Hebrew Poetry from Ron Dahan’s Collection “Youth”

Dahan's portrayals of war and daily life in Israel are stirring: precise yet deftly ambiguous, casual yet anguished

A soda machine burns outside a grocery store

and all the Pepsi and the Coke (diet, too) and the Sprite

Explode in all directions like grenades.

The village of Markabe is burnt and bombed like in a war movie.

And like in a war movie

there’s the guy who carries a heavy jerrycan on his back

and the guy with the cigarette between his teeth

and the guy called Nir

and the guy who’s going to die and doesn’t know it so he allows himself to reminisce about that time when


I met her on the bus, on the way to the villages

We talked about military service, and how we were glad it was over

and in general, about how the situation in Israel was shitty although there was no other place.

I didn’t agree with her about that. There is another place.

God, there has to be. Otherwise it’s just madness.

We never ended up exploring the villages.

We stayed in one village that had amazing hash and a landscape that makes you cry

or thank god. Or both.

We were together all that time and tried to have sex but I was so stoned that I couldn’t get it up.

Instead I held her tight

and kissed her all over for hours until finally

she said, stop, that’s enough

and laughed a wonderful laugh.


My father slaughtered his youth in the first Yom Kippur War

I, his son, did the same in the Second Lebanon War.

His grandchild, my son, will most probably do it in the Who-knows-how-many Lebanon War.

But his son, my grandchild, will not.

His youth will go on forever, unmitigated madness,

on and on.


(This is what I was thinking as we rested like a broken chain on the side of a mountain.

I remember, the sky glowed a sickening white)


Mother War gives birth to me anew

her genitals bleeding, ugly and loose

I shoot out of them armed and murderous

from the darkness of the womb to the darkness of battle


Mother War small and desolate

crouching down to urinate on the ground

smiling a toothless grin

asking for water.



War is death’s yearning for itself.


The old woman who approached the house wanted a little water.


The guard didn’t know that and prepared to shoot her

But somebody stopped him at the very last minute and called to her in Arabic

What do you want, and she said, water, a little water

and kept coming closer. So somebody else took her inside,

seated her and asked, again, what she wanted, and she

(again) said, water, a little water, and mumbled something about life not being too good.


We took her on our walk, and let her go a few kilometers later

by a different village. Somebody gave her water and another pointed his gun at her and yelled at her to get lost. She kept

following us for many more hours

until she disappeared in one of the bends.


Read the Hebrew and English texts side by side here.


Ron Dahan is a poet and fiction writer. He has published three poetry collections and a novel, Come As You Are. His poetry book, Youth, has received critical and popular acclaim, and has recently been adapted into a music album in collaboration with Farthest South. He lives in Israel with his wife,  daughter, dog, and cat. Dahan is an animal rights activist. 

Yardenne Greenspan, Asymptote editor-at-large for Israel, has an MFA in Fiction and Translation from Columbia University. In 2011 she received the American Literary Translators’ Association Fellowship. Her translation of Some Day, by Shemi Zarhin, was chosen for World Literature Today’s 2013 list of notable translations. Yardenne’s translations include work by Rana Werbin, Gon Ben Ari, Nahum Werbin, Vered Schnabel, Kobi Ovadia, Yirmi Pinkus, Ron Dahan, Alex Epstein and Yaakov Shabtai. Her fiction, essays and translations have been published in Hot Metal Bridge, Two Lines, Words Without Borders, Necessary Fiction, Agave, World Literature Today, Shelf Unbound and Asymptote, among other publications. She is currently working on her first novel.