poem index

Hovering at a Low Altitude

Dahlia Ravikovitch
I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn't grow  
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.  	  
A little shepherd girl 
with a herd of goats,
black goats, 
emerges suddenly
from an unseen tent.				 
She won't live out the day, that girl,	 
in the pasture.     			 				  

I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain    	 
a red globe flares,	 					 
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,	 
revolves in that maw.		 

And the little one rose so early 
to go to the pasture.		 					 
She doesn't walk with neck outstretched   			 
and wanton glances.
She doesn't paint her eyes with kohl. 	  		 
She doesn't ask, Whence cometh my help.			 

I am not here.
I've been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.		 
Nothing can amaze me now.
I've seen worse things in my life. 

I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?			 
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,					 
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she's alert.	 
She still has a few hours left.    			     
But that's hardly the object of my meditations.		 
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably. 	   
I've found a very simple method,					 
not so much as a foot-breadth on land  	 			 
and not flying, either—			 
hovering at a low altitude. 

But as day tends toward noon,				 
many hours 
after sunrise,
that man makes his way up the mountain.	  
He looks innocent enough.			 
The girl is right there, near him, 			    
not another soul around. 
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there's no place to hide in the mountains.	   

I am not here.
I'm above those savage mountain ranges   	 
in the farthest reaches of the East.				 
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover    		 
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.  		 
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:		 	 
I haven't seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,			 
her palate is dry as a potsherd,		 		
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her   	 
without a shred of pity.

"Hovering at a Low Altitude", from Hovering at a Low Altitude by Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Dahlia Ravikovitch