Many Jews arrive in Israel for the first time and experience a shock of recognition, as if the land and its history, both ancient and contemporary, were their own. Jean Nordhaus’s “A Visitor in Herzliya” recounts an almost visionary encounter with a stretch of beach near Tel Aviv—the fraught, reverent response of a visitor who feels that she’s come home.
—Jody Bolz, Poetry Editor
A VISITOR IN HERZLIYA
Scattered on the sand are many small stones
each wearing the shape of its losses,
and though I’m empty as a tin
scoured clean of history,
everything here remembers me.
The girl on the beach and the water,
striped like farmland into plotted zones—
beryl, midnight, and the shallow ambers.
The children shouting in the sea’s
perpetual din—wave after wave—
remember me. They bury themselves
in wet sand, lie in their coffins,
heavy as golems, rinse in the surf
and deliver themselves, blue-lipped, slick
as seals, to mothers who wrap them in towels
and lead them home. The mothers
remember me. Cliffs tumble into the sea
bearing the weight of their losses.
And though helicopters roar and red flags wave,
the sturdy sparrows are unafraid.
Olive trees patrol the land on stumpy legs.
If we weep for our enemies, we can weep
for ourselves. I lift a stone in my hand
and the hand remembers.
Jean Nordhaus’s six volumes of poetry include Memos from the Broken World, The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn, and Innocence. She has published work in numerous literary journals and served for eight years as the reviews editor of Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry journal.
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