’s germ in the heart of a German Jew,
a refugee, and Ovidian in exile.
The olive tree is there in his face,
the lumpish nose, the tilled
lines around the eyes, anchored
to the mud of the furthest archipelago.

The drab leaves drink in the Mediterranean sunlight
in Auckland, and the roots
still in Auckland
stab deep to black blood old as Charlemagne
all the way to Jerusalem and Egypt
and the inconsolable grief of ploughed-up olive groves,
scorched, upturned and sown with salt –
all of this is packed into the ancient wood grain.

But German songbirds still manage to chorus in the branches
of this Auckland olive tree,
and every leaf twisting in the breeze from the azure harbour
is a wink.
But all that most people perceive is an old, bent olive tree,
hunched over, senescent,
perhaps even a little suspect, malevolent,
a Miltonic-blind German Jew burdened with too much culture,
his huge feet making craters among Sargeson’s tomatoes  –

thus the still, small voice of the golden kowhai instead

of the brazen shofar rocking the walls of Jericho.


A version of this poem first appeared in New Zealand Books 89, Autumn 2010.

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