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Tuvia Ruebner

Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz with Shahar Bram

The Ambassadors

I don't know where to begin.

The main thing is the skull. But

why this angle?


Here are two sturdy men, about forty.

One is absorbed in himself to some extent.

The other stands with his legs apart,

a foot inside the circle on the marble floor

as though within the vault of heaven.

His gown collared in expensive fur,

its sleeves richly embroidered,

his strength suppressed like flashes in an atom

before it breaks open.

The two ambassadors, I read,

have French names, Jean de Dinteville,

and Georges de Selve.

The thoughtful one also knows his worth.

And what is that on a slant, in the middle?


They are leaning on a kind of chest

covered with a red Persian rug , upon which

different instruments are displayed, navigational tools,

if I'm not wrong, a compass, a cube,

astrological devices.

A beautiful globe

and on the lower shelf a lute and a book whose pages are open.

They are humanists, these ambassadors,

or at least lovers of fine art.

Holbein the Younger painted them on oak at the beginning of the 16th century.


Why do these two framed by the green curtain look at me,

these ambassadors with strange names,

why do they look at me so seriously

never letting their glance falter for a moment,

their eyelids frozen,

and never say a word?


Spring blossomed all at once,

within a week all the trees were green

the colors coupled, separated, coupled,

shouted with joy,

the sky flashed.


If you stand on the right you will clearly see

a giant distorted skull,

a huge bone that would choke any throat,

noticed only from this angle.

If you stand opposite

it is just something unrecognizable,

some kind of a yellowish spot casting a shadow.

A wordless madness slaughters the picture.


Tuvia Ruebner, winner of the 2008 Israel Prize for Poetry, was born in 1924 in Slovakia; he emigrated to Mandatory Palestine, now Israel, in 1941, and served as a soldier in the independence war. The author of 13 books of poetry and an autobiography, as well as several volumes of photography and a monograph on poet Lea Goldberg, Ruebner served as professor at Haifa University.  He lives on Kibbutz Merhavia.

Lisa Katz, awarded a Ledig House International Writers residency in fall 2008, and winner of this year's Blip Magazine Archive Poetry Prize, is the author of _Reconstruction_ (Am Oved, in Hebrew), and the translator of Look There: Selected Poems of Agi Mishol (Graywolf). She teaches at Hebrew University.

Shahar Bram is the author of three books of poems; of Charles Olsen and Alfred North Whitehead: an essay on poetry (Bucknell), and A Backward Glance (Magnes Press, in Hebrew), a study of the long poem.  He is a lecturer in literature at Haifa University.

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