Poetry | Reheat, by David Israel Katz

By | Nov 27, 2023
Arts, Culture, Featured, Israel, Latest

In David Israel Katz’s poems, bodies are reduced (or elevated) to the status of objects, and between forms, intimacy grows. Whether that intimacy is kind or productive is not always clear. Katz’s invisible speakers move through relational and physical structures; elements of climate and landscape (fog, sand, eucalyptus); allusions to distance or disaster; and thoughts of morbidity and vacuous longing, all of which create a sensorial experience that reads like love but might be the social proximity of sex and  emotional need.

In this moment in late-October, with war’s glasses over my eyes, I cannot manage to read any poem except as a love poem, and every love poem as a prayer. Although these poems are not overtly about war, they have comforted me through these days, because they contain a kind of speed-running of pervasive confusion and grief:

these debts cannot be paid and cannot but be paid

the dim attention paid to swarming mice who

dig rubbery forks into the hissing nylon sheath

stretched over my heaving lava fencing the

pastures that surround my glowing marrow with

exquisite masonry automatic as crystal platelets

The speakers offer abstracted stories of distances that cannot be breached or covered—night to day, America to Israel, body to body, from the myth to the living, or from self to self, which is as true a way as I know of to think of any displacement, of anyone who has endured ongoing losses of home. It is a Jewish experience, though it does not belong to Jews alone.

When I first read these poems, I sat on a city bus on my way to Ben-Gurion Airport. Around me, people sat silently or somberly, some talked and laughed, others leaned into their phones. In the previous two weeks, I had arrived in Jerusalem and learned the words mamad and mamak, the words rimon and cal, learned the etymology of Nablus and the history of Lifta, become acquainted with the low drone of the siren that announces Shabbat, as well as the pointing pitch of the red alert siren. I had not yet seen the wall when I first read these poems, though I saw it soon after.

These poems affirm something to me about Israelis in crisis—heartbroken, torn asunder, seamless. Stoic yet vocal, abrasive yet calm. When I read those adjectives back to myself, I realize that I partly experience Israel in crisis as a potent, distilled version of the Jewish experience in general, even though I know that these two things are not the same and should not be conflated.

A white man with short dark hair wearing a gray v-neck t-shirt gazes to the left of the frame

Poet David Israel Katz

David Israel Katz writes us into spaces that negate sense, and importantly, negate our impulse to try to locate sense. His poems release me from this social obligation and false need—a relief in a moment and a world that makes no sense but insists on performing it. These poems are to me at once a resistance and a catharsis. A pushing out and a leaning in. The psychic spaces created by these poems enable me to coexist with senselessness—of childhood, disasters, violent structures, desire, mediation, the way that sex or even touch has the power to both place and displace us—though the spaces of senselessness are entered through the door of the known. Through the familiar, we sit with what is strange. These poems seem to contain elements of harm—knees to concrete—or maybe only the items of childhood, the basic realities of the world we inhabit. What is normal and who gets to decide? What are the terms of the world in which we live and how do we survive it? Here are the unknowable things and the icons stripped of meaning: Here is the bomb shelter, the “soot enriched lubricant,” “the washboard,” “the woven cranecables,” and here are recognizable objects pushed into something unrecognizable, much like our lives.

The structural forms that hold the poems themselves look like protected spaces or shelters—boxes—at once holding and limiting. Some are enclosed while others offer openings of danger and light, like stairwells. Beyond the poems’ worlds and within them, we may have access to protected spaces, to relative safety, depending on our locations and privileges and other transiting unknowns.

Of the poems, Katz writes: “Even though they are not translations, they are definitely translated because I am a translated person. The foremost example of this is the relationship between my Israeli and American experiences as a native Hebrew speaker in California. The many languages that populate my sound-world come not only from multiple places but also from multiple generations of my family––and this is where Jewishness comes in, not as a decorative element but as the warp and weft of this fabric.”

As I traveled to the airport in sorrow and relief, the teenagers who boarded the bus were like teenagers everywhere—bombastic and wild-limbed—except that they were talking about war. As in Katz’s poems, they made sense and they didn’t. They shouted and whispered, wanted and relinquished. They touched and they let go.

Maura Pellettieri is a writer and editor from New York State. She writes and teaches at intersections of ecofuturism, contemporary art, queerness, and Jewish experience and identity. Her writing can be found in The Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, The Literary Review, Guernica, Denver Quarterly, On The Seawall, Adroit, Ayin, and others. Maura is Moment’s new resident digital poetry editor.



drop your knees straight on concrete tile ive cheeked this sponging housewifes skin so often with black coffee and clorox fallen asleep mid play in undies and a tshirt heard the sweat licked off my belly like bonetoned masking tape off a galvanized iron pipe that hangs a swing on polaroid saturday mornings the plural here employed only to cloud a specific arak memory with an icecube where a kugellager bore a two centimeter rod chipping with layer over layer of outdoor oilpaint i footed the w o o d e n s e a t a n d w o b b l e d t h e chains in and out of gravity the soot enriched lubricant oozing between flatbrushed washers that hide their steel tapioca like ikura regiments inside a happy salmon or like a battery of clayfondling kindergarteners in an eisenbeton bombshelter its emergency exits rising like champignons from the schoolyard lawn my hardbellied classmate clenching his fists and pulling his elbows past his ribs what is harder the biceps or the washboard or the woven cranecables in his neck or the livid prophecy



shriek of a loose fanbelt the stretched skin of something that is still alive brittle scythe harvesting skull and ribcage everchanging bone the everchanging everchanging shape of earth it really flows like water and the dead they swim in it looking up they see their own light reflected in fragrant supernovas live amphibian croaks decorate wavy silence thought after thought after thought or the hum of thoughts pausing c l i c k c l i c k f l e e t i n g glazed ceramic beads rosaried on bristly twine each threading a mutter on the warm unnamable moan ergodic orgasm slimed persimmon splash on the concrete path lashing tongue tooth a n d f i s h b o n e p a l a t e kamikaze plunge of fruitflies into



e u c a l y p t u s a i r y a w n s a t w o t r a c k s p i n e glittering acrylic yolk over asphalt toast a lunchtime toast to breakfast skipped past on the way to the past the past give me a spoonful or i wont last the last bite of salt and butter radish the last week of instruction the last ten years on the american trail forgetful early morning thought the last hoarse quote over barnoise the last hair abandoning the lip as the lip abandons the flushed greasy trench of the ear and the eyes scrounge for secrets in mayonnaise breath and neck spasms jaws grinding teeth powdering into oyster mouthwash this time they dont wiggle like a loose wooden heel this time they hold tight as the upsidedown tree first foliates then scrapes over dawn grit in the land of fog and hesitation sanding bark flesh and sap until stumpless the unseen roots this time as good as next this time no better than last this time still a stupid fish playing live to a hungry crowd no prophet heard this time and if once heard this time left unrecalled a starlost lady groping in blundered phonewires



time again night again day again train again sand again grain again sane saying yes saying hell yeah saying you write the magic digits on this open check you pour the lemonade into this tabloid you row that boat drive that steel all the way to a wild new heaven for protestants ride that horse without the reins sing that song sing that song again the one that wakes up dead prawns on the bottom of the ocean wavies the molten atlantic halite and f o a m s t h e p l a n k t o n i n r a t t l i n g mandelbrots moth of a moth mother of a mother of a mother of a mother froth of fraternal froth spraying prayer of kludging rocks with kitchenblade calls from gulls and albatross the grand neptunian belch and its sizzling sisters endless chain of paper rings popping in outrageous choir on the stretched skin skylight of patrolling sharks of coral reefs of toddler footprints in shellshard mosaic the embossed knee with magenta scores and negatives t h e r u i n s o f n u m b e r l e s s s n a i l y homes


shipped ground to seven hundred separate places each further than the other and the persons living there each stranger the packages i n t h e m n o t h i n g a s q u i e t a s a w e l l c h o s e n g i f t l y i n g i n wrapping paper not yet ignited by eager fingers to a crackly mania of blood vessels in which destination is it put rightaway in the trash in which folded neatly forgotten on the arm of the couch to be found next morning by persistent sunlight through dusty drapery in which stacked on top of many siblings on a shelf dedicated for that purpose in which tossed gently in the pile of art stuff for little children by the glue sticks and the tape in which crafted with the help of brass wire and patient instruction into perfumed carnations a bouquet of three in a lone dixie cup on a single parent dinner table in which coned and stapled into funny hats worn fallen and stepped on dustpanned after everyone is gone soaking in beer applejuice and paraffin in which folded many times and cut in diamonds and triangles to be hung on eastern walls in books on dead communities in which shade over a standing lamp to burn the whole room purple before the smell wakes up a sleepy lover before gathering enough resolve the nose might try to tell the distance across which the warning travels or the exact direction and there on a mattress on the floor in a room not very yours the smoke might ring like bells on an alpine sunday morning or a shepherds call above restless blades of grass or taste like artichoke when its been cooked too long its water left to pool into the cupped greyed petals and there lose the last of their enticing temperature or like a uhf shout that only you can hear a television screens nerve as it turns on and listens wake up lover last nights giftwrap is todays newsprint and all over it are written in heat the forgetting faces the deaf hairs on stained sofas the augenblicks of taunted country maidens their white bonnets mudded in spring line drying by winter the flush cheeks of ill born infants and the looseleaf happiness of drunkards in sunny doorsteps



i am the cozy infestation in your pine subfloor the nursing termite in dry pixelrot the sugarcrunching horse c o u n t i n g t o f o u r w i t h g o o g l e h e l p t h e s p u n k w a t e r g a t h e r e d i n t h e cutting board bloodchannel i am the lukewarm carcass devoured by unleashed hounds the pigeonflesh t w i s t i n g w i t h s h o e s h i n e d f l y l a r v a e i am the psoriasis crumbled skin of shame and negligence the living maglube of fibre hemoglobin and tapeworm on a bed of dry pineneedles and i dont need love i drink raincut pastis and watch your bellybutton gnaw into your belly with a wringing lipring unwinding ropes or rippling centipede legs like football fans on beerfed bleachers singing floodlight hymns to whistlemarble mating calls and aerosol sirens and the flipping scoresign




ill be buried by the freeway at the roots of a tall billboard saturated starburst print displaying my dirty facebook chats best marriages embezzled inheritances kludging helgolandic icebergs in the north sea yes my bones will crizzle when im drowned in earth like frozen continents in the bloodpools of the vulcaness her tongue will do a favor and preview the eating power of her great grandmothers beating blackhole inevitability crowned with a hissing reptilian wreath the viper that chews on the heart o f g o d s t a m e l e s s s h a m e l e s s maiden her eyes her lips her smile they sure do look and taste virginal her skin glows thin as an untouched membrane a speaker cone of spiraling veinlets singing neverending sines saintly fainting at the stairtop oh let me readjust my corset oops it came undone and lies there now across the bridge to france like a turned over command car washed down with cold cream and badly hidden tears


David Israel Katz is a multi-disciplinary artist who works with voice, movement, text and image. His Jewish art project, foreignfire, unleashes the aesthetic heat potentized in heritage ritual formulations through scored performances, improvisations, installations, sound recordings and video-art. Katz fronted the legendary Tel Aviv underground trio The Fluorescents (Lahakat Hazoharim), and appears in recordings by Brett Carson and Hauswasser among others. His solo work has appeared in such places as Tectonics Festival (Tel Aviv) and Musrara Mix Festival (Jerusalem); through foreignfire, he released unsolicited, a collection of poems in bookart format , and waterpuller’s light, a weekly digital Torah reading series featuring contributions from over thirty artists from the United States, Israel, Europe and Latin America . 

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